Part 2


In the previous section, you’ve learned how to map your current state. By doing that, you start to see where the problems are happening within your process and what is causing them.

This description of where a problem happens is called Points of Cause. The reasons that lead to this problem are called Root Causes.

One way to think about this is to imagine a tree. The visible parts of the tree, above the ground, are your points of cause. The tree’s roots, under the ground, are your root causes.

In order to solve a point of cause, it’s necessary to pursue its root cause. To do that, Lean encourages you to go the Gemba and see the problem for yourself, applying the 5 whys methodology.

When identifying the causes of a problem, try to break the analysis into three perspectives:

  • People: do the people involved in this process have the necessary capabilities? Are we using their skills in the best way possible?
  • Processes: is this process well designed? Are the instructions clear? Do we measure it?
  • Resources: are we using the best tools to manage the process? Do we have everything we need?

Shall we see how Acme has performed this step in their Purchase Process improvement?

CASE: Purchase Process at Acme

Point of Cause 1

The total process lead-time is nine days, from the time the requester fills up the spreadsheet until the Purchase Order is finally sent to the supplier. However, the cycle time – the time the team is actually adding value to the process and getting work done – is only 120 minutes. Bringing the Efficiency Ratio to 2.8%, meaning that the process is inefficient – especially when it comes to manager-level approvals, with a 0.3% efficiency ratio.

Root cause analysis

  • We can see the formation of bottlenecks among some of the phases. These accumulated requests are shown by the cards between these phases e.g. 16 waiting requests between the Engineering and General Manager review phase
  • Each person involved has a backlog of other things to focus on related to their actual work. Approving these requests is never a priority for them
    E.g. The general managers’ job is not to solely approve purchase requests, and this is exactly why it takes them five days to do something that actually should be done in 25 minutes
  • The number of steps and people involved in the approval is substantial, and some of the steps are redundant

Point of Cause 2

When going to the Gemba, both people from the procurement team and the business areas complained about defects, leading to rework, leading to lead-time increase.

Root cause analysis

  • The process is started with a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet doesn’t have any mistake-proofing mechanisms, or poka-yokes, making it hard to receive structured data, thus making it hard for the procurement team to analyze the request
  • Communication between approvers and requesters is made through email, making the process slow when it comes to information exchange
  • The request is manually inputted in the ERP, making a lot of room for errors and leading to rework
  • Acme is not leveraging available technology to improve their processes

Now that you understand your root causes and are ready to solve them, it’s time to design your target state.

Before you continue, make sure you fill out the Root Cause Analysis box of your A3 template.


Now that you know your problems and the reasons behind them, it’s time to tap your creativity and design your future state!

Ask yourself: where do we want to get? What would be the ideal state for this process? It’s imperative that you set up a target you’d like to achieve when all these changes are in place. 

A target helps you limit your scope and measure your progress towards improvement. Lean goal setting is all about having “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

  • Specific – targets must be specific and not general in scope
  • Measurable – you must be able to see and quantitatively measure success
  • Attainable – you must be able to see progress and be excited about achieving it
  • Relevant – focused on what’s important and aligned with the company’s goals
  • Time-bound – it must state when you hope to reach the goal or target in question

CASE: Purchase Process at Acme

Process improvement project at Acme’s procurement division. Process improvement project at Acme’s procurement division.

Problem Statement: For the past six months, the lead time of the purchase process went up 50% (from six to nine days), causing us to miss our yearly customer satisfaction goal.

Future State: In order for us to attain our customer satisfaction, we are looking to reduce the purchasing process lead time from 9 to 4.5 days in the next month.

How is your operation in its ideal and lean state? Fill out the Target State box of your A3.

3.5 Design a plan to close this gap

Now that you know where you want to get, you need to know how you will get there. Look at your current and future states in the eyes and try to answer these questions:

  • Where can you connect processes? Where can you use Kanban to maintain flow?
  • Are the process’ steps done right the first time? Where can you build quality in rather than by inspection?
  • Are there unnecessary process steps? Does this step really transform information?
  • Do internal policies need to be changed?
  • Are you leveraging available technology to improve your operations?

After answering these questions, reimagine your new flow with these ideas applied to it. These are your countermeasures!

When developing your countermeasures, prioritize the ones that require low effort but generate high impact, the quick wins. Avoid the waste of overprocessing. There’s nothing Lean on spending too much energy on something that will bring low impact!


CASE: Purchase Process at Acme

Acmes countermeasures development:

  1. To improve the lead time, the whole process must be more agile and less people-dependent. To achieve that we should:
    • reduce the number of redundant phases (similar approvals); give more autonomy to approvers; develop business rules and approval levels in a way that we only involve other area leaders if, for example, the request is above x USD or it wasn’t forecasted on budget
    • use a standard web form with specific and mandatory fields, connected to the ERP, to reduce error rates, automate a good part of the process and prevent approval mistakes
    • establish SLAs for critical steps, such as one day for the team leader and purchase manager’s approval

When applying these improvements to their Purchase Process, this is what they imagine their new state will look like:

Future Purchase Requests at Acme


At a glance, we immediately note that the process will be much more clear and leaner. We plan to go from seven steps after the request is submitted to only three. Another significant improvement is the fact that we will use only one customized tool – no more spreadsheets, emails or manual entries on the ERP.

With all these changes in place, we hope to achieve:

Total Lead Time: 2.5 days
Total Cycle Time: 55 min
%C&A: 89%

*Note that even though Acmes goals are bold, they are attainable. They were only able to project these numbers because they had data to support them. Without data, Acme would be making irrational predictions. That’s why you must foster a data-driven culture and ensure the quality of your business data.

Now that you’ve designed your countermeasures, you need to sketch a plan to implement them. For that is important that you:

Develop a chronogram for the project, composed by core actions, deliverables and due dates for them to happen.

Establish a method to track the progress of the project. E.g., weekly team meetings, dashboards and so on to confront the current vs. previous state and planned vs. executed.

Clearly see the changes’ benefits and ROI.

Planning is critical so, make sure to

  • Be realistic – set realistic expectations, especially regarding completion dates
  • Be detailed – to promote clear communication and understanding
  • Make it visual – use Charts, VSMs and A3

That’s what a solid plan looks like. And with a solid plan in hand, you are ready to act with more agility and efficiency.

Now that you know where you wish to be and how to get there, it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and start getting things done. Before you go, make sure your Action Plan box is filled out.