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Archive for July, 2010

Lean in Healthcare – A Case Study

July 30th, 2010 Comments off

Recently, I received a link from a friend about an article in the Denver Post. I found it interesting that Lean, something in which our organization believes, is being applied to solve a range of problems throughout differing industries. The applicability is endless. And, the results are profound. This just goes to show why there is such a resurgence in basic quality and process tools like Lean, and how simple, easy-to-learn skills can make a huge impact, even in organizations where change can be tough.  Let me know if you’d like more articles like this.

Cutting Costs with Six Sigma – Making a “Comeback”?

July 19th, 2010 Comments off

A recent BusinessWeek article made the argument that Six Sigma is staging a “comeback” right now, specifically in retail.  The idea put forward is that sales growth will remain sluggish for some time and companies are trying to squeeze out more costs to maintain/improve margins.  The article went so far as to say that a “jobless recovery” may be the RESULT of more and more companies embracing Six Sigma.

While I think that may be taking things a bit far, it’s hard to argue that many companies have leaned out their workforces to bare bones levels.  Even with improvements in the global economy starting to show up, I think companies will indeed remain reluctant to add headcount for the foreseeable future. And, this is the new state of affairs all the way up the value stream, creating a trickle back effect. Companies have fewer resources to get work done, so what do they do?   They push work (value) back to their suppliers and partners. It’s really a pretty simple reality for most companies … do more, do it faster, do it with fewer resources, and do it at a lower cost.

Enter Six Sigma.  Except, it isn’t Six Sigma that is necessarily the answer; it’s Process Improvement and Optimization (PI).  There are many proven business tools and methodologies to do PI (e.g. BPM, Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, DFSS, etc).  Structured PI has been around for 25+ years. It’s never really gone away, hence I have a problem with the notion of a “comeback”.

However, I think PI is and will continue to be looked at in a very different way.  I don’t see a return any time soon to large, top-down, training-focused initiatives that are often associated with a Six Sigma deployment. Big training-focused initiatives that require a big up-front investment and take many months, if not years, to deliver any quantifiable results may be gone for good.

But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I think it’s just the next evolution to something better.  PI is going to be more results-focused, as opposed to training-focused.  The needs of the business will pull training, as opposed to one-size fits all training being pushed down to the organization.  There will be a focus on breaking boil-the-ocean initiatives down to more manageable, tighter scoped things that can yield incremental results in a very short timeframe.  Green Belts, Yellow Belts, and Lean Practitioners will execute more projects that yield incremental improvements, as opposed to massive breakthroughs.  PI will be tightly tied to real business operations, as opposed to being that big on-the-side initiative.  Successful PI will use very tactical wins to create strategic advantage and sustainability.

So, let’s summarize.  What are some likely characteristics of post-meltdown PI ?

  • Lower upfront investment required
  • Focuses on things that can have an immediate positive impact on the business.  Squeaky wheel, project-for-the-sake-of-a-projects need not apply
  • Gets measurable results fast, incremental quick wins
  • Results-focused, not training-focuses.  Training is a means to an end and pulled based on the needs of the business
  • Sustains itself through results.  Pay-as-you-go.  Size and scope of PI efforts are in direct proportion to the bottom line results being delivered for the business

A brave new world, but one where a well executed PI effort just might be the difference between the winners and the losers.

On Demand Performance Improvement

July 6th, 2010 Comments off

A new reality of today’s workplace is how stretched we are as a workforce. Reported productivity increases have posted consecutive gains few thought could be attained. Weekly hours worked are at just about the same level as when the economic expansion was at its peak. While the slack in the broad economy has never been greater, workers are stretched.

At the same time, for reasons I wrote about in my June 23rd post entitled Why VOC and Customer Experience are Front & Center?, the goods and services we buy and what we require is changing. Reacquiring customer requirements and redesigning goods and services, as well as the processes that deliver those goods and services takes people and work. So as productivity skyrockets, the demands on the workforce rise just as fast.

To give these people the skills and support while recognizing the demands on their time, the transfer of knowledge must become more efficient. Content must be modular and interchangeable based on the needs of individuals. Instruction must include both the benefits of human interaction and asynchronous delivery. Support must be on-demand and micro-targeted to specific learning challenges. And it must all be at a cost that fits today’s demands for value.

Years ago this list of requirements would have been unthinkable as functionality and cost pulled in opposite directions. But today, technology, a tremendous stored warehouse of intellectual property and new working relationships make these things attainable. A massive library of content across the spectrum of subjects throughout the economy, blogs, podcasts, collaboration tools and a highly skilled and flexible base of experienced people allow us to structure On Demand Performance Improvement at an investment level company’s can’t afford not make.

Give your people the new skills and support they need to meet the escalating demands on their time. The returns are there as the projects have breakthrough opportunity and the investment is affordable. Break the paradigm with which you’ve been training and supporting your people. Use the wave of technologies, content and people available. The time is now.

Contact us to discuss how you might implement an on demand model for business performance and process improvement.

Innovation Careers

July 4th, 2010 Comments off

The only think constant in life is change.  As unsolved project inventories grow due to the limitations of known skills, companies CI programs face the challenge of looking differently at problems.  The natural path is to look at Innovation tools.  I’d like to share an article from Harvard Business Review regarding Innovation (http://hbr.org/2009/12/create-three-distinct-career-paths-for-innovators/ar/1).  Innovation is a very broad topic but one that is certainly touching on CI professionals.  The article’s basic principle is that Innovation career paths can be structured with different skills and experiences.  The introduction of innovation skills in a CI professional’s career can be similarly structured.  This is different from what is offered in the market today.  Today you have Introduction courses, basically an awareness session, and deep dives for those seeking a sophisticated level of expertise.  If you are increasing your efforts around Innovation, you may encounter the challenge of creating a set of applicable tools according to the problems an individual encounters.   I found the article thought provoking and thought I’d share it.