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Productivity – The Coming Golden Age of Continuous Improvement

February 10th, 2013 Comments off

A Drive for Productivity

Last week I wrote a post entitled Value Creation for Private Investors that went largely ignored as it was one of my lowest viewed posts of the new year for a Monday when most of you tune in.  The idea about which I wrote was a revelation to me but it was still nascent at the time and thus very undeveloped and weakly presented. But it gnawed at me and so it kept turning in my head.  And now it pops out again this week hopefully a bit more developed.  The idea is the transition we are making from creating the illusion of wealth with financial engineering to needing to truly drive wealth with productivity gains which will make for a golden age in Operations and Operational Excellence.

As a nation, we will flourish based upon our ability to drive productivity.  You see wealth, as measured by GDP, during the majority of our lifetimes has been driven by population growth.  But as our population growth slows, wealth will only be created by increased productivity.  This transition has been hidden from us for some time by the illusion of wealth creation brought about by high capital liquidity and inappropriately priced risk which eventually lead to the bursting of a financial bubble.  But with risk being more appropriately priced, the illusion is gone and we are now faced with long term slow growth and the only way to stoke it is with increased productivity.

To drive the growth in productivity, I wish to cite a recent blog post by GE’s Jeffrey Immelt a portion of which read as follows;

There are four new drivers of productivity, and success in each depends on the technology and talent we develop. The first is how the sheer volume and increased access to shale gas in regions around the globe is changing the energy debate and the balance of energy power. It would require real infrastructure and pipeline integration between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., but North America could achieve energy independence within 10 years. The second driver for dramatically increased productivity is applying the lessons of social media to the industrial world and building what we call the Industrial Internet. By owning and connecting the analytical layers around industrial products – and using real time data to extract real timeknowledge – we can improve asset performance and drive efficiency. The third driver is speed and simplification because the only way to serve our customers better and compete in a complex world is by working faster and smarter. The last productivity driver, and related to the other three, is the evolution of advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing excellence, forgotten for too long, is once again a competitive advantage.

Drive Value with OpEx

Now when you look at this argument about from where we will get the productivity growth, a problem jumps out.  Namely, we have to generate non-population related productivity gains with a population that isn’t geared to Immelt’s productivity drivers.  Our younger citizens certainly are better aligned and skilled but as population growth slows, they will be the minority.

So guess what — the knowledge of how to improve services, products and processes is really valuable.  Now I’m not talking about how to write a project charter or write up a SIPOC.  I’m talking about revolutionizing energy with process innovation in the extraction of natural gas, the development of the cloud so we can jettison underutilized servers from expensive IT budgets and citizen publishing of information so knowledge flows freely and into every nook and cranny of the population instantaneously.  Imagine – those have all happened in the last five years.  Those are the types of improvements that transform an economy.  But there is plenty of room between a project to save an AP process two days and reinventing the extraction of fossil fuels.  And every time a new industry is targeted, all the operating processes below the top level change will also be looking to improve.

Can you imagine where these big seismic changes will happen next?  How about redesigning education so everyone has access to knowledge inexpensively?  Or health care where we can all see an insanely low level of simple IT tools that if applied would eliminate gobs of waste.  Or all levels of government where we have constantly rising costs with little measureable gains in services.  These trends will continue.  They must continue or we, as a nation, will slowly lose our global relative wealth.  And I just don’t think Americans are ready for that.  But the changes will be disruptive.

In the race to drive wealth through productivity gains, we will see the greatest impact in processes and services simply because they are the largest percentages of the economy.  I’ve already named drilling services, the cloud, newspapers & magazine publishing, health care and education as service companies which either have gone through or are poised to go through significant redesign. What of the process side?

Systematically Driving Value with OpEx

Well I think we are going to see work get reinvented.  My former colleague at Qualtec, Mitch Lawrie, is working on software to focus management on results versus activities and my recent blog on the subject drew significant attention from many of you.  We have worked with several clients in financial services, telecom and transportation which are redesigning long accepted processes to drive greater than 50% reductions in key process cycle times by making them leaner, reducing complexity and capturing information better as well as analyzing it for knowledge.

To return to my original post, my “aha” moment was that I was at a private equity conference where investors of all sizes where lamenting they could no longer make easy money.  That easy money was driven by a combination of capital liquidity, high tolerance for risk and poor quantification of that risk.  It was a recipe for a bubble.  If you bought an asset, held it and sold it before the bubble burst, you made money.  If it was levered, you made a lot of it. The funny thing is that private corporate investors weren’t the only players at the casino. We were all there with real estate and stock portfolios.

But that is gone now.  And as we look into a new environment, we realize we are facing the longer term challenge of slowing population growth and an aging population that isn’t skilled at what is needed to drive the sort of productivity gains needed to maintain historic wealth creation.  To create wealth as a country, we now have to earn it the hard way.  And since there are only so many hours available in the work force, it means we have to work smarter.

And a clearer definition of that “aha” moment brings me to the message in this post.  We figure out ways to work smarter – whether it is a fifth level sub-process or an entire industry.  The result is that we are entering a golden age for people focused and skilled at how to work smarter.   We have the opportunity to make great contributions to our economy.  I urge you all to THINK BIG.  If you’d like to discuss, feel free to contact me.

10 Steps to Implement Kaizen in a Service Organization

February 5th, 2013 Comments off

A key aspect of service organizations is the flow of information. In fact, a core process in any financial service organization is that information flow. There are many steps about which we have written on how to implement process improvement in service organizations. One of the most popular articles was “What About Lean in a Services Environment?”.

Lean, with its focus on identifying the Elements of Waste, is a powerful concept in a services organization.  This article is meant to drive down one step further into using Kaizen events to eliminate said waste.    But when it comes time to actually make improvement changes, Kaizen is one of the fastest and cumulatively most impactful activities a service organization can implement.

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 Our Lean Quickstart Powerpoint Presentation

Kaizen (k-eye-Zin), defined by the Japanese as “continuous incremental improvement”, is a fast and furious implementation of continuous improvement activities designed to create radical and sudden changes in business processes. During a week of highly focused activity, a cross-functional, section specific team receives training on specific tools and techniques needed to analyze and improve a process immediately. There are 10 key steps to this process and they are:

1. Training – The key issue is to select a small group of individuals to be trained as mentors who will also be the key person to select the team members.
2. Project Selection – We have written extensively about the need for projects to be aligned. A few of the articles are “Let Your Business Define Your Performance Improvement Program” and “Business Process Management (BPM) = Robust Project Pipelines After the Low Hanging Fruit is Harvested“. But along with alignment, project selections should be cognizant of the impact the project will have on the specific area in which the project is to be conducted a well as any up or downstream effects.
3. Team Selection – The team must start with subject matter experts from the targeted process’ area. But it should also be cross-functional and include process owners, finance & admin personnel, IT personnel and anyone who has pertinent knowledge of the project process. These people should be open minded, willing to challenge the status quo and influential in the organization.
4. Value Stream Mapping – This is a hands-on technique utilizing flow charting and icons to analyze information flow in graphical form. The team will identify and compile all the specific elements necessary to bring a service from inception to delivery. The purpose is to understand the relationship between process steps and identify those areas most in need of improvement.
5. Process Mapping – The process map is more focused on one part of the oeverall process than the value stream map discussed above and provides more detail. When a team builds a process map it allows everyone to agree on the actual steps performed to produce the product or service. It’s a great tool for identifying non-value added process steps and reducing complexity.  This begins the team’s root cause analysis.
6. Developing Baseline Data – You must develop Primary Metrics to improve a process. In fact, it is the development of that Primary Metric that often leads to and is an indication of improvement.
7. Creating Spaghetti Charts – This is a visual diagram depicting the information, personnel, and document movement in a process, department or entire service organization. It is a great first step to eliminating waste in motion and conveyance.
8. Conducting Time Study Analysis – This tool is used to collect and verify cycle time data relative to an operation or process. This provides for careful study of each aspect of the process and continues to contribute to root cause analyis.
9. Developing Continuous Improvement – This is where the team records the changes to be implemented resulting from the analysis of collected data and brainstorming. The purpose is to identify improvements and their implementation.
10. Implementing Appropriate Changes – It seems all that is left is to implement the improvement. But along with implementation, the team should develop Control Plans so 30 to 60 days after implementation one can assess the impact of the process changes.

Download our Learning About Lean Executive Briefour Learning About Lean Executive Brief for a good overview of Lean

Lean in ServicesService organizations are unique in their reliance on people and information. Those two organizational elements are the service companies’ most valuable assets. One might say customer relationships are the most valuable asset but to a great extent, those relationships are entrusted to those people and organizationally captured through information. If you are part of a service organization team and looking to drive improvement FAST, then look at the aforementioned 11 steps to implement Kaizen in a service company.

If you would like to discuss case studies of organizations that have done this, then contact me.

Lean Management System – The Key to Sustainability

January 24th, 2013 2 comments

Lean Management System is the Key

Lean has wonderful elements.  Two important ones about which we have written on many occasions are that lean projects can be implemented quickly and the tools can be disseminated broadly within your employee population. The result is that you can get traction and a payback the organization can see and measure.  Every level of management and line personnel love those properties.

But like any sort of change initiative, it is still difficult to get true cultural change.  In other words, just because it can be more easily understood and applied more easily than say Six Sigma and the payback is shorter, doesn’t mean its guaranteed to be successful.  Implementation and sustainability are quite different. So how can it be done?

Well let’s first define how sustainability appears.  A lean culture of continuous improvement is characterized by:

  • Daily Application – Ability to apply the tools to improve operational performance on a daily basis
  • Proper Application – Knowledge of where to apply the tools, or a process for continuously refocusing on problems and opportunities.
  • Demonstrated Successes – Extensive knowledge of, and success with, the tools.

To achieve this, organizations need a change model.  It should be a structured process for achieving the discipline and focus needed for any successful change. This process is a Lean Management System, which doesn’t guarantee lean success, but build the foundation skills.

A lean management system is focused on work groups of five to ten people. It provides an integrated set of planning, measurement and problem solving tools to help the work group:

  • Focus on daily performance measurement and improvement
  • Improve effectiveness of supervisory communication
  • Solicit and evaluate employee improvement ideas
  • Assess lean status and define improvement objectives

A Lean Management System is meant to build the new “habits” necessary to develop a culture of continuous improvement with four key elements:

  1. Primary Visual Display (PVD) serves as a central communication point for a work group. The work group members themselves maintain performance metrics, schedules and improvement actions.
  2. Huddles of ten minutes in length which serve as a meeting place to review performance to date, communicate critical next steps, plan progress and solicit solutions to problems.
  3. Performance Metrics which are essential to instill the discipline necessary for standard work and other lean practices to be sustained.
  4. Kaizen Events structured to systematically collect and evaluate employee improvement.  Kaizen events provide a process to capture the ideas, evaluate them and ultimately implement them for operational improvement.

Download Lean Primer Kit

A Lean Management System seeks to build new work habits.  And, like any new habit-building program, it must be practiced diligently until the new processes gradually become “business as usual.”  Day-to-day, hands-on coaching of work groups and team leaders is essential to ensure acceptance. Initially this is accomplished through process compliance, but ultimately through knowledgeable use of the tools.  And finally, through a deep enough understanding that you achieve process innovation.

A lean management system is focused on improving work group performance.  It is part of a broad-based lean deployment, not a substitute for value stream mapping, kaizen events and other methods to identify and implement lean improvements. Think of a lean management system as the glue that will hold lean improvements in place and gradually broaden the application of lean tools within your organization.
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A lean management system must be linked to higher-level operational management activities within an organization to ensure seamless communication of expectations, feedback on results and review of improvement ideas. As teams and organizations gain experience with a lean management system, work groups become more empowered and the freedom to act increases dramatically. A lean management system will help bind lean changes to the process and build lean thinking into the culture at the intact work group level. A lean management system is the missing link to a achieving a lean culture.  A lean management system is the missing link to a achieving a lean culture.  If you wish to discuss this post, feel free to contact me.

Economically Delivering the Right Mix of Lean, Six Sigma and Business Process Management

January 17th, 2013 Comments off

The Right Mix

My colleagues and I have written about this subject from several angles I want to start bringing it togetter.  In my post On Demand Performance Improvement  and Lynn Monkelien’s, Senior Director of Enterprise Learning at the Apollo Group and SSQ guest blogger, post entitled Pull Learning in Business Process and Performance Improvement we discussed how to break the paradigm of training inefficiencies.  This was further supported in my white paper entitled On Demand Performance Improvemnt – Traditional Training Meets Social Media which is available on our website’s home page in the “spotlight” section.  Then my colleague, Eric Harris wrote Back to Basics where he introduced the various foundation aspects of Yellow Belt, Lean and Business Process Management.   Since then there have been numerous posts on each of these subjects.

Together we are all describing a new training paradigm that is emerging where with our clients we not only making better use of technology and social media standards but also of a contemporary and robust library of materials and broad capability of personnel to meet the contemporary needs of organizations.  Specifically, with so much pressure on costs and the limited availability of company personnel’s time, it’s not surprising that most companies are looking hard at how and what they delivery to their workforce.  The key is to define what is needed… nothing more and nothing less…in terms of both content and exposure.  And that is done by matching the depth of training to the problems the organization seeks to address and putting the information into the users hands in as many low cost forms as possible as close to the actual application as possible.

And here are some questions to ask when considering how to get the chosen information to the user:

* What sort of time is available from the targeted personnel? Can they spend a day in a classroom or is thier time limited to hours per day or per week? Will targeted candidates be in different locations or at one facility?

* Do you know exactly what thier problems require or will it evolve over time?

* Are they comfortable with technology and social media?

Overview of SIPOC & a 12-step process to build one

Here are some factors to consider when asking what training and coaching is needed:

* Are you addressing manufacturing, engineering or transactional processes?  In factories and laboratories where much of the improvement activity may focus on equipment, techniques such as Gauge R&R, Process Capability, Setup Reduction, Total Productive Maintenance and perhaps even Design of Experiments are invaluable.  But in transactional businesses, they can be substituted with more impactful subjects.

* Are you dealing with high-volume repetitive processes?  Much of the Lean training can be simplified and reduced if you are not.  Value Stream Mapping, for example, can be covered at a more general level.

* What is the objective and the environment?  Are you attempting to remove defects or reduce cycle time?  If you seek to reduce errors in a financial services company, the focus is on process analysis so Pareto Charts, Run Charts and the like, which are quick and easy to teach, become the focus.

The point is that you have choices.  You can follow a fairly standardized prescription for Lean Six Sigma training as described through the classic belt definitions or you can tailor your training to unique needs.  At the same time, you can perform standard instructor lead training or you can use various communication tools that leverage technologies and social media standards.

I have one note of caution –if you cut the content or instructor interaction too far, the price for the mistake doesn’t immediately show itself during the training.  Problems evidence themselves once the training is well underway or completed.  And the problems might be that projects get delayed, more coaching is needed to complete high value projects or certified candidates fail in follow-on projects.  The result is a general loss of confidence emerges for the whole process.  By the time you discover your mistake, the effort is deemed a failure.  We don’t say this to scare you into overbuying or overdesigning.  We believe the answer is to monitor the situation closely and maintain flexibility in both the training and support.  It is in this reaction time that modular content and flexible, technology enabled support tools and methods really make a difference.

If you would like to discuss this emerging model, contact me.

How Lean are You?

November 29th, 2012 Comments off

You’re talking to a friend and they say “I work at a lean company” or “my boss wants me to do lean in my department”.   What comes to mind?  There isn’t a specific measurement for lean.  There aren’t sigma levels.  So what does it mean to be a lean company or to run a lean process?

There is a central theme or definition.  One can describe a lean company or process as a streamlined, high quality system that produces finished goods or service deliverables at the pace of customer demand with little to no waste.  But there aren’t any metrics in that description.    So we have to go further.

First, let’s recognize lean is multi-dimensional.  It encompasses a wide variety of management techniques.  They aren’t interdependent but, in the perfect world, but they are integrated.  Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world so organizations apply different combinations of the techniques at various levels of integration.  Their level of satisfaction with results may be the ultimate determinant of how far they go in introducing and integrating the various techniques.

Download Lean Overview and Primer Kit Our popular Lean Primer Kit …

The point being that while you can’t declare “this service is completed in three hours therefore it is lean (or it isn’t lean)”, there is a level of behavior that evidences lean.  And that behavior can be modeled and, to a certain extent, measured.  In other words, you can act lean and even determine how lean you’re acting and how well you are acting lean.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t measure performance or that measuring behavior is more important than performance.  Not at all.  You should still hold performance relative to customer expectations, stakeholder requirements and competitor performance as the final report card.  But if you need to close a gap and you wish to either introduce lean or push its use farther, you can examine your application of lean.

So given the number of components and the complexity of any interrelated systems, how can you gauge where you or your organization lie and how you can optimize your next effort?  I’d argue you begin by examining how many of the various techniques you currently apply and how completely you apply them as measured by their various components.

I’d start by creating the categories that all contribute to a lean organization separating them into two spheres – internally and externally oriented lean practices.  Internally oriented practices include JIT, Production Flow, Set Up Time, Use of Quality Tools and Employee Involvement.  Each of these has different practices, tools and techniques and you can evaluate their use.  Then there are the externally oriented lean practices such as suppler and customer programs.  Again, each has their own practices, tools and techniques and you can evaluate their use.

Once you’ve created a master inventory, you can look at any portion of the organization or even process and determine which are being used and which aren’t.  You can also examine the depth to which they are being used.  Thus you have a gap analysis in how lean you are acting.  Once again, the purpose isn’t to be the uber-lean organization.  The objective is to satisfy customers/stakeholder and thereby profit.  So you look at the performance gaps relative to those requirements as the guiding light.  But when you think how to close that gap, you can examine how lean you’re acting in that area to determine if you can move the ball forward by acting or implementing more lean principals.

The point of all of this is to understand that even though there isn’t a measurement to the statement “we are lean”, there is an evaluation.  And such an evaluation, in concert with an examination of performance gaps, will tell you if there is an opportunity to do better by diving deeper into lean.  And a framework of the principals will tell you where the biggest bang for the buck exists for the marginal investment of time and effort.  So in the end, while there isn’t a measurement, there is a way to determine how lean you are and how much more you should be to improve your organization or process relative to expectations.  And that is what you need to improve which is the ultimate goal.  If you wish to discuss, contact me.

Lean Paves the Road for Six Sigma…especially in Service Organizations

November 27th, 2012 1 comment

It was more than 15 years ago that our firm was first engaged to help a client implement Six Sigma. Along the way, Lean was integrated and the term of art became Lean Six Sigma.  Yet even today, we still begin many conversations with prospective clients who say “we want to do Six Sigma?”   We try to determine what Six Sigma means to them and why they want to do Six Sigma.  Definitions and motivations vary.  None are wrong.  They are individual to the person, the company and the situation.

But to determine the appropriateness of their conclusion, we ask about the nature of their business challenges and the state of their management system.  And at the end of that portion of the conversation we invariably begin to wonder whether the prospective client can benefit greatly by first paving the way with Lean.  And that is really most apparent in Service Organizations where so much of the waste is invisible and Lean’s visual tools brings the waste to light before introducing Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma for Services

our latest whitepaper, which discusses how Lean Six Sigma is different in a services environment, as compared to a traditional manufacturing environment.

Lean can be of great benefit before introducing Six Sigma for the following reasons:

  1. Lean makes the implementation of Six Sigma easier by eliminating non-value added activities.  Six Sigma, while robust, like any program that aims to drive change can be a challenge to implement.  You can make Six Sigma’s implementation simpler and more cost effective by first applying Lean.  This is for two reasons. First, you will enhance the effectiveness of the Six sigma tools by enhancing the rate at which information is fed into the Six Sigma problem solving exercises.  Secondly, you may discover after applying Lean, there is insufficient improvement available to merit a Six Sigma project.
  2. Lean develops a culture of improvement which makes implementing Six Sigma easier.  Lean can be implemented more quickly and easily than Six Sigma.  We facilitate workshops that by the end of a week introduce improvements.  People come out energized and feeling they made an impact.  Managers see an ROI on the improvement investment.  The result is a willingness by all levels of the organization to increase their commitment.
  3. Sometimes the problem isn’t going to be solved with Six Sigma tools…or at least not quickly.  When you prioritize problems, you try to separate them into buckets by their fundamental nature so as to gain some economies and structure to any allocation of resources.  Part of the reason is that Six Sigma efforts require more time and effort.  Failing optimize the problem to the applied tools, you may end up trying to apply Six Sigma to problems that can be easily addressed with a Lean exercise.  Even worse, you can work at reducing variation when all you need is to reduce your cycle time to capture the available gain.

We have written a great deal about both Lean and Six Sigma.  We don’t favor one methodology over the other nor do we see them as an “either or” decision.  In the long run, we encourage all our clients to gain proficiency and apply both Lean and Six Sigma.  However, to help our clients succeed in driving ROI and organizational change, we believe that there are advantages to Lean paving the way for Six Sigma, especially in companies just starting out as well as Service Organizations.

Now there is always an exception to a rule such as when prioritized projects clearly require Six Sigma tools.  The business should always “pull” the improvement efforts as outlined in “Let Your Business Define Your Improvement Program”.  But in the case of launching or re-launching a general program, allowing Lean to pave the way for Six Sigma increases the ROI of the continuous improvement effort by using the simplest and most applicable tools first while increasing the effectiveness of subsequent Six Sigma activities.

If you wish to discuss these points, contact me.

Success With Lean Isn't Just About Tools and Training …

October 30th, 2012 1 comment

Lean toolsI talk to people everyday in all kinds of industries who, for their own reasons, have decided that they need to do Lean.   And, in most cases … it’s pretty easy to confirm that they REALLY do have legit business reasons for doing Lean.  So far, so good … we’re talking about solving real business problems …  I’m happy.

Now, let’s start talking about execution.  Oh no … Almost always, the conversation jumps to Lean tools and tools training.  And, you know what …. tools and tools training are not the most important considerations for achieving success with lean.   There … I’ve said it …

Now, before I get people thinking I’m completely nuts and sending me nasty emails, I’m not saying that Lean tools aren’t important. Tool knowledge is obviously necessary, but it is absolutely not sufficient.  Here’s my thinking.

First, what is success, or maybe better, what is not success?  Success IS NOT training 100 people across 5 operations in Lean. Success IS NOT about certifications. Success IS NOT completing X projects last quarter, all with slick final report outs.  If these or things like them are your measuring sticks for success …. well, you’re just being lazy and I can assure you that your relationship with Lean will end badly.

Download our Lean Primer kit an overview of project selection and definition ….


I’ll argue that success can only be defined by BUSINESS RESULTS, results that can be objectively measured and verified. Am I improving service to the customer in a meaningful way? Am I reducing risk (compliance, regulatory, liability, etc) in some meaningful way?  Am I pulling cost out and improving margins? Am I making better use of finite resources? Am I doing a better job of retaining existing revenue streams? Am I doing a better job generating new top-line growth? etc, etc.

Squishy, feel-good measurements (# people trained, # projects executed, etc) really just equate to an academic exercise and, let me tell you,  I don’t talk to a lot of business leaders that are interested in academic exercises these days.  It’s all about results … show me the money …

So, without further adieu, here’s a 3-step formula for Lean success:  Identify your target, then take aim, then fire.   I know … I know … not exactly a sophisticated or earth-shattering pronouncement, but sometimes taking things that have been made unnecessarily complicated and putting them in overly simple terms helps …

Identifying targets is about aligning the lean effort with the REAL NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS. No squeaky wheel projects! Do things that matter.  Aiming is about defining and scoping projects so that they are well-defined and manageable. We don’t want boil the ocean things that have no chance of getting done and we don’t want death by a thousand cuts through the dreaded scope creep.  We want high-value projects that have a clearly defined scope and objective.   Then … and only then … we fire by attacking our good projects with good training and Lean project execution.

I know it’s simplistic and really just common sense, but all to often the identify and aim components are put on the back burner in favor of fire events like tools training and kaizen events.  Why?  Well, because identify and aim are just plain hard sometimes and it’s awfully easy to just train people and do stuff.

But, realistically, what’s likely to happen if the identify and aim components are ignored? You’ll get a lot of people trained and a lot of meaningless, squeaky wheel projects being worked on that really don’t make any measurable impact to the business. Training for the sake of training and projects for the sake of projects …. a recipe for a Lean train wreck you want to avoid.  But I maintain that if the 3 steps I laid out happen well, then success in terms of meaningful business results is always within reach, and meaningful business results is the right definition of success for Lean.

Thoughts?  I’d like to hear from you …..

What is Lean, Really? Taking a Step Back …

October 25th, 2012 1 comment

What is Lean? How’s it different from Six Sigma?  Which one should I use?  How do I get started?   I get questions like this all the time.  To process aficionados… well, these questions just seem trivial.  Come on … How can anyone not know that?

Not so fast.  To a business person under real pressure to solve a real business problem … one who doesn’t have time to wade through the vast swamp of information and opinions out there … these are completely relevant questions.  And save the theoretical, academic stuff … just cut to the real-world chase … no time for a lecture … can it help me nor not?

What is Lean?

I know there are a lot of more complete definitions, but I like simple and straight forward so I boil it down to a relentless focus on the identification and elimination of waste.  But, let’s expand a little more:

  • Lean is about doing more with less
  • Lean is based on the premise that anywhere work is being done, waste is being generated … and should be minimized or removed
  • It should be team based process understanding business processes in a way that identifies and eliminates waste to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
  • It can be used at any level of the organization and applied to any process or work area

What Lean Isn’t …

At least the way we approach it here, it’s not a long, complicated process based on sophisticated data analysis, where projects take months and months to deliver results.  Now, to be clear, there are certainly projects/problems that need tools like Six Sigma to do this kind of analysis, but Lean approaches a different kind of problem (flow, throughput, cycle time, etc) in a simpler way, and, done well,  typically focuses on incremental improvements instead of big bang breakthroughs.  And, Lean is for everyone, from the lowest level operator to high level executives.  You don’t need a PhD to get stuff done.

How do I get started?

In my opinion, Lean should not be rolled out as a big, top-heavy initiative.  Lean can be effectively deployed in a grass roots, pay-as-you-go model that requires minimal up-front investment, and still delivers quick ROI.  See this post where I laid out such a pay-as-you-go approach.

How can Lean help me?

  • Faster. Removing waste, complexity, and bottlenecks improves process flow and assures that things can be done faster, and be more predictable
  • Cheaper. If there are fewer unnecessary steps, less complexity, and things get done faster because of better overall flow,  then fewer resources need be consumed
  • Better. Complexity = more opportunities for defects = reduced service quality. Reduce  complexity, and quality improvements often are a natural by-product

Difference between Lean and Six Sigma?

Difference Between Lean and Six Sigma

There you have it.  Simplistic, I know, but I hope this helps to answer some of the fundamental questions.  Contact me if you want to discuss in more detail.

To Lean or Six Sigma – That is the Question …

October 9th, 2012 7 comments

Lean or Six SigmaWe can’t decide whether to do Lean or Six Sigma …”.  I’m still surprised how many times I hear this, much in the same context of whether to get a Camaro or a Mustang.   There is still this misconception that Lean and Six Sigma are competing methodologies, and that you have to opt for one camp or the other based on some arbitrary preferences.

The CI consulting industry is partly responsible for this, no doubt.  Lean shops push Lean  — Six Sigma shops have all kinds of reasons why Six Sigma is the be-all end-all.   Then the waters were muddied further with the introduction of this thing called Lean Six Sigma, which weaves the lean tools through DMAIC methodology.

So, if you’re a business leader with real problems and real opportunities, how do you make a smart decision, one that has a good chance to deliver a solid ROI and bottom line results?

The simple answer is Let your business tell you what makes sense.   We did a  post that touched on the concept of letting the business pull your CI approach vs. pushing a one size fits all approach, a good example of Lean thinking itself.  We have a very structured assessment model we use when we help our customers design CI programs, but the waters can start to clear with some simple questions …

  1. What kinds of business problems do I need to solve?  Do I have clear quality and defect issues that are hurting the business?  Are they complicated problems, where you really don’t know what’s happening?    Or, am I really trying to increase efficiency, make things run faster, and at a lower cost?   Quality and defect issues may tilt the scales toward Six Sigma.  Efficiency, cycle time, flow almost always point to lean.
  2. When it comes to process maturity and availability of data, where is my organization, really?  Six Sigma is heavily dependent on measurement and analysis of detailed data to get to root cause. What happens if you really don’t have a lot of data, and have a lot of processes that are messy and unstable?  Projects that take a VERY long time to complete, if they ever complete, is a likely scenario.  In this case, then maybe you should look to lean to clean up and stabilize processes, establish some measurement systems, and get some quick results before moving into Six Sigma.
  3. Am I under major budget and time constraints?  Six Sigma can yield some incredible breakthrough results when done correctly, but it takes some upfront investment, in money, resources, and time.   Lean is typically simpler, projects tend to be more incremental, upfront costs are less, and results (albeit in smaller bites) come quicker.
  4. Do I have leadership buyin and active participation?  Getting Six Sigma off the ground really requires some support and infrastructure.  If you have that buyin, there are typically some major gains to be had.   If you don’t, and need to do things more from a grass roots perspective, then lean might be a better answer.
  5. Am I under pressure to show real operational improvements, NOW?  If so, then I’d take a hard look at lean as a starting point.

Download our Lean Quickstart Presentation

our Lean Quickstart .ppt.  There is a short section that provides a high level overview of the differences between Lean and Six Sigma.

Now, before all you purists get mad at me, I know this is overly simplistic.  Did you see all the “may” and “maybes”?   But, you have to admit it is very practical and does provide some realistic guidance, a starting point at least.

Of course, no single one of these questions should be looked at in a vacuum, but I think if you look at all of them in total, you can get some clarity on what might be the best place to start, whether it be Lean, Six Sigma, or a blended Lean Six Sigma approach.  And, remember, different organizations within the company will likely be in different places.  That’s OK.   Remember, be flexible, and let the business pull the CI approach/tools that make sense. Good results will follow ….

As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts.   Email me if you’d like to discuss in more detail.

BPM and Lean – For Many Service Oriented Organizations, Enough to Get Big Improvement Results

October 4th, 2012 1 comment

Might Continuous improvement (CI) be making a comeback after a several years of being severely cut back or outright eliminated?  I think they just might be, and I see it most in service delivery organizations. But, they’re doing it for different reasons and they’re doing it in a different way.  Simple and light-weight trumps top-heavy and complex.  Near-term wins reign supreme over long-term initiatives.

Why the re-emerging interest? Well, the simple answer is that things are just different than they were, even just a few years ago.  I talk to business leaders every day, and I don’t hear “we want to start a program to instill a culture of quality and continuous improvement in the company”.    No, what I hear about are specific business problems, and immense pressure to immediately and inexpensively fix the problems.   Feel good corporate initiatives are out ….  in the trenches get it done  thinking and actions are in.

Problems in service organizations seem to cluster around being able to deliver an increasing service level while maintaining or growing margins, WITHOUT adding headcount.   It’s do more with less (or at least with what we have).  This insight doesn’t bode well for the near-term employment outlook, but it’s what I see nonetheless.

BPM and Lean for Services OrganizationsAnd, it’s not just the reasons for doing CI that are different. The way business leaders want to do CI is also different.  There is almost no appetite for big dollar, infrastructure-heavy corporate initiatives. The focus is almost entirely on quick wins … show me the money.   Now, I know there are some practitioners out there might say that a focus on near term results is just a recipe for disaster, but I just don’t think so.  We have to live in the real world, and this world requires a shift in perspective.

So, my argument …. For many service organizations, fundamental Business Process Management (BPM) and Lean combined with some light-weight infrastructure components can make for an incredibly cost-effective way to make near-immediate, high impact improvements and set the stage for long-term sustainable results.  A true win-win.

In a services environment, simple BPM and Lean allows you to consistently execute well-defined, low risk, and high impact projects  that are clearly aligned with the real goals of the business …. for many, a better path  to  Continuous Improvement

BPM crystallizes value streams (processes) and establishes measurement systems that clearly identify the highest value gaps in performance, from both customer and business perspectives. These gaps represent business cases, and ultimately, projects.  Define a good prioritization approach, and you have a project pipeline.

Download BPM

a BPM Overview presentation

Lean is an inexpensive and highly effective way, then, to execute those projects and close those performance gaps.  Now, there is not doubt that not all projects identified will be lean projects.  You will for sure find capital projects, six sigma projects, and even some process redesign projects.  BUT, my experience is that a significant number of the highest value projects in service and service delivery organizations are indeed Lean projects. They focus on doing more with less, reducing cycle time, or reducing cost.  That’s lean.

Download Lean Services

 this short .ppt overview of Lean for Service Operations

BPM and Lean.  Done well, you can get near-term results AND set the stage for long-term sustainable results.  And, the beauty of it is that it can be very lightweight and cost-effective.  Contact me if you want to discuss how this lightweight approach to CI might work for your organization.