Sunday, 14 November 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from Lean Management

Lean management  was defined as a concept in the 1990s by Daniel T. Jones, focused on assembly line industrial processes, but has since developed into a mini-discipline and has been extended into service industries and the public sector: lean management workshop at OGC.  At heart the approach is based on mapping your business processes, identifying waste, delays  and bottlenecks, and re-designing your workflow to aim for perfection, building quality in rather than adding it on.

1. Define value in customer terms

Archaeologists have two customers: the one that pays the bills, their clients, and the one they are answerable to for their conduct, future researchers.   Activities that benefit neither should be dropped. 

2. Follow the value stream

Where do we do work that leads to customer value?  Mostly at the report stage.  Where don't we? At the data collection stage, creating multiply-redundant images and over-detailed records of deposits of little or no significance.  Every recording activity carries a cost in creation and subsequent processing - we whould be bold enough to tailor our records to the needs of the resource (as we routinely do for watching briefs and test pits).

3. Reduce waste and failure demand

The culture of quality audting leads to the erosion of personal responsibility: there's no need for me to check the text because the manager will anyway.  And does the manager spend their time trying to reinterpret the site or rewrite the description when they should be auditing the process?  Yes.  They shouldn't: they should trust and empower the staff who have direct contact with the data.

4. Reduce inventory

For most projects. the site is excavated and reported fairly quickly as a burst of activity, and then there follows a half-life while specialist reports are commissioned, written, and collated, and eventually tidied up for archive deposition and publication. As a result, archaeological contractors live surrounded by large numbers of nearly-complete projects along with their current work, which isn't good for anybody.   Get stuff off the shelves and into museums.

5. Reduce time

The long timescale also means that cash-flow can be problematic, since there will be fees outstanding until it's all wrapped up.  In which case, wrap them up.

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