Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Strangers on a Plane

When we get to process re-design stage, sometimes we find that the suggested new process is almost as long, and convoluted as the current state. When this happens I realise that the training we have delivered to the team has had one key defect: we have focused on standard work rather than helping the group identify their runners, repeaters and strangers (RRS).

RRS is a Lean technique and is in my opinion one of the most powerful approaches we can use in process design.  As a “pure” Lean tool, it’s used for identifying where to concentrate your attention and you can also use it to categorise processes and services.

This concept helps identify common, high volume and regular activities. The premise being that the regular work needs to be identified and it must flow through a process. We need to identify the work that deserves unique attention (and deal with is appropriately).

·      Runners: Activities and processes that occur on a regular basis and are high volume and are highly repeatable.
·      Repeaters: Activities that occur regularly and the demand might be difficult to predict and are partially repeatable.
·      Strangers: Activities that occur infrequently and nature and demand is hard to predict. It is much more advisable to deal with these on an ‘ad hoc’ basis rather than having an agreed process.
Our training for RRS usually involves paper plane making (a variety of models) and testing. In my experience hands on training examples for RRS is key because it is a concept that can be hard to understand without seeing the problem (and the solution) in practice.

The training demonstrates that if you try to put a repeater through a runner’s process it creates inevitable delays and bottlenecks. The exercise also helps us to thinks about how to redesign our processes to enable us to identify our RRS early on and ensure that we deal with them accordingly.

Getting our project teams to identify their runner’s repeaters and strangers in a process helps ensure that work is dealt with effectively and efficiently. It can avoid overprocessing our runners and improve the time it takes for a process to deliver its output to the customers.

If you find yourself in a situation where you find that you are adding steps into a   process (because sometime we need x to happen) take a bit of time to reflect on whether your standard process needs to accommodate the strangers or could there be a simpler way?


  1. Rachel

    I like the article but would like to add a note of caution. Sometimes the new process can be longer than the current one. I have had to try and explain this to people attending events as they associate LEAN with reduction of steps whereas we need to ensure a process Flows. I have found the often current processes have "holes" where customers drop out and these need closing hence a longer process.

    1. I agree - effectiveness first every time. I guess the key word in the blog was "convoluted" - this is often the point when Runners, Repeaters and Strangers may be useful.
      Also, with a little investigation - the current state "holes" often create failure demand, if we also map and measure the failure demand, an improved process should reflect savings.