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Yellow Belts Can Help Sustain Your Gains

May 5th, 2011 1 comment

Over the past 20 years of experience, we’ve learned the key to sustaining performance improvement gains rests on process management.  This role is entrusted to a broad group of employees who are often the process owners and, when not the process owners, are still the most affected by large scale improvements.  Providing them the proper skills forms a critical component of a robust quality management system.

Some have dubbed this person and the required skills Yellow Belt but that term hasn’t done the role justice.  Yellow Belts are often thought of as data collectors or Black Belt assistants.  But a Yellow Belt’s ability to control and manage processes using metrics and data as well as solve problems using basic quality tools gives them far more impact.  Their power doesn’t come from their place in a tiered pecking order of Master Black Belt, Black Belt and Green Belt but in their numbers, demographics, foundational skills and role.

Download our executive that discusses how Yellow Belts play a crucial role in sustaining process improvement efforts

our executive brief that discusses how Yellow Belts play a crucial role in sustaining process improvement efforts

Yellow Belt training introduces the majority of individual contributors to the concepts of process improvement and management and their position in their organizations make a direct connection to improvement efforts.  Yellow Belt training can be fit to how people will be expected to operate.  If positioned to assist Black Belts, they have little need for project selection or analytical tools.  However, if Yellow Belts are expected to sustain gains long after Black Belts have left, a more complete set of tools is required.

Many organizations have active Operational Excellence programs that consistently execute projects through to implementation successfully.  But to make it stick, drive it wide and take care of low hanging fruit, they should look at process management which forms the core of Yellow Belt capability.  If you’d like to see the core concepts covered in Yellow Belt training, contact us or go to our website’s Yellow Belt webpage where you can download complimentary Yellow Belt training materials.

Process Improvement Goes Back to the Basics for Many…

March 18th, 2011 2 comments

Process Improvement BasicsThe last few years have witnessed big changes in the business climate, and continuous improvement (CI) efforts have certainly seen their share of change. I talk with companies every day and, without a doubt, there has been a fundamental shift in thought on how to best make meaningful process improvement happen.

Prior to 2008, there was significant interest and buy-in for large-scale, top-down initiatives. There was a willingness to set aside large budgets and free up significant resources for the CI initiative.

Training increasingly large segments of the workforce was front and center. Detailed, multi-year plans were put in place. The CI initiative was heavily promoted, internally and externally, and employees were strongly urged to participate.

But, did those big initiatives deliver results? Undoubtedly some did. But, many more, when you really check the numbers, did not. There are many distinct causes why they didn’t work, and I won’t try to dive into that here. But, with the meltdown in the business climate, many leaders took a look in the rear view mirror and didn’t like what they saw …. big dollars and resources consumed with little evidence of concrete results.

Now, does this mean that CI and process improvement is useless and should be abandoned? Of course not. Businesses live and die today based on the strength and adaptiveness of their processes, as compared to their competitors. Does it mean that the tools and methodologies used (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM, etc) are not good and should be replaced with something new? I think not. The tools and methodologies can certainly be improved and expanded (and are), but they are proven to work.

So what’s happened? I believe that, for a lot of companies, there was too much focus on the initiative and not nearly enough focus on results. And based on conversations I have with business leaders every day, I think many have drawn the same conclusion.

So, when smart people see the error in their ways, it typically leads to change. The change that I’ve seen happen for CI is a move back to the basics, and a focus on bottomline, business results. It may return, but for now I see very little interest in big change initiatives whose results are measured over the very long term, if ever truly measured. I see a much more tactical view of CI, focusing on solving specific business problems quickly, as opposed to general quality improvement. CI programs are more likely to be looked at from a bottom-up or grass-roots perspective.

Smart leaders are now letting the specific needs of their business drive what the CI program looks like, what methodologies and tools are applied, how results get measured, what technology platforms are deployed, etc. To borrow from Lean, the business is pulling CI capability, as opposed to it being pushed into the business. In the real world, what does this mean?

Download our executive brief that outlines the basics of Lean a short executive brief that provides a good overview of the basics of lean

Well, I can only give you my perspective from talking with leaders at companies of all sizes and in many different domains, but what I see is a clear move back to the basics of business and process improvement. Basic quality and process tools as employed in Business Process Management (BPM), Lean, and basic quality tools (Yellow Belt) are getting a second look.

Why? Because, for many businesses, the basics will help solve 95% of the real business problems, get results fast, and they can be introduced into the organization for a very low cost and very low risk. The basics also build a solid foundation on which advanced capabilities like Six Sigma and DFSS can be effectively built and deployed to deliver even more dramatic business results, with much less risk.

So, what do you think? Is this just a reaction to circumstances and will large-scale, top down change initiatives return. OR, is this the new normal for companies when it comes to business and process improvement? Feel free to Contact me if you’d like to discuss.

Who ya' gonna call? LSS for Services Tip #2 – Lean Busts Halloween Ghosts

October 19th, 2010 Comments off

Lean Tools Bust Waste in ServicesAs we all know, the birth of Lean (usually with the word “Manufacturing”)  is often considered to be the Toyota Production System. Lean for Service Operations is so new it is defined on Wikipedia as the application of lean manufacturing principles to service operations. Yet when you search using Google the term Lean Manufacturing yields just over 1.5 million results while Lean Services yields a surprising 16.3 million results! The derivative outpaces the original because of its natural application. It’s as if it were always meant to be.
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This natural fit lies in the very nature of manufacturing, service operations and the strengths of lean. Lean was first easily discovered in manufacturing because waste and WIP are easily found. Like in the California gold rush, you could bend down and pick up the nuggets. Manufacturing’s physical nature provides an easy route by which to follow the flow of work. As you move along, you can see raw materials, intermediate stages of inventory and final finished goods. And also along the way, you can see bins of rework and scrap as well as WIP between stations. You physically see the work, the WIP and the waste. Certainly it took brilliance to design what to do with it but the problem was evident.

Lean Six Sigma for Services

our whitepaper that discusses how Lean and/or Six Sigma in a services environment differs from a traditional manufacturing environment

Service operations, however, by their very nature aren’t so easily observed. Work flows are unseen. Information representing WIP are sent over networks. Customers waiting on phones can’t be seen. Time lost is erased with the stroke of a delete key. Service operations, like spirits on a Halloween night, can pass before our eyes without a trace. Enter Lean. Lean with its highly visual tools like value stream maps performs the supernatural. It gives earthly form to the phantom.

As the invisible becomes visible, we make a great discovery – so many service operations occur between functional areas such that they aren’t owned by anyone. We learn that not only is there waste, but there isn’t anyone even worried about it. Thus Lean, with its visual tools, not only provides visibility to work flow, waste and WIP but raises the question of process ownership.

With processes made visible and ownership addressed, the race for improvement forces the question of where to attack first. Very simply put, once non-value added activities are made obvious by the accumulation of waste & WIP, you look for the actions and processes that drive up said waste & WIP. Therefore, when looking for projects, look within or between the processes to which waste and WIP demonstrate the greatest sensitivity. Then heavily rank that projects that improve those processes. They will have the greatest impact on eliminating non-value added activities.

People talk about the amount of low hanging fruit in service operations. It’s important to understand why it is there. People in service operations aren’t fools willing to let waste and WIP drag them down. But they haven’t been able to see the problem and where it resides. With the visibility lean brings, that has changed. And consider us your Ghostbusters! If you would like to discuss the visual tools embodied in lean and how they can help your service operations, please feel free to contact me.

Lean Six Sigma In a Services Environment – Tip #1 What Versus How to Measure.

October 6th, 2010 Comments off

When attempting performance improvement in a services organization, it is very important to distinguish between measuring the “correct thing” vs. “measuring the thing correctly”. Since people drive the decisions in service organizations more than in manufacturing organizations where machines and software limit human variance, processes are less defined in service organizations.

With less defined processes, the service world’s KEY measurement issue is finding the correct things to measure that gives true feedback on past or future performance. This “what to measure” issue is quite different than the predominant issue in manufacturing, which is “how to measure more accurately.” In manufacturing, for example, gage studies are critical; the data usage is straightforward. In service processes, however, the greater issue by far is determining a useful measure.

Lean Six Sigma for Services

our latest whitepaper that discusses key differences for Lean Six Sigma in a Services environment

A general lack of consistent, cookie-cutter measurements for service businesses demands greater time and attention is focused on developing and understanding appropriate measurement systems in specific environments. Managing a process becomes a matter of reading and interpreting a series of interrelated measurements rather than relying on a mystical “key measurement”. No one measure will identify and eliminate all problems forever. For the most part, businesses measure variables such as close rates, cycle time and on-time compliance, with little understanding of “value added” contributions to the final “product.”
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Each service-related

environment has its own unique set of problems, and each requires a carefully crafted, custom analysis that fit its top level customer and business data, its core and sub processes and its definition of critical to customer. As such, the skills needed to do this well, such as process mapping and process design techniques rise in importance.

So often when we talk to clients and prospective clients in service industries, they describe their requirements along the lines of “our folks don’t handle statistics well”, “we’d like more service examples” or “we need someone who understands our culture”. To them, that is what Lean Six Sigma in Service environments mean. All these things are true. But just as importantly, you need to understand your unique nature and adopt a different set of tools and techniques. This discussion of the importance of process is just one. In coming posts, we’ll discuss others. If you want to talk about these Service Industry points, please feel free to contact me.

Join Us on Twitter for Thoughts and Announcements

September 2nd, 2010 Comments off

First, we want to thank all of you that have subscribed to our blog. We have over 1,000 subscribers and the list grows every day, week and month. We hope we are providing you relevant information. If there is anything you’d like us to bring to you, let us know. If we don’t have the content, we’ll recruit guest bloggers that do.
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On another note, we began “tweeting” about a month ago and just were rated in the top half of Twitter profiles by Hubspots ranking tool. We have grown a nice group of friends who we follow and that follow us by regularly tweeting on key subjects as well as making announcments about our complimentary content offerings. We invite you to join us on twitter at @sixsigmaqualtec.

Thanks for your support and have a great Labor Day weekend. See you on the other side.

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.


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