Lean Knowledge Work
In the October 2011 Harvard Business Review, authors Staats and Upton describe how they used "Toyota" principles at Wipro Technologies, a large-scale software shop in India. "Lean principles," they say, "can generate significant benefits: faster response time, higher quality and creativity, lower costs, reduced drudgery and frustration and greater job satisfaction."
They go on to say: "Knowledge workers ... grossly underestimate the amount of inefficiency that could be eradicated from their jobs."
The Goal: Continually eliminate the speed bumps of Lean: delay, overproduction, waste, non-value added work, transportation, inventory, and motion. Knowledge workers often wait for information needed for a decision, make mistakes that have to be corrected, do things that have no value, move paperwork around, travel to unnecessary meetings, have unanswered emails in their in box, and so on. These are all forms of waste and rework that can be eliminated.
Then: Make tacit knowledge explicit. Every knowledge worker follows a process to do their job. It may be tacit knowledge (in the employee's head) or explicit (written down). Once written down, these repeatable processes can be continuously improved.
Use the 5 Whys: to identify and eliminate waste and rework as soon as problems are detected.
Here's the author's key insight: "Turning a knowledge operation into a lean system ... can be done. The system will be tough for a competitor to replicate. This is it's power."
Haven't you waited long enough to start simplifying, streamlining and optimizing knowledge worker tasks, or are you going to wait for a competitor to beat you to it?
Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537, firstname.lastname@example.org."