Archive for August, 2012

Continuous Improvement Programs Done Right – 4 Lessons Learned

August 29th, 2012 3 comments

continuous improvement playbookWe’ve recently had several discussions with companies who have dismantled their continuous improvement (CI) programs during the economic downturn and are now reviving them as their businesses stabilize.  It’s a pretty common theme of late.  As is natural, the tendency is to turn to the old playbook as a starting point. In almost every case, this is not a good idea.  We’ve learned a tremendous amount since those pre-crisis days.  Most of it was already in process and, as happens in every economic cycle, the downturn simply accelerated the learning cycle.

The old playbook and approaches for continuous improvement programs had some successes for sure but for most companies things are different now and approaches to continuous improvement need to align with the new reality.  Here are 4 simple things to keep in mind as you consider rolling out a new, or restarting an old, continuous improvement program:

      1. Alignment. More than ever, an initiative’s success depends on its activities link to the enterprise’s real priorities. This common sense notion always got lip service, but lip service isn’t enough these days.  Prioritize projects as a function of “if” and how much they move the needle on these priorities.  Make sure every single activity is linked, visibly. Don’t waste time, energy and resources on unaligned activities or your continuous improvement efforts will likely be short-lived.
      2. Business Focus. Drive the business and not the CI effort.  When you place the improving the business as the goal, it will pull the projects which, in turn, pull the knowledge needed to successfully solve problems. When you drive the CI program, you are building knowledge and capability simply for its own sake and trusting the demand to show up … a bad strategy.
      3. Right Fit, Right Now. Get everyone involved and give them right-fit knowledge and tools to improve their processes today.  Most people really do want to improve their workplace and the service or product they deliver their customer, so give individuals useful knowledge and tools, that they can use right now, not 6 months down the road. There is a massive body of methodologies, tools, knowledge, etc. you can push into the organization, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Think “right-fit”, “useful now” ….
      4. Results, results, results.  Keep the organization focused and engaged by producing a positive return from the beginning.  Organizations need to see a return on the things they do.  Where they have a return, they invest more and do so with confidence and conviction.  Don’t expect organizations that are measured quarterly to think about CI in terms of multiple years.  It may be theoretically correct but it is unrealistic.

There are lots of things in the old playbook that violate these basic lessons.  The lessons had to be learned the hard way.  It’s why so many CI programs were dismantled during the crisis to begin with, instead of being part of what got organizations to the new world.  As we rebuild again, let’s apply what we learned right from the beginning.  CI programs did many good things pre-crisis. But we now have an even better opportunity to do improve and help our organizations drive forward.

As always, if you want to discuss any of this, feel free to contact me.

The Simple SIPOC – Start Here for Real Process Improvement …

August 6th, 2012 1 comment

SIPOC and Process ImprovementWe often see a client identifying an undesired result and assigning its correction to a process improvement person or a team. That person or team then begins to discuss the many potential causes of the undesired result and the potential resolutions. Some of the resolutions will be chosen as recommendations and submitted for implementation. It is then that the organization discovers the underlying complexity of (i) unseen subprocesses, actions and tasks, (ii) undefined customers and their requirements, (iii) undetected stakeholders to the process and (iv) inputs that were simply taken for granted. The proposed resolutions step into a series of swirling eddies from which they never emerge. Time passes and the company moves to new flash points with the problem unresolved or with just the resolutions that caused the least change implemented irrespective of a change in the undesired results. The cycle

simply repeats itself.

How do we avoid this? Well certainly we have talked in the past about the impact of a properly drafted problem statement and this post isn’t meant to take away from the volumes we have written and discussed about its importance. And we have also written how value stream mapping allows you to drive alignment both cross-functionally and between improvement activities and scorecard metrics so as to identify the most impactful potential improvements which can then be converted to a problem statement. And again, this post isn’t to diminish or undermine all our previous statements about the value of such an exercise to drive real process improvement.

But what about when your organization hasn’t felt the pain of a failed process improvement effort enough to recognize the importance of value stream mapping, problem statements and the many other tools used to frame a problem and its political landscape prior to commencing an improvement effort. Where then do you start? What is the first step you can take to gain the awareness of a failed improvement effort without having to go through all the pain of failing?

I recommend you start your process improvement efforts with a SIPOC. A SIPOC is so simple, and yet so valuable. And its simplicity shouldn’t be used to discredit because it can be as complex as one likes as well. But why a SIPOC?

Don’t Overlook the Simplicity and Power of a SIPOC as a Starting Point for Effective Process Improvement

Quite simply, a SIPOC provides an understanding of a process by easily identifying what activities take place in the process, who has a hand in producing the output, who receives the output and how all the various stakeholders measure success. Simply debating the start and stop points and the people involved avoids so many problems. The cross-functional nature of the processes causing the undesired effects immediately comes to light. All the customers and stakeholders are named. It thus helps to identify all elements of a project, which then goes into refining the project if it’s not well scoped.

Download SIPOC Overview an overview and 12-step process for creating powerful SIPOCs

Collectively, it builds the information to proceed with more detailed mapping & root cause analysis, if warranted and desired. And if you get a green light, the information in the SIPOC can be converted to value stream map.

The value of a SIPOC is the value from simple awareness. It is the value of not having to experience the pain of failure before going back and realizing you really do need to have a well defined problem statement and fundamental value stream maps at which point you can move to some data analysis to form hypothesis about root causes. So much value from this simple tool. If you’d like to discuss how to use a SIPOC to capture all this value, feel free to contact me at .