RPA and Lean: A Great Team!
As Bill Gates once said “The first rule of any technology used in business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”. This quote speaks to the role Lean Methodology can play in creating efficient and valuable RPA processes.
Lean is about maximizing value while minimizing waste. This is also a key tenant of RPA.
With or without Lean, a point we stress to our RPA Partners is to identify “High Value” processes that achieve ROI, regardless of what it is measured in (i.e. efficiency, accuracy, cost, employee satisfaction, etc.)
As Andrew Spanyi has written, “RPA does not redesign anything. It doesn’t ask whether we need to do this activity at all. It operates at the task level and not the end-to-end process level”. Therefore, RPA is like a hammer and nail. In order for the hammer to hit the nail, it needs be guided. In this case, that can come from a human teaching it or from AI or Machine Learning. Regardless of the type of process it will need to be defined and at each step determine whether it’s valuable.
Some items that are part of the Lean Flow that one can certainly utilize with RPA
- Identify Value
- Map Value Stream
- Create Flow
- Establish Flow
- Improve Continuously
Earlier I spoke of identifying value. Where RPA and Lean seem to have the best synergy is with both the “Map Value Stream” and “Improve Continuously” activities.
To create a successful automation, its important to figure out how it will affect a current or proposed process and understand how it will be impacted. At the end of the day, improvements need to be achieved by undertaking this effort.
RPA processes are agile and can help any organization improve themselves either from the output of the process or by modifying its current workflow.
When using RPA as part of your Lean initiative it’s important to do the following:
- Map the entire business process to understand existing process wastes & existing business rules.
- Determine what really needs to be improved.
- Test the proposed automation for scalability to understand what business needs might come up in the future.
- Error Proof to decide business rules to be simplified/standardized before it is handled by the automation.
Apply simplification, re-sequencing, standardization techniques.
In addition, the following are good identifiers of good RPA candidate processes:
- Bottleneck: The throughput of the bottleneck process determines the efficiency of the overall value chain.
- Stability: A stable and capable process with low variation.
- Robustness: A robust process where all failure modes are known and can be handled with exception handling.
- High Value: Processes that are strategically important both from areas of efficiency, employee satisfaction and continuous improvement.
And when you are setting up a COE, here are some “must haves.” Key areas of focus are governance and continuous improvements to ensure that processes are fully vetted and determined to create value and eliminate waste.
- Demand Management
- Feasibility Assessment
- Business Case Presentation
- Project Prioritization
- Automation Development
- Automation Implementation
- Automation Support
- Continuous Improvements
- Standards & Best Practices
- Performance Tracking
In closing, RPA can add a ton of value to any Lean initiative. Many of the concepts within Lean and RPA are comparable and, in general, RPA is something that needs to be taught. It doesn’t operate on its own so applying Lean to it makes perfect sense.
Peter S. Camp is the CTO and Founder of CampTek Software. He has been developing RPA Applications for over 15 years. For further questions, discussion or inquiry about CampTek Software Services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.