Ian James, a business process consultant, made the astute observation that “Teamwork fails most often in the moments between us.”
A good way to think of this is a relay race, where a team with four decent sprinters can out-race a team with four better sprinters by beating the other team in exchange zone. The key to this event is how much time the baton spends in those exchange zones.
In business processes, the exchange zone is the transition of work from person to person, department to department, and organization to organization. These transitions are fraught with potential problems, making poor work transitions a silent killer of productivity of every company.
Because the point of work transition in business is hard to see, it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. But, with radically increased virtualization of work and workforce due to Covid-19, “muddling through” work transitions are no longer feasible. Effectively managing the transition of work becomes a critical success factor.
One of the biggest problems with work transitions takes place when the worker in the previous step does not provide the worker in the current step with all the information they need, resulting in a back-and-forth between them until the necessary information has been extracted. This results not only in time wasting on the part of the worker, but also interrupts and wastes the time of others in the organization as the worker attempts to get the information they need. The resulting starting, stopping, and starting again due to missing predecessors can significantly reduce efficiency and productivity.
This manifests itself in users having to go back to a previous step because something was forgotten or a mistake was made; work already done is repeated because information was incomplete the first time around.
The concept for Full Kitting
The concept of “Full Kitting” is a well-tried and trusted manufacturing procedure with considerable potential for addressing the problem of work transitions, and thereby improving both production and service operations. It can be used to gain a strategic competitive edge because of the faster response time, lower prices and better quality.
A “Full Kit” contains everything a worker needs to complete their task before the task gets triggered. It ensures that once the task has started it can proceed at full speed to completion. This avoids the waste incurred when a task is forced to stop and restart multiple times due to missing prerequisites being available to complete the task. It helps significantly reduce the number of second actions to complete a single stage.
Making sure team members have all the necessary predecessor activities completed prior to starting their task ensures they have a greater chance to focus uninterrupted and without having to be impacted by potential upstream delays. Also, they are more likely to be able to drive their project tasks to completion with high speed and high quality.
This concept applies equally well to projects, processes and steps.
One way to think of conceptualize this is to consider an auto race: the pit crews need to keep stop time to a minimum. The pit crew needs to be ready to go when the car arrives. There is no time to look for people to help, or look for parts that may needed.
It sounds obvious, but there is a high probability that full kitting is a problem in your organization.
Why does this happen?
The first culprit is that there is no clear definition of what the prerequisites are – what the full kit consists of. The inverse of this is that there is no agreed clarity on exactly what the deliverable from a previous process step needs to provide.
The second culprit is the efficiency syndrome – the urge to have your resources utilized as much as possible. Following the fallacious notion that a worker should be busy all the time causes managers to have their people working using incomplete kits just so that they should not be idle. More importantly, it also means more work-in-process (WIP), less throughput and more operating expenses.
In cases where the operation has excess capacity, there is more pressure to use an incomplete kit, just to utilize the resources. There is no justification whatsoever for this, since excess capacity means shorter lead time; thus there is virtually no advantage to start working in an incomplete kit mode.
The third culprit is the customer putting pressure on the company to start working on their tasks even if the kit is not complete, in the mistaken belief that lead time will be saved by this action, in practice, this only adds to the lead time.
Full Kitting and constrained resources
Full Kitting is especially important when the task is the responsibility of a constrained resource. For example, imagine if you went in for surgery, and when the surgeon gets there, she finds that the surgical instruments aren’t ready, the nurses are running late, the anesthetist doesn’t have the right dose, etc.
Not only are you left lying on the table while everyone gets their act together, but it is a huge waste of an expensive resources time – the surgeon.
In this setting, full kitting in this scenario would include things like:
- Having all the necessary instruments, equipment, medicines etc. checked, calibrated, tested and kept ready.
- Having the patient physically and mentally prepared for the surgery.
- Having the patients’ health reports available and checked.
- Ensuring that all the necessary people such as surgeon, anesthetist, nurses etc. are present before the surgery begins.
Advantages of Full Kitting
Less work-in-process. Using an incomplete kit causes more work in process, because the job is invariably waiting for additional components to arrive. More incomplete kits cause more WIP and hence longer lead time
Shorter lead time. The practice of using an incomplete kit causes more setups (you do the work twice) and the double handling means more time per task is spent. Since lead time is considered to be a source of tactical and strategic advantage to the company, it is extremely important to use any method to reduce it to a minimum.
Improved quality and less rework. Much work-in-process causes poor quality performance. Incomplete kits tend to wait in inadequate storage facilities for too long. When the missing items arrive, they are incorporated in an improvisatory fashion that may give rise to quality problems. The double handling undoubtedly causes damage to the product as well as to the process, usually adding more rework to the operation.
Increased throughput. An item that is processed without being sold is not considered throughput. When resources are utilized on products that cannot be shipped, other jobs that can turn into throughput have to wait.
Increase in workers’ motivation. Using an incomplete kit goes against the grain. It is the ‘hurry up and wait’ way of manufacturing. Once the ‘red hot’ incomplete kit arrives it gets top priority. Then, it waits till the rest of the items arrive. It hurts their motivation and trust in the system when they are forced to do more and apparently unnecessary work (double setups and more handling).
How to implement Full Kitting in business processes
- Identify the criteria for determining that deliverable of a process step is complete.
- Ensure that no process step is allowed to be completed until the deliverable meets the criteria defined. This could be through the implementation of business rules or checklists.
- Identify the conditions that must be satisfied before a process step can be started (e.g. specified steps have been completed, approvals have been made, data must be available, a file must have been uploaded). You can specify these conditions during planning in the knowledge that they will be enforced by the system at runtime
- Ensure that once the process step has started it can proceed at full speed to completion. This avoids the waste incurred when a project or task is forced to stop and restart multiple times due to missing prerequisites being available to complete the task or project. It helps significantly reduce the number of second actions to complete a single stage.