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  • Rod Morgan, Head of Faculty, RPM-Academy

Moving Data, Moving People... What's the Difference?

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

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I had the privilege of working with several organizations this year, each representing very different industry sectors. One of the attributes they shared in common was the prevalence of manual data entry with many resources consumed in the activity of taking existing data, available from multiple sources including faxes, emails, forms, letters, spreadsheets, etc., and re-entering the same data into spreadsheets and enterprise systems.

When tasked to map those value streams, the respective improvement teams I was collaborating with initially identified data entry as a value-added task which speaks volumes to the paradigm shift required for Lean thinking.

Lean has taught us that value added steps are those that the customer is willing to pay for because they positively change the product or service in the view of that customer. So, how does data entry positively change the product or service? I believe we walk a very thin line when making that determination and we should challenge our project teams to respectfully question their logic. Let me share an analogy…

Moving a Patient

An in-patient at a hospital requires magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) but their local hospital cannot provide this service. After booking their procedure, they are transported to the facility providing that vital service. New to Lean, one might consider the transportation to the facility where the MRI is performed to be value added. A logical defence being that if the patient wasn’t moved, they would not be able to receive the service.

As “Lean Thinkers”, we know that the transportation of the patient is waste since it does not meet the criteria of “positively changing the product or service”. In fact, transportation causes delays, additional risk and increased cost. We don’t move the patient because it adds value… we do it to address a constraint: the distance to the nearest centre to perform the MRI.

A “thought experiment” to challenge this paradigm is to offer that an inventor, (a fan of Star Trek, no doubt), has created a new medical device that performs scans of patients and they don’t even have to leave their beds! This “Tricorder” provides all of the information the standard MRI produced but can be done at the patient’s bedside. Each device only costs $10,000 so every hospital and clinic will be issued a supply for “just in time” application.

Question: Would we still be transporting patients in need of MRI to other centres? No! We do it because we have to.

Back to Data Entry…

An insurance broker provides an insurance company with a spreadsheet of data related to an annual renewal for a bulk policy which comprises of over 300 certificates that are issued to each of the properties covered under that bulk policy. A team has been tasked to map that current state value stream as a first step in a continuous improvement project.

The draft value stream map identifies that the data available from the broker-supplied worksheet has to be rekeyed into several systems, including an enterprise database and multiple spreadsheets, all for the purpose of assessing and processing the annual renewal.

Upon observation, the majority of data entry simply requires that the “digits” to be transported from one location to another. For example, if a field in the source spreadsheet or form contains the number 2347289-01, then that very same information is re-entered into the target spreadsheet or database. Only when the data is finally in the right “location” can additional value added processing then take place, resulting in a “positive change in the product or service”. Like our healthcare example, the “transporting” of the data from one location to another causes delays, higher costs and increased risk (or errors).

Thought experiment: The data is imported or entered directly at source with “one touch” into the “final” system where all value added work can then be performed. Would we still be doing all of the data entry observed in the current state? No! Like transporting of the patient, we do the data entry because we have to… not because it adds value.

How might we classify this under the eight sources of waste? While our MRI example classifies the movement of the patient under the waste of “transportation”, we can consider the non-value added work of data entry to be the waste of “over-processing”.

Conclusion: Our project team revises their current state value stream map by reclassifying all data entry as non-value added, (even though it is currently required), if said data already exists upstream in a previous form or format. Not only does this result in a more accurate portrayal of the current state value stream and observed process cycle efficiency (value added time ÷ total lead time) but it represents a paradigm shift in how the team and organization DEFINES VALUE… the first of the five key principles of Lean.

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