sharepoinTony

@info – The practical side of SharePoint

Lean Thinking for SharePoint

Posted by sharepoinTony on August 27, 2010

I have to start this with a tidbit of history.  You see, I actually did something before I began working with SharePoint…surprising as that may sound.  For several years prior to SharePoint I had a really long job title, but the gist of what I did was implement Lean practices in a corporate setting.  My focus was on the “office” which meant any business function that wasn’t on the factory floor.

So what is Lean?

There are books that go into depth on the subject, and Wikipedia provides some definitions, but my personal short description is this: Lean is a way of thinking and working that incorporates continuous improvement, process improvement, and efficient practices.  It is all about eliminating waste in your business.

Lean is what lead me to SharePoint.  When I first saw SharePoint and learned the things it could do, I jumped into it.  SharePoint was the tool I was looking for to help implement new processes, to help business staff embrace Lean concepts, and to help the company benefit from the Lean effort.  I got excited about SharePoint and haven’t looked back.

One of the cool things about SharePoint is the concept of distributing the work and enabling people to create what they need in a site.  Eliminate the bottleneck.  That is a Lean thought, it is a Lean way of doing things.  Lean is about empowering your staff to do the things that they need to do to get their job done.  And you want them to succeed, to excel, and to do it all without WASTE.

How many times have you experienced the waste most companies tolerate?  Wasted time, wasted spending, wasted energy.  Lean is about eliminating those wastes.  By capturing the time, energy, and money previously lost in that waste you can redirect all of that into improvements that benefit the company.  You can take a week-long process and make it into a few hour process.  When your company shortens process times it becomes more competitive, more cost-effective and usually more profitable.

What is Lean Thinking for SharePoint?

Although there are lots of benefits to studying Lean, I think that by simply using a few Lean concepts your SharePoint activities can make significant improvements that benefit your company.  “SharePoint people” can easily pick up these concepts and incorporate them into their work.  A perfect example is the implementation of a new workflow.

We typically attack a workflow request by asking about the process and capturing key steps we know we will need to create a SharePoint workflow.  But what if we take the opportunity to ask questions?  Why are those steps needed?  Who really needs to be involved?  What is that information used for and by whom?  But don’t stop there…you have to follow-up by tracking that information flow.  What does that person actually do with the information?  Is it even used?

That is the tough part.  People always say they know the process or they know the requirements.  Never believe them.  I cannot tell you how many times I followed a process, tracked the information flow across multiple branches and up the chain of command only to find out that the end result was never used.  Everyone in the organization had accepted the process, enforced the perceived “need” and just “knew” that we had that do it that way.  It often turns out that someone in some department said they needed the information and that filtered its way into the process over time.  It sounded valuable, so management made it a requirement.  Everyone got used to the “requirement” and it became part of the culture of the business.  Years ago that probably was needed information.  The business had to change to stay competitive, but  business processes lag behind and are not updated.

Taking the time to truly find out what is needed and why it is needed allows you to create a process, in a SharePoint workflow, that reduces work and eliminates waste.   By taking the time to do this, even if you don’t find any waste you will gain a solid understanding of the process and have documented the process which is of value to the company.  Having to change a workflow to correct the process isn’t fun and is a form of waste.  Just do it right the first time and you will save time and money.

Resources you can use to learn more about Lean:

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated
by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones
Easier, Simpler, Faster: Systems Strategy for Lean IT
by Jean Cunningham, Duane Jones
Office Kaizen: Transforming Office Operations into a Strategic Competitive Advantage
by William Lareau
The Lean Office: Collected Practices and Cases (Insights on Implementation)
by Productivity Press Development Team
Lean Administration: Case Studies in Leadership and Improvement (Enterprise Excellence)
by AME – Association for Manufacturing Excellence
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