Five Key Steps to Removing Waste and Variation for Successful Automation

In the rush to automate enterprise processes, many organizations are inadvertently automating poor processes that are inefficient, sub-optimized, or broken. Lean Six Sigma provides the structure and rigor to ensure that your business processes are standardized, documented, and devoid of waste and bottlenecks that could run productivity off the rails.

Deming said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

Our twist, “A bad process will beat a good robot every time.”

Workers Adapt to Poor Processes to a Point

Humans adapt rather well. And, workers adapt quite well to operations and processes that don’t work well. While they may have suggestions or complaints, good employees will create workarounds and creative solutions to “get the job done.” This can hide the waste, inefficiency, and variation in a process that needs a tweak or an overhaul.

Automating a Sub-Optimal Process Ingrains Waste and Inefficiency

Introducing automation, even intelligent automation with artificial intelligence and machine learning, will exacerbate the inefficiencies and inaccuracies baked into the process. When a process is not reviewed or audited, automation can further bury the problems and grow them exponentially. Just as automation can streamline and build capacity for good processes and operations, it does the same to inferior processes.

Before Automating a Process, Remove Waste and Variation with Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that leverages team collaboration to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. When applied to process improvement and process automation, it’s a critical first step to ensure that automation technology provides the best possible performance and delivers greater accuracy, efficiency, and capacity.

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Five Lean Six Sigma Steps to Optimizing Processes Before Automation

Automation needs a stable and predictable process: the less variation, the better.

Automating a process that has many variabilities requires a great deal more time to ‘teach’ the automation solutions, or bot, how to deal with the differences.  Greater “straight-through” processing, or processing that a bot can handle without human intervention, is the goal.

Removing waste translates into less work for automation.

Automation can only do so much to streamline wasteful processes. If there are unnecessary steps in the human-driven process, those wasted steps still need to be built and carried out via automation. Speed, alone, can’t make up for poor processes. We would suggest using customer-value-added analysis. Our process team can remove wasteful steps, increasing the effectiveness of automation exponentially.

Identifying bottlenecks in the process is vital.

Lean Six Sigma and process improvement work together to increase the return on your automation investment. We recommend a specific way to map out the process and collect performance data on each task.  This step reveals where processes can’t keep up with demand and where a process could benefit most from automation technology, like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or intelligent automation.   

Discover root causes before solutioning begins.

Lean Six Sigma strives to uncover the root causes of your process problems. Our LSS practitioners use a robust set of tools to understand and streamline each process before automation begins. This gives your internal or external automation solution team critical details that will enable them to design a better process with less waste and variation.

Automation Alternative: Stabilize parts of a process and automate those to begin.

Optimally, you’d want to stabilize the entire process; however, significant gains can still be made by stabilizing critical portions of the process and automating those. For example, consider a process with 50 steps. Even stabilizing and automating 20 of those can significantly decrease cycle time and free up resources to tackle tasks that require more complex human cognition.

Tap into Lean Six Sigma Expertise and Tools Before Automating Processes

Our process efficiency experts have decades of experience getting to the root causes of waste and variation in business processes across many industries.  Leveraging this kind of expertise before automation technologies are chosen or deployed will save time and effort now and will ensure high-performing automation solutions.

  • David Keen
    Senior SMS Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Enterprise Agility
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  • Tiffany Brown
    Consultant Process Improvement, Enterprise Agility
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