Work simplification… As easy as it seems?

The Gemba Walk during the Colruyt Group visit showed that their approach is successful. Work simplification is an intricate part of the organization.

It’s one of those rare warm summer evenings when I just drop into a garden chair after a busy day working. Time to relax and enjoy the evening sun. That vacation feeling overwhelms me and the scent of fresh mint makes my mouth water. I quickly decide to prepare a mojito.

Despite the fact that I mix mojitos on a fairly regular basis, I still need ten minutes to find all the ingredients and my mixing paraphernalia. I only use most of the items to mix a mojito, but I still manage to spread them all around the house: the glass in the living room, cane sugar and knife in the kitchen, soda water in the basement, back to the living room for the rhum, pestle in the storage, straw in the living room again, lemon in the fridge, ice in the freezer in the storage, mint in the garden,…

More than a quarter later I’m back in the garden, sipping my mojito in the summer evening sun which is not so warm any more. My thoughts stray to the previous edition of ‘Lean and Process Improvement Network’. On the agenda: a visit to the Colruyt Group to learn more about how they deal with ‘work simplification’. The simplification of actions leads to higher efficiency and increased employee satisfaction. It sounds like a simple concept. However, it’s often not so easy to implement: improvement proposals are not rolled out, maintained or accepted. Or even worse, improvement proposals may even not be formulated. How can these obstacles be overcome to ensure that work simplification is implemented successfully.

It’s a common approach: stop and observe what’s going on around you. Take stock of losses and discuss these with colleagues. Then formulate some improvement proposals which can be rolled out in the entire service, department or organisation. And last but not least, keep your fingers crossed that employees don’t relapse into bad habits. Of course, this is easier said than done. What did I take home from the Colruyt Group visit? The following aspects are important to maintain a culture of work simplification:

  • Work simplification needs to be done with those who are actually doing the job. Challenge them, ask questions, and in particular, make sure they notice losses and propose improvement ideas. After all, they are ones who need to implement the new methodology. This is the way to ensure that proposals are supported by employees and that they are spread fast throughout organisation. Imposing improvement proposals top-down seldom works.
  • What’s in it for me. Focus on possible gains and benefits for employees. Let them search for improvements that were already implemented in the past. These examples can illustrate the positive effect of work simplification to your employees. In addition, for each proposal, specify the potential gain for the employee.
  • Managers are crucial. Managers must play a supporting role and must encourage employees to generate improvement ideas. Don’t try to block ideas, and explain why certain ideas can or cannot be implemented. Demonstrate your point with examples in your own work environment. Work simplification is necessary at all levels of the organization.
  • Pay attention to minor improvements. In the first place, focus on problems within the scope of employees. Problems that they can influence and which influence them. Problems for which improvements can be implemented quickly and results will be noticed swiftly.
  • Measuring is knowing. When possible, use the available data and measure important indicators. Measuring before and after the improvement, and comparing these measurements can be a real eye-opener.

The Gemba Walk during the Colruyt Group visit, when we had the opportunity to observe the work floor, showed that their approach is successful. Work simplification is an intricate part of the organisation.

And what about my ingredients and paraphernalia for my mojitos? I’ve started keeping everything I need in the same place. Now I can enjoy 10 more minutes in the evening sun thanks to my process improvement!

About the Lean and Process Improvement Network

The « Lean and Process Improvement Network » was initiated by Möbius, Antwerp University Hospital, AZ St. Lucas Ghent, GZA Hospitals and the Jessa Hospital. Each semester, healthcare organizations are brought together to discuss ‘lean and process improvement’ in the healthcare sector. The focus lies on knowledge sharing between the organizations by presenting various cases, eventually followed by a workplace visit on-site or to a leading organization outside the health sector.

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