Series Posts: Lean Journey

Lean Receipts

Lean Journey • August 17, 2017

As we approach the one year anniversary of our Lean journey, the accounting department took time to reflect on how we have evolved over the past year through Lean principles. We had to laugh at how antiquated some of our procedures and processes were before Lean. One process we brought into the 21st century was how we collect and store our credit card receipts. Identifying Waste Storing expense receipts and invoices is an unavoidable pain one must endure if they wish to maintain a healthy relationship with Uncle Sam. Before we started Lean we used to collect receipts via a basket on my desk and an email address for digital receipts. Then, I had to scan all the hard copies into quickbooks and store them in a file box under my desk. I would then move on to the digital receipts. We had a receipt email address that credit card holders would send all their digital receipts too. I would go through the inbox and one by one download or screenshot each receipt onto my desktop. After downloading or screenshotting the receipts, I moved the receipts to a folder belonging to the specific credit card holder. We had north of 20 different folders. Once they were on my desktop, I would open QuickBooks and drag the receipt into the attachment section. In order to attach a receipt to the proper transaction in QuickBooks, you need to know the vendor, date and amount for each transaction. Being an international company with offices in 15 countries servicing 9 different languages, I would often have to try and find that critical information in a language that wasn’t my own. I had to find a currency converter online to get the amount in USD. Then I would would use Google translate to find the vendor. Finding the date was even a hassle since countries vary in where the date is located on the receipt. The order of day, month, and year is even different. I would have to do this with a few hundred transactions per month spending on average one to two days a week attaching receipts. Lean forces you to evaluate every department and every process within that department. When the accounting department began evaluating our processes, we knew that the credit card receipt process needed some Lean injected into it. Our first improvement actually came from an employee outside of the accounting department. One of the eight wastes of 2-Second Lean is underutilizing employee genius. Lean forces you to leave your ego at the door. We did not mind that someone from another department had an idea that would improve one of our processes. We had recently switched our internal communication software to Slack so the suggestion was to create a Slack channel for each credit card holder that they would send their digital receipts to. This made it easier for them to send their receipts and easier for me to keep track of their receipts. This one simple improvement shortened the digital process by a third. Continuous Improvement Now that we mastered our credit credit receipt process, it would make sense that we would move on to another process. Right? Wrong. Lean is continual improvement. That includes processes that have already been “leanified.” Lean is not a fad you incorporate for a few months until you find another business book at the airport to read on the plane. Lean is a cultural overhaul of your company. Sending the digital receipts to a Slack channel was the catalyst that got the ball rolling. We realized that digital receipts were just half of the equation. What were we going to do about the box of receipts under my desk that would put CVS to shame? Don’t Waste Employee Genius! To solve this issue, we once again had to rely on employee genius outside of the accounting department (you are probably wondering if there is any employee genius within the accounting department). It helps to have a fresh outside point of view evaluating your processes. One of our international employees, who has a fair amount of receipts, was finding it very tedious to download and send in all his receipts. He had a very simple solution. Realizing that he had a camera on him at all times on his phone, he simply took pictures of all his receipts and uploaded them directly into his Slack channel. This saved him the step of downloading the receipt as a PDF to upload it and saved me the step of downloading the pdf to open it. This was such a simple and effective solution that we made it a company wide standard. In fact, it was so convenient for the digital receipts that we made the people in the office that turned in hard copies switch to this method as well. More Continuous Improvement With the issue of collecting and storing resolved, there was one more major issue to address. I needed to find an easier way for me to get the information needed to properly code the transaction. Instead of putting all of the responsibility on me for finding this information, I asked all of the credit card holders to write down the information on the receipts. They wrote down what the charge was for, how much the charge was in USD, the date of the charge and the proper expense account it should be coded to. What sometimes took me up to five minutes to find per receipt, they were able to produce in around 30 seconds! It was a game changer. Loving Our Lean Journey Lean was able to turn a dreaded weekly process into a minor, but necessary,  inconvenience. It is only able to do this if you check your ego and make yourself a little vulnerable. I know it can be scary opening yourself up to criticism, but it is essential for personal and organization growth. Albert Einstein, a fairly successful physicist, once said, Success comes from curiosity, concentration, perseverance and self-criticism. How do you use Lean to succeed? Share your tips in the comments.                    

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Lean en Espanol

Lean en Español

Lean Journey • May 23, 2017

When they invited me to be part of the Benchmark Lean Squad I was very excited. This new lean concept idea was something that, from the very beginning, made sense in regards to our daily tasks thanks to the many digital tools and software that we use. Now, we are able to simplify them with Lean. I simply loved the idea. Not only do I love being lean at work, but it\'s also in my way of living. I even use the ideas of lean to rate my everyday activities. Does this same strange? Well, imagine my motivation when they invited me to lead the Lean meetings for Latin America and Europe. The Team My super Lean team consists of 15 people. They are all from different countries and cultures, and we only have a few things in common: we all speak Spanish and we are all Benchmarkers. The Meeting: Beginning Stage \"It can\'t be. I have to conduct the Lean Meeting!\" Every day we read the diary of the Stoics, a beautiful book that contains the most celebrated quotes from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, among a few others. We also share our best 2-second lean improvements, a daily commitment to daily and continuous improvement. Everyone writes down their improvements and shares them. We also watched a video for personal improvement. On Fridays, we have our Core Value presentation, in which we reflected on and have a discussion of the same. It all seemed to be going fine and dandy, however, the reality was another. Our meeting is held via a call, and not actually in person. This limits us because it does not allow us to see the true reactions of the ones behind the screen and, to be totally honest, I was not sure who was actually engaged. The Challenge Ensuring the team was interested and engaged during the meetings was and is a challenge. I cannot claim victory here yet, and I must admit this is something that we will continue to try and improve on. We have implemented a series of new ideas to make our meetings more interactive, and I say we because Frieder (Germany- Manager) and Raquel (Regional Manager for Europe) have given me their full support in every step. It has been a great team effort. One of the first changes was to stop translating our Daily Stoic and to look for something in our own language. Second, we continued with the videos provided by the Lean Squad, but we were also busy looking for videos in Spanish and ultimately videos that peaked our interest. We also started sharing our screens, which was another great suggestion given to improve our meeting. The second change, we started getting to know each other. One of the best experiences in my opinion! It occurred to me, to create a drawing jar with each of our names and an activity for that day to draw from. Here are some stories our team members have shared with us during our Lean 19 meetings: [caption id=\"attachment_5531\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"879\"] Karen, from our Colombian office, talked to us about, Valledupar, her birthplace. It was interesting to find out that instead of looking for a queen, they look for a king during their Annual Vallenato Festival.[/caption] [caption id=\"attachment_5532\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"1600\"] Here is Eduardo Ramos, one of our Support Executive team members. It’s incredible, the acrobatic performance he can do while on a motorcycle. I must admit this really surprised us![/caption] [caption id=\"attachment_5533\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"749\"] Fernanda Brito, from our Mexico office, with her family crossing between Guanajuato and Mexico.[/caption] Result I strongly believe we are now more than just colleagues. Like I said before, it\'s a work in progress. That even I don\'t expect the improvements to stop. We will continue to reinvent day to day, and hopefully, in the end, the team will enjoy the 19 minutes and adopt the lean concept.  Why not become friends on the way to being lean despite the distance and those cultural differences that, at the end of the day, enrich our wonderful company.

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The Daily Lean Convene

The Daily Lean Convene

Lean Journey • May 9, 2017

When we decided to really commit to becoming LEAN at Benchmark, we knew we would have an extra challenge since our team is spread throughout the world.  Could we realistically teach the concept of Lean to our team of 140+ Benchmarkers who operate in 9 languages and 8 time zones?  More importantly, could we build a LEAN culture that would come to permeate how we make decisions and the way we work every day?  These were important questions our Leadership Team had to answer. We had already assembled our Lean Squad so now we had to land on how we would go about making Lean part of our daily lives.   We needed to drive home the lean message of continuous improvement.  We already had daily huddles and scrums and weekly Level 10 meetings for our various teams.  But we did not have a standing meeting that everyone in the company attended every day.  Would it really be possible to commit to meeting every work day in every one of our offices in the world?  Could we afford the loss of time?  The answer was absolutely!  In fact, we could not afford to NOT meet, especially if we wanted to have a true lean transformation.  We saw this as an investment in our team and we hoped they would see it the same way. I was especially concerned about our developers.  They tend to be very smart, matter of fact, black and white and not very touchy feely.  I could just imagine them saying ‘Why the heck are we wasting time on this?  I’ve got code to write!\' We decided we would meet every day for 19 minutes, so we named our meeting Lean 19.  Each of the 6 other regions picked a time that they could commit to daily.  In our headquarters in Los Alamitos, we chose 9:41 AM.  It was an odd time, so people remembered it.  We have an automatic Slack reminder that posts at 9:39 and then we “ring the bell” at 9:40.  Most of the team is already making their way to the conference room and are seated by 9:41. [caption id=\"attachment_5270\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"768\"] Our Lean 19 bell[/caption] For the first few months, our meetings consisted of learning Lean principles,  talking about our “2-Second Improvements” and reviewing one of our Core Values followed by an inspiring Ted Talk. At first, it was a little hard to get everyone on board and I think some of the team thought we were crazy.  I was especially concerned about our developers.  They tend to be very smart, to the matter of fact, black and white and not very touchy feely.  I could just imagine them saying, “Why the heck are we wasting time on this?  I’ve got code to write!”  However, I was so wrong.  Not only did they get on board, they loved it.  In fact, they seemed to take to Lean quicker than anyone else. Our first Lean 19 meeting was July 18, 2016.  We’ve had a meeting almost every work day since then and they just keep getting better. If you are interested in our daily Lean 19 agendas, just email me at and I’d be happy to share my presentations with you.

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Lean Journey: Let’s Do it in the Bathroom

Lean Journey • April 20, 2017

When I first introduced Lean to the Benchmark team I was a little uncomfortable with a comment from Paul Akers, author of 2 Second Lean, stating that “it all starts in the bathroom.”  He maintains that there is no better place to start to build and maintain a culture of continuous improvement than in the bathroom.  Everyone uses it, so it’s a perfect place to apply the 3 S\'s:  sweep, sort and standardize. Sweep - a clean environment improves morale and actually makes it easier to identify equipment deterioration and/or malfunction Sort - sort everything and remove what is not necessary to the job at hand and get rid of all the clutter and junk Standardize - this involves building consensus in the workplace for best practices so that everybody understands what to expect and what is expected of them I wasn’t sure how the team would react to being asked to clean the bathroom.  We have a fabulous cleaning service and I certainly wasn’t trying to put them out of business.  The real goal was to get everyone to start thinking LEAN.  So I apprehensively shared this 3 S-ing idea with the team in our Daily Lean 19 meeting and was surprised by the positive reception.  Everyone was on board! My advice for people wanting to create a Lean culture is to start in the bathroom and roll it out slowly from there. Go ahead, do it in the bathroom! - Paul Akers We decided to divide our worldwide headquarters into seven main regions: men and women’s bathroom, kitchen, lobby, main conference room and supply room.  We did an enormous 3 S-ing day where everyone was assigned to one of the areas and we went to town getting everything spic n’ span.  It was actually fun. We made a Red Tag table for stuff that had been laying around for ages.  We invited people to take anything on the table.  Whatever was left over would be donated, recycled or trashed.  We got rid of loads of junk that was lowering our productivity. [caption id=\"attachment_5064\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"768\"] Just like Paul recommended, we went through each area- including the bathrooms- and 3S-ed.[/caption] Everyone- including our CEO, Curt Keller,  takes a turn maintaining a different area for the week. We announce the weekly 3S-ing assignments in our Daily Lean 19 meeting and in Slack.  It rotates around and thanks to our standardized visual procedures, they know exactly what needs to be done. [caption id=\"attachment_5070\" align=\"aligncenter\" width=\"768\"] Now our bathrooms are spotless all the time ... and our cleaning service loves us as we’ve made their job easier![/caption] Building a Lean culture requires standardizing and simplifying everything.   By starting with the bathroom, you embrace one of the main tenets of Lean which is respect for people. Leaving the bathroom cleaner than you found it is a very basic sign of respect and courtesy for others. The toilet seat is down and there is no icky stuff to navigate. I’d love to hear what you have done in your office to help build a Lean culture. Please share in the comments!

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Formation of the Lean Squad

Squad Goals: Forming A Team For This Lean Journey

Lean Journey • November 8, 2016

In June, a handful of Benchmark employees were added to a new Slack channel and greeted with the following message from COO Denise Keller: Welcome to the Benchmark LEAN SQUAD You have all been individually recommended to join this new group to help us launch LEAN thinking at Benchmark. Lean is an exciting way of looking at everything we do with two clear goals in mind: 1) reducing waste and 2) making continuous improvements. I am going to have you start by watching an outstanding video that explains the concept.  I will also be sharing a PDF of the book here tomorrow. The goal of our squad is to get all 140+ of our team members living LEAN every single day.   The success of this will be dependent on having buy-in from everyone. One of my most favorite lines from the video is that “the genius is in the employees!”  That’s the beauty in that EVERYONE can contribute and make a difference. We will have our first squad meeting next week. With that, we all began our indoctrination to lean, and specifically, Paul Akers 2-Second Lean concept. We watched him speak on the ideals and read his book. I even invited him to join us for the Heart of Business podcast. It was time for our first Lean Squad meeting. Individuals from each worldwide office and region were in attendance, tasked with the question of how to implement a culture change at our company on a global scale. Each of us spoke and made suggestions on what needed to happen for lean to successfully launch at Benchmark. We agreed to pick a day to offer three times, to cover all time zones, for a mandatory meeting. In this meeting, everyone would watch Paul Aker’s speech on 2-Second Lean and a presentation would be given on what we wanted lean to mean to us at Benchmark. With that, the seeds of Lean were forever planted here at Benchmark. It will take some watering for the lean garden to continue to grow, but we had our start. I’m excited to continue updating you on how our Lean Journey has gone, as a Lean Squad member and someone who drank the Kool-Aid from the start.

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