Lean Tool: Circle of Work Analysis to Identify Quantify Waste

Posted on Posted in Featured Article, Lean Tools

I define the lean tool known as a Circle of Work analysis as the observation of multiple workflows within a workplace all impacting a single value stream.  This is done for the purpose of capturing data about the amount of waste existing in a given set of processes.  The process for capturing the data is quite simple.  In its simplest form, with a clipboard and stopwatch in hand, the observer will shadow a process and record each step taken to complete a process from beginning to end.  Once the steps are collected, the observer may categorize the work by task and quantify the amount of time spent on value added versus non-value added time.

I’ve used this approach in a couple of different settings and it works well.  It can be used for a number of different reasons.  I’ve observed a housekeeping department, an operating room, an inpatient unit, physicians on rounds, a call center and an emergency department to name a few.  This analysis is very effective when paired with a gemba walk.

Circle of Work Analysis in 5 Steps:

  1. Identify the process or workplace to observe.  Using a prioritized process improvement agenda, a ‘hot-button’ issue from your daily management system or a value stream map, the first step is to identify the process or workplace to observe for value added and non-value added time.  For example, in  order to understand the standard work in a housekeeping department better, one of the first actions my team took was to perform a circle of work analysis of the daily clean process.
  2. Observe and Analyze the Process:  With a pen, paper and stopwatch, or a sophisticated excel spreadsheet, capture every step in the process being observed.  Categorize each step in the process into value-added, non-value added and non-value added but necessary.
  3. Categorize the Non-Value added Time: Using the 8 Wastes of Lean as a guide, categorize the non-value added time and quantify the amount time a user will spend on each category.
  4. Prioritize the Identified Waste for Resolution:  Draw a four-square matrix on a flipchart with a vertical of “% time spent on task” vs a horizontal of “impact to customer experience”.  Place each identified waste category onto the matrix and determine the critical few that require the highest percentage of time and have the highest impact on the customer experience in the current environment.  These will be the first areas of the workplace you look to make improvements.
  5. Develop a Strategy for Improvement:  Now that you’ve categorized and prioritized the wastes existing in the process, you can develop a strategy to improve buckets of work within the process.  For example, in a medical clinic I applied this tool to patients spent a large amount of time waiting.  Waiting for outpatient treatment.  Waiting for the physician.  Waiting for lab draws.  The first area of waste we targeted was waiting.