All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
– Galileo Galilei
Before you can improve, you must first have a very clear understanding of what the current reality is. Don’t assume you know what it is. Go to the gemba, be it your office, factory floor, or even you yourself, and observe what is going on. The worst thing you can do is try to document the current state in a meeting in a conference room.
If you are documenting the current state of a company or organization, there are a variety of areas to look at. What are the key metrics of the organization? Financial, customer service, quality, operations, and so forth. Are they the appropriate metrics? How are the metrics performing versus expectation, industry average… perhaps even perfection? What are your suppliers saying about you? Your customers? Your employees? Even your competition?
You might want to consider using some standard analysis methods as well. A SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat), perhaps a Porter Five Forces to analyze the industry, a PEST analysis of the external macroenvironment, and the BCG or GE methods to look at product lines.
From a Lean perspective you may want to look at how some key Lean tools are being used – 5S, kaizen, and so forth. But remember, they are just tools. Moving forward you need to determine if they are the right tools for the problem you are trying to solve. What is the problem or opportunity?
To document key processes, such as accounts payable, production, sales, and so forth, document the current step-by-step activities of each of those processes. How long does each step take? How are they physically laid out? Where do backlogs occur? I’ll discuss some Lean tools to use for these activities later.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, consider documenting the current state of you. What are you currently dealing with, your hopes, fears, and aspirations?
When documenting the current state, be sure to include other people with potentially other perspectives to validate the results. Beware of bias. The current state becomes the baseline from which you will start improving.