Look at handoffs in your process for waste and hidden opportunities for improvement. Most obvious of these wastes are piles of inventory easily seen just waiting their turn to move through the value stream. Handoffs can be found in the “IN” box at various desks around the office. Handoffs can be found waiting on an approval or sign-off. You can see handoffs at tollgates like receiving, inspection, packing or shipping. Look closely between functional responsibilities (i.e. production, quality, purchasing, engineering, etc.) within a value stream; many times, different functions have different or conflicting priorities.

Look at the value-added work but focus on the activity (or non-activity if it’s slow moving) in front of the work and what happens directly after the value-added work.

Does work flow “first in, first out” (FIFO)? What are the signals to move work? How do you hand off (the sender’s actions and the receiver’s actions)? Is there a middleman involved? Where does it go, exactly? How does the next person/process in line want it presented? What is the distance traveled? What problems occur at the handoff? Are you pushing or pulling? Do you control the amount of inventory in the gap (standard work-in-process)? How does each person in the process communicate to one another? Do you measure or practice your handoffs?

Just like a relay team, the race can be won or lost in the handoff of the baton.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. He writes a blog called "Got Boondoggle?" featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Mike can be reached by e-mail at mwroblewski@victory-alliance.com