Successful implementation of the Toyota Production System (TPS) revolves around balancing the role of people and an organizational culture of continuous improvement with a focus on high-value-added process flow, "Lean production". It is likely that most of you have run into or heard of Lean initiatives within your organization, and if you haven't, you probably will eventually. Its main focus is speed of output or continuous flow and waste elimination. Flow is a key component of Lean because shortening the elapsed time from input to output (known as cycle time in our worlds) will lead to the best quality, lowest cost and the shortest delivery time. Waste is defined as anything that does not add value to the end product, which doesn't mean it's not necessary to the process, it just doesn't impact the end product.

When applying Lean, you start with examining the production process from the customer's perspective. The first question in TPS is always "What does the customer want from this process?" But be careful here, because you may have multiple customers including corporate finance, legal and regulatory as well as the end user of the output. This defines value.

From a Lean perspective, the first thing you should do in approaching any process is to map the "current state value stream," or more simply put: the flow of information and materials through your process as it is transformed from input to final delivery. It is best to actually walk the path to get the full experience taking note of time spent on value-added tasks like creating content, design concepting, design production, etc. The value-added tasks will obviously differ depending upon the end product.

It is equally important to map those current state tasks that are necessary but do not add value, as well as those tasks that should be considered waste. A task that may be necessary but does not add value may be time taken to create estimates or an invoice for chargeback. But even more important is to identify and quantify waste. Toyota has identified eight major types of non-value-adding waste in business or manufacturing processes, which are described below.

  • Overproduction. Producing items for which there are no orders. . This type of waste may not be typical in our industry but could include beginning projects before final or clear input is received or starting a project before the creative concept is approved.
  • Waiting (time on hand). Workers merely serving to watch an automated machine or having to stand around waiting for the next processing step. One potential example is video rendering if you haven't set up a dedicated machine to manage this process.
  • Unnecessary transport or conveyance. Such as the movement of physical job bags from station to station
  • Over processing or incorrect processing. Taking unneeded steps to process the order. Examples could include unnecessary reviews or approvals.
  • Excess inventory. Excess raw material or work in process (WIP), or finished goods. You may think does not apply to the creative process but this actually is an area of great waste. There are often backlogs of jobs waiting to begin or waiting for the next step or waiting for approval. In addition, consider extraneous rounds of a project.
  • Unnecessary movement. Any wasted motion. One example might be using multiple computer platforms for one individual requiring the user to move physically or to move content between platforms and applications.
  • Defects or errors. Corrections or rework
  • Unused employee creativity. Losing time, ideas, skills, improvements, and learning opportunities by not engaging or listening to your employees.

  • You may be surprised after mapping the value streams as to how much time is really being wasted. I had a client once that had an average cycle time of 90 days but once the actual value stream was mapped the average value-added time was under 10 hours! So waste in this case was almost 89 days. When applying Lean you may never eliminate all waste, but you should continually attempt to reduce it through continuous improvement efforts.

    After you map your current process you need to then create a future state vision. Make sure to use your guiding principles and look to eliminate waste when developing this vision. Also make sure to use a cross-functional team including the creative leader and those team members that actually do the value added work within the process.

    Lean workshops are a good way to begin to transform your process. There are generally three phases including (1) analyzing the current process, (2) developing a lean vision for the process and (3) probably most importantly, developing a plan for implementation. These workshops will need to be highly organized to be productive and keep them on track. You may even want to consider engaging an experienced lean consultant to facilitate these workshops.

    Lean process improvement coupled with a shift to a continuous improvement culture and the development of a clear set of operating principles will likely lead to far more efficient operations over time. But these changes are difficult and time consuming. The vision and the improvements need to be driven by the creative manager in order to be realized.