This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered;
the point is to discover them.
– Galileo Galilei
Before you can improve something, you must first have a very clear understanding of what its current state is. Don’t assume you know what it is. Go to the gemba, be it the factory floor, the shipping and receiving area, your office, or even take a minute to focus on yourself, and observe what is going on. It is important that you get close to the action. The worst thing you can do is try to document the current state from a meeting in a faraway conference room.
To document key processes, such as accounts payable, production, sales, and so forth, document the current step-by-step activities of each of those processes. How long does each step take? How are they physically laid out? Where do backlogs occur?
If you are documenting the current state of a company or organization, there are a variety of ways to do it. You can use the key metrics of the organization, including financials, customer service, quality, operations, and so forth. If they are not the appropriate metrics, create new ones. Then decide how your observations compare to your expectations, industry average, etc. What are your suppliers saying about you? Your customers? Your employees? What about your competition?
Once you have your observations, you might want to consider using some standard analysis methods as well. These include a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis, Porter’s Five Forces (to analyze your industry), a PEST analysis (for the external macroenvironment), and BCG or GE methods to look at product lines.
From a Lean perspective, you may also want to look at how some key Lean tools are being used (5S, kaizen, poka-yoke, etc.). But remember, they are just tools. Moving forward, you need to determine if they are the right tools for the problem you are trying to solve. What is the problem or opportunity you want to address?
When documenting the current state, be sure to include other people with potentially other perspectives to validate the results. This will help you counteract your own biases. The current state becomes the baseline from which you will start improving. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, consider documenting the current state of you. What are you currently dealing with, your hopes, fears, and aspirations?