Eliminating Waste: Elimination of hardships and waste in the value stream.

You probably already know the three ways of DevOps and how embracing each of these principles can improve the workflow and processes in the workplace, particularly in software development. This article will focus on how the Second Way can help in reducing wasteful activities and how to improve the process of performing quality assurance work to ensure the quality and reliability of a product.

A Quick Look on The Second Way

The Second Way focuses on automating the feedback and testing process that are necessary in the development of a software. These activities consume time, energy, and resources, and are often referred to as “necessary waste” — actions that neither generate income nor provide any sort of direct value to the customer,  but are necessary in making sure that the products meet the standards, as well as customer expectations. To do this, planning, testing, reporting, code review must be performed as part of the workflow standard, because it produces an outcome that the end user can benefit from. To reduce the amount of resources that go to these necessary wastes, automation must be implemented in areas where it is possible to do so, like testing, feedback, monitoring, and deployment.

The Importance of Automation in Software Development

We live in a time where the demand for production is at an all time high and where markets are competing for customers by offering new products and services that claim to better and faster than ever. This has resulted in an enormous pressure on software developers to build, test, release, and deploy as fast as they could, in order to be the first to deliver new products and services that can attract new customers and keep the old ones continuously drawn to it. This shift in priorities, unfortunately, often lead to the abandonment of on-going projects, the accumulation of partially done work, and a pile of WIPs in its wake. The Second Way offers a way to eliminate circumstances that can heavily affect productivity, efficiency, as well as the wasteful use of resources. Automation, which is the heart of The Second Way, can significantly reduce the length of time that is spent to complete an entire project by automating certain steps and processes, reducing human error in the process; it makes the effort proportional to the benefits of performing quality assurance work, as that is what gives value to the work that comes out of it.

Where To Start

Evaluating the current work load is the first step towards waste elimination in the value stream. The value stream map is the best place to look into, and carefully analyse where the choke-points and bottlenecks are, which are likely the cause of delays and where work gets pended for long intervals.

What to Look Out For

There are two types of waste in Lean: necessary waste and pure waste. We’ve touched up on necessary waste earlier, and have established this as actions that don’t necessarily directly generate income but yield results that do, like product reliability and quality: things that customers are willing to pay for when purchasing a product or a service.

Pure waste are actions or steps in the process that cause delays and does not bring value to the product or to the end user. These are points and acitivites in the value stream map that stall or delay progress, and are not profitable for the organisation. When a tasks sits idling while waiting to be done or those that are pended after a hand off are two of the most common types of pure waste. Tasks that require re-work due to lack of testing and are also considered pure waste as these are repeated actions that cost the company resources that they cannot gain from or gain back.

The Causes of Pure Waste

Pure waste is the result of any unfinished or delayed work that are hampered by task switching causing pended, partially completed, or completely abandoned work; extra processes that bring no value to the product or to the end user and only complicate the workflow; deviation from standard work processes resulting to manual work, last minute effort, and heroic actions to salvage a project. While heroics are often acknowledged and given credit, it remains an unhealthy habit especially that it arises from deviation from standards and cutting corners in order to meet a strict deadline. It cultivates a work culture that is more reactive than preventive – this is extremely detrimental to the success of any project and the overall success of an entire organisation. It is often said that a product is only as good as the people who made it. Reacting to the occurrence of pure waste in the process triggers counterproductive solutions like cutting corners, skipping testing, and finding shortcuts that don’t meet the standards set forth by the organisation. As a result, product quality and reliability suffer, and can eventually lead to the loss of trust from stakeholders and customers. Here below are the major causes of pure waste:

Task Switching

This is different from multi-tasking (which is also not encouraged when doing non-related things at the same time). Task switching can be likened to completely switching lanes and moving towards a new destination altogether. It’s the complete abandonment of an ongoing project and the diversion of resources towards a new project. In some cases, these side tracked projects remain abandoned for good.

Extra Processes

These additional steps in the workflow can be likened to the hold music when you’re put on hold on call; a way to fill a gap or mask idle time. These steps are inserted in between actual action steps, as a landing point from a hand off, when it is neither waiting or being worked on.

Defects

These problems occur due to the interruption of the work flow. Interruptions can be in the form of starting with a new project, picking up with the previous project, or attending to unplanned work, thereby reducing the time available to work on the current project. As a result, defects occur as time constraints often lead to unmet quality assurance standards, thereby sending a product to the production line barely tested and loaded with flaws. Defects require re-work, which is another form of pure waste.

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