Data Behind the Wheel for Continuous Improvement

DriversSeat1smI was working with a company recently on a kaizen event intended to create the future state value stream maps for 2 pilot value streams. I was struck by how many of the people involved in the event were not used to working with data.  They actually had to retrain their brains to use data to design the future state.

That got me thinking about finance people, who really like data and work with it all the time.  What can they contribute to the continuous improvement process?

I’m thinking …  if finance people actually participated in the value stream mapping process they could bring some valuable data skills to the process, and as a bonus they’d get a better understanding of how continuous improvement works and that it is truly a data-driven process.  It’s a win-win all around.

What is different about continuous improvement is that the data is often  operational, not financial.

When value stream mapping is done correctly, the first step after the current state is drawn is to decide what the future targets are for the value stream measures. For example, what percentage of improvement do we want to see in our measures when we achieve the future state?

After the measurement targets are determined, the future state is designed to achieve those targets. This results in designing a future state that works. During the design phase, the team isn’t going to be concerned about how to achieve the future state.

For example, if the future state lead time target is a 20% reduction, the mapping team will look at each step in the process and determine how much lead time needs to come out of each one to achieve the 20% improvement.

Finally, the team gets into the “how.” They plan the kaizen events required to make the process changes. These kaizen events are not random; they are carefully planned out based on the measurement targets to achieve the future state.

I find this use of data to be very powerful because it is the real data that will lead to the breakthrough changes people want from lean. With these breakthrough changes, financial success will follow.

In his book “Making the Numbers Count” Brian Maskell urges finance people to get involved with operations in new and useful ways;  to apply their unique skills in innovating ways; to “become “intimately familiar with the company, its products, processes, markets, and customers.” [i]  During value stream mapping, teams work to bring all this together in order to deliver excellent value to the customer. I urge all finance people to get on the team and become experienced in value stream mapping.


[i] Brian Maskell, “Making the Numbers Count Second Edition; The Accountant as Change Agent on the World Class Team”, (New York, Productivity Press, 2009), p. 7.