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Gemba Walks Help Streamline IT Services at McCarthy Building Companies

By Michael Oster, CIO, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc

Michael Oster, CIO, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc

In recent years, "Lean" principles have become a growing area of focus in companies across all industries. The Lean Enterprise Institute defines Lean by the core idea of maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. According to the Institute, "A Lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste."

"McCarthy's IT department rolled out the Gemba Walk process for identifying root cause problems for Help Desk tickets"

The concept of Lean has been around for decades, beginning in the manufacturing arena, then moving into other industries, like Construction. McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., one of the top U.S. commercial builders with more than 3,500 full-time employees, is focused on active improvement of both field and administrative processes in support of a deep-rooted Lean culture.

Developing a Lean culture focuses on eliminating or reducing eight different types of waste that occur in an industry. They are-

1. Transport – Moving people, products or information
2. Inventory – Storing parts, pieces, documentation
3. Motion – Bending, turning, reaching, lifting
4. Waiting – For parts, information, instructions, equipment
5. Over production – Making more than is immediately needed
6. Over processing – Tighter tolerances or higher grade materials than are necessary
7. Defects – Rework, scrap, incorrect documentation
8. Skills – Underutilizing employee capabilities, delegating tasks with inadequate training

If you look closely at any IT department, you can see ways in which these types of waste exist. McCarthy’s IT Customer Service has adopted Lean principles beginning with eliminating system defects within the Technology Solutions team. For example, if a program bug appears and employees have to work around that bug through other means, it causes inefficiency and waste, and potentially a call to the Help Desk for tech support. By eliminating the defect, you eliminate the waste and increase efficiency, directly impacting business results. In the IT world, efficiency and effectiveness are both critical.

Within McCarthy, the IT Department started with the Help Desk in order to reduce the number of defects, as every call that comes in is considered a defect. One way this has been accomplished is through a process called the Gemba Walk.

What is a Gemba Walk?

The Japanese term Gemba means "the real place." A Gemba is literally any direct location where the action is taking place. Within a Lean culture, it refers to the location where value is created and ultimately improved – in this case, the IT Help Desk.

Earlier this year, McCarthy's IT department rolled out the Gemba Walk process for identifying root cause problems for Help Desk tickets. Through Gemba Walk process, management directly observes the place where work is being done, in this case the IT Customer Service area, to develop ideas for improvement with an overall goal of eliminating defects. The McCarthy Help Desk receives hundreds of calls per week with just three people staffing those calls. This volume can lead to longer wait times, which in turn cause people to "abandon" or hang up the call before being serviced. Ideally, the Help Desk staff wants to help people resolve their issues quickly and prevent future issues from occurring.

The first set of objectives the McCarthy IT Department is working to achieve through the Gemba Walk process include-

• Reducing the number of Help Desk calls
• Reducing the length of calls
• Reducing the abandoned call rate
• Reducing call wait times

Through the Gemba Walk process, all of McCarthy's IT managers meet with the Help Desk staff weekly and the staff presents a summary of the Help Desk report for the week, showing call volume, total number of tickets entered, call wait times and call handle times, as well as the most frequent types of problems reported – basically, a snapshot of what occurred during that week.

Before the weekly meeting, the Help Desk team reviews tickets and analyzes root causes. Each week, the team focuses on those four core objectives so everyone knows what problems they are trying to solve. Once each of these objectives is down to a reasonable target, the team will move on to different issues. This process has become a valuable tool for the department. If the Help Desk staff cannot solve a specific problem, it is assigned to a manager during this meeting for resolution. If a significant amount of activity is occurring around one specific topic area, the group will dive deeper into the root cause. Once they are able to identify a root cause and come up with a solution, ideally the problem should not come up again.

One basic example of diagnosing root cause was focusing on password resets. People forget to update their passwords before they expire, and thus have to call the Help Desk to reset them. Employees lose time trying to reconcile the issue, and IT staff loses time trying to fix it. As a result of the Gemba Walk process, the IT department has taken additional measures to move to a single sign-on solution. The IT staff sends out reminders to employees 10 days before their password expires outlining the procedure for resetting. Prior to identifying this defect and its root cause, the Help Desk would receive dozens of those calls per month on password resets, and now it's down to just 10 or 15.

The department created a "Gemba Wall" in the Help Desk area on which they post all of the data gathered and track the team's progress. Over the past six months that the Gemba Walk initiative has been in place, there has been some notable progress. While call volume has gone up (based on a growing base of jobs and new employees), the abandon rate and average call wait time are going down, as well as the call handle time being reduced.

Just as important, engaging McCarthy’s front line Help Desk team with the IT management group fosters a team-based approach to the elimination of defects. The Help Desk team is now able to focus on problem prevention more than problem solving.

The Gemba Walk process has also resulted in identifying opportunities to improve various McCarthy systems including-

• Tablet PC/iPad safety reporting and monitoring
• Crowd-based safety issue reporting system
• Change order process improvement
• Bid process document control
• Electronic submittals
• Payment application process improvement
• Meeting process improvement
• Photo documentation
• 3D virtual mockup process

This example is just one use of this Lean practice that is being implemented throughout the company, in both the office and the field. The core foundations of Lean principles and practices are based on the concept of continuous product and process improvement, and the elimination of waste or non-value added activities. This can be used for any type of problem solving where you can put metrics to it and measure over time.

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