RPA and Lean, A Must

I have read a number of papers and articles on the reasons RPA projects struggle or fail and have personally witnessed a number of struggling RPA initiatives.  For anyone that has seen a mature RPA tool in action, you will be surprised to hear that failure numbers as high as 50% are being reported.  RPA tools are very easy to use, lightweight on the network, and easy to adjust as needed.  I have seen very capable RPA bots built in less than a day and complex bots built in a couple of weeks.  So why are so many RPA initiatives struggling?

One of the key reasons for RPA project struggling and even failure is a lack of true process expertise.  Process expertise is needed in the assessment, design, and implementation of bots.  It is also needed for the bot building process itself.  To solve this problem, enlightened organizations are adopting the proven methods and principles of Lean.

In this article, I provide a quick overview of the Lean principles that apply to RPA and how, along with a glimpse into the powerful body of knowledge MSI has developed in our Lean Automation practice.

Lean Facilitation Skills: A true Lean Master has conducted dozens and sometimes more than one hundred Lean process events of various types from Lean Strategy (a.k.a. Hoshin Kanri) to Lean Design through basic Lean Improvement events.  These Lean facilitation skills are vitally important in the RPA bot building process to move swiftly to the ideal process and to get stakeholder agreement on what a bot is supposed to do and how.  In our experience, stakeholder agreement on the steps a bot will take is often the most time-consuming task in the bot life-cycle.

Value Stream Analysis: The ability to define and assess value is a vital first step in the creation of a bot project portfolio. Understanding value, defining value streams, and the subsequent analysis allows us to create an orchestrated bot portfolio that actually reduces the time from input to outcome.  This is a serious problem with most RPA implementations.  They are speeding up micro level subtasks within value streams that merely create backlogs and do nothing to actually reduce the time to value or increase throughput.  Further, the definition of Value Streams provides us a meaningful basis for measuring the ROI of an RPA initiative.

Lean Process Design and Improvement: Matrix Based Design or Axiomatic Design combined with Lean thinking enables you to create profoundly complete and capable requirements for one or more bots in a single pass when your processes need a serious overhaul. For tweaking well designed processes, Lean process improvement will help identify common mistakes such as batch processing and other forms of waste ensuring that processes being automated don’t just speed up bad processes.

Lean Work Cells: Lean Work Cells (a.k.a. Scrum Teams) should be deployed for the bot building life-cycle to ensure work is conducted at its finest practical increment and focus on production is maintained with no hand-offs. The Lean RPA Work Cell may be the most important Lean method you can apply to your RPA program. Clear accountability for bot production and elimination of bot life-cycle hand-offs is of paramount importance.

Kan Ban: Kan Ban should be used by RPA Work cells to control rate of work in a “pull system”, Work In Process (WIP), and to ensure quality specifications for each project.

One Piece Flow: One Piece Flow should be used to ensure in-process inventories/backlogs are not created, that projects are right sized, and that the workload is balanced across work cells.

Poke Yoke: Mistake proofing should be employed in both the bot life-cycle as well as the process automated by each bot. A Lean expert will be familiar with mistake proofing techniques in the digital world making a significantly more robust system.

Be warned, simply doing the same old stuff and calling it Lean will not deliver results. Hanging post-it notes on walls to map processes is not Lean. You must incorporate actual Lean expertise that is only forged through Master’s level eduction, industry experience, and industrial certification to properly adopt and train Lean methods in your organization.

At MSI, we have 18 years of corporate Lean consulting experience and numerous highly respected Lean experts. We have a similar number of years with process automation using various process automation technologies and with the introduction of RPA, MSI has become a pioneer in the adaptation of our Lean Automation and Process Oriented Design techniques into the deployment and management of this breakthrough technology.

Our Lean RPA framework contains all aspects for Lean execution of a Lean Automation program from the Center of Excellence and strategic integration with the business down to hands on Lean RPA Bot development. RPA is coming to your organization, like it or not. Many organizations will stumble and flail about for years attempting to control RPA and turn it into ROI, while those adopting a Lean Thinking approach will benefit early and often.

A subject for another article is Hoshin Kanri, the Lean approach to operationalizing strategy. RPA programs should promote the use of Hoshin Kanri within their organizations and integrate a bot candidate review process for strategic initiatives within the Hoshin Plan. By integrating RPA into strategic initiatives, RPA can propogate throughout an organization strategically, prove its value, increase the probability of success for initiatives, and increase the measurability of initiatives.

About gmsieber
President and CEO of Management Science & Innovation

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