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Six Sigma Methodology; Select Projects to Achieve Goals

December 11th, 2012 Comments off

It is the end of the year.  You look back and wonder where it went.  You look at your goals from a year ago and honestly face what a struggle it has been to move forward.  You believe they were and remain the right goals and yet execution is constantly hindered by the demands of daily chores.  How can you change it?

First, let’s face the fact that your enemy in achieving your goals is the daily cyclone of work.  Simply put, your goals and your daily work aren’t compatible.  And the daily work always wins because it is urgent.  You didn’t fall short on your goals because you’re stupid or lazy.  You were just busy.

It’s a new year.  How can you make it different?  Let’s start by redefining execution.  Execution is about achieving your goals while dealing with urgency of daily work. So how should your plan of execution change to deal with this reality?

Unless you are going to be a full time problem solver, you really can only focus on 1 or maybe 2 projects in addition to your daily work.  And since there are more good ideas than resources, learn to say “NO”.  And since there is only time for 1 or 2 projects, then you can only pursue that ones that significantly move the needle.  The little subprojects diffuse energy and should only be done if they ensure completion of the higher order project (and not simply align to it).

Our recommendation is to really pour your energy into your project selection decision matrix and pick the ideas that rank the absolute highest.

In addition, as you work on your projects, target moving the needle of a lead measure.  If you are in a process, don’t simply measure the output.  That is a lagging measure.  This sounds simple but is actually very difficult because lagging measures naturally get more attention and are supported with more data. Everyone wants to measure the result.

Our recommendation is to look at your process map and investigate upstream sub-processes for the most impactful items and then collect and target that data.

Finally, give your actions daily visibility with a compelling dashboard.  Make it simple.  Make it visible.  Show both the leading and the lagging indicators. Make sure that when you look at it you know if you are winning or losing against the urgency of daily work.  Winning begets winning.

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“The Importance of Project Selection – Why PI Efforts Falter & How to Assure Success”

Our recommendation is to have regular governance meetings to monitor all your teams’ progress on projects.  Have them set short term action items and report regularly on whether they have completed them or not.

So as you head into 2013, decide you will make this year different.  You will pick only the important projects.  You will target the leading measures.  You will make progress visible and hold yourself and team accountable for short term actions ensuring that progress.  You will fight back against the urgency of daily chores and move forward.  If you’d like to discuss, contact me.

Performance Improvement by Alexander the Great

November 16th, 2012 4 comments

Decentralized Continuous Improvement

Your company’s or business unit’s results are ticking up. Many of your processes need improvement to deal with the increased activity layered on a rationalized capability. But your pre-recession centralized group was taken away with the tide or one never existed. And your organization is still holding a lid on any personnel additions as it finally enjoys the fruits of painful decisions and remains concerned about the myriad of external factors threatening a nascent recovery. You are left wondering how to unravel Gordian’s Knot. The Alexandrian solution is to build a self-sustaining model that integrates CI into every day activities.

We propose three elements to a self sustaining model which are as follows:

  • Find True North. What is it that your organization needs the most? Is your organization looking to solve a customer matter? Must your organization continue to find efficiencies to remain competitive? Whatever it is, find it and stay on it by making it visible and clear to everyone. The reason is simple. Organizations often used a centralized CI program to push improvement efforts. If you find True North, you won’t have to push improvement efforts. They will be pulled.
  • Keep it simple. As you look to take on improvement activities, keep the challenges simple. Use basic tools and techniques to knock down the easy barriers and drive a “pay-as-you-go” model that yields traction. Often a centralized improvement group is there to maintain momentum. Our discussion here isn’t against a centralized effort as much as it is against having to wait for one before you can move forward. We’d argue that as successes and improvements yield returns, go back to a funded centralized improvement effort to take on the chronic, cross-functional challenges that require a higher level of expertise, full time devotion, cross functional latitude and can power through momentum killing barriers. But for now, avoid making momentum a challenge.
  • Integrate rewards. If you want it to be broad based, make the rewards broad based and commensurate with the effort. Members of centralized groups are motivated to drive improvement because they have skin in the game. They pursue significant improvement, are measured on achieving it and rewarded if they accomplish their goals. Is it any wonder they are focused on improvement? To get broad efforts to yield results, take a broad view of rewarding success. Now we aren’t saying to weight such reward systems such that everyone becomes an improvement professional. The reward should match the effort and return.

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Every day we talk to people in all functional areas of organizations wrestling with the question of how to move their effectiveness and efficiency forward in the new environment. They see feel the pain and see the potential reward. But they are frustrated that they don’t have a centralized group which to call and ask for help. They feel locked in place unable to move forward.

Our advice is to find a different solution than what you have considered to be “normal” in the past. Let your organization’s mission pull activity. Pursue simple, well targeted improvements that provide their own momentum. Integrate a broad based reward system that recognizes peoples’ accomplishments on a level commensurate with their efforts. Cut the knot!

If you would like to discuss these ideas, feel free to contact me.

Design Thinking and Operational Excellence Problem Solving

October 29th, 2012 Comments off

Design Thinking and Operational ExcellenceThere is a lot being written about Design or Design Thinking.  So where does it fit within Operational Excellence.  Where does design fit into problem solving?

Well at its foundation, design is a form of problem solving.  The first step is to identify a gap.  The designer then produces a problem statement usually in the form of why the user of the product or service has a gap which includes what is actually expected.  Alternatives are then defined, explored and evaluated.  After a solution is selected, a plan to produce the produce or perform the service is determined.  After the item is produced or the service performed, the user’s previous gap is checked to see if it has been closed or not.  Note at this point the similarities to the Shewhart Cycle (P-D-C-A).    Design, like P-D-C-A, is an iterative problem solving methodology.

One of the differences of design though is that it is encouraged to jump between the stages as frequently as is seen fit.  If you were to once again use the Shewhart Cycle as an example, design would happily tolerate P-D-C-D-C-A-D-C-A as an example.  There are several messages in this jumping in and out of the various stages.  There isn’t an assumption and maybe not even an effort to find the optimal solution.  Quick improvements may be acceptable versus finding the optimal solutions.  There is no doubt there is a tendency to act.  What does this focus of improvements with each design v. finding the ultimate solution mirror?  Don’t Kaizen events have similar characteristics?

 

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Design is, in fact, a problem solving methodology.  However, there is a lot of problem solving that isn’t design.  Improving an existing system isn’t normally considered design.  Nor is tuning an existing system.  Yet both are problem solving events.  And “just do it” activity is certainly not design.   The term design is normally reserved for new products and services, solving chronic problems where stakeholder interests are at odds or even choosing and optimizing among a series of alternatives to replace an existing process (think about selecting a new AP package among a group of vendors).

So Design Thinking and OpEx problem solving aren’t two different lines of thinking.  Design is a subset of problem solving with practices very similar to past problem solving methods such as the Shewhart Cycle or Kaizen events.  If you’d like to discuss any of this, please feel free to reach out to me.

The Face of Operational Excellence – 2020 and Beyond …

October 23rd, 2012 Comments off

Recently I wrote about the history of Operational Excellence.  Now let’s turn around and talk about its future.  Where are we going?  What will it look like in the year 2020 and beyond?

First, as I noted in my last article, there are certain elements, such as the construction of the original control charts, which have been the same for nearly one hundred years.   The foundations of Operational Excellence, expanded upon by Deming and refined by today’s companies to consistently drive productivity gains and market share growth, are timeless.  We will continue to express goals in the form of scorecards.  Enterprise level value streams will continue to exist as they are simply the expression of an organization’s value creation process.  And improvement methodologies with roots dating back to the 1920’s will continue to be applied to performance gaps identified by customers and stakeholders.

So what will be new?  First, the evolution of many of the deployment philosophies will race ahead. As the pace of change in business accelerates, so too will the pace of change in change models.  We have written extensively about Alignment, Pull Don’t Push, Go Broad Before Deep and Pay As You Go.  These philosophies yield a very different deployment model than what evolved from the late ‘80’s to about midway through our first decade of the new century.  We deconstructed a very heavy change model we helped to create.  And we think it will go further as a modular and quick iterative workstyle will race ahead. To allow it to happen, we will “chunk” problem solving methodologies to how they are used and develop new ways of making them faster and lighter.

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Another force that will accelerate the application of Operational Excellence activities will be technology as enterprise software collects hordes of data, business process management software uses that data for alignment, dashboard reporting of aligned metrics is constructed to lower level processes where projects can be scoped and everyone has mobile access to the reporting and to rich media libraries of improvement methodologies in consumable “chunks” addressing specific performance gaps.  Everything we do over extensive periods of time, will be real time.

Operational Excellence has become a fundamental aspect of every company’s management systems.  But it diminishes its usefulness by being slow and cumbersome.  What everyone has come to call the “New Normal” doesn’t have the patience for that sort of speed, or lack thereof.  It will come because many, many good professionals will work at pushing it forward bit by bit, just as it happened in the past.  And, like so many other professions and businesses, it will happen on the back of technology.

If you’d like to discuss, feel free to contact me at jlopezona@ssqi.com.

Design Thinking in Operational Excellence

October 11th, 2012 2 comments

Design Thinking - Left Brain, Right BrainRecently, I have been very interested in design.  The interest has been born of the need to help customers grow.  It started a few years ago when working on Service Design issues with a client.  The interest eventually took me to Stanford’s d.school of design where I had a chance to examine some case studies.  Naturally, I sought to apply the lessons to my own work. So I began to think of how the ultimate left brain world of Operational Excellence would mesh with the right brain world of design.

A key point I took away from Design Thinking was the suggestion to solve problems by fast iterative prototyping irrespective of whether you felt you’d  found the true root cause of a problem.   How could the idea of prototyping be applied to Operational Excellence where we teach to gather data and analyze with the intent of finding root cause before designing a solution in the form of an improvement?  How could these two seemingly contradictory philosophies be reconciled?

What I concluded was that if we know the process and have the data, we can find root cause. But that in most cases, especially in service businesses, we don’t have that sort of data.  In those cases, prototyping can be a highly effective way to improve or design.  Some might consider this little more than another name for simulation.  But it’s not because when prototyping, you must find a way to launch and go live with the prototype which creates new customer feedback and that is not available in a simulation.

Download Service Blueprinting an overview of Service Blueprinting …

Now some might say that launching prototypes is akin to letting customers find your mistakes and will damage your relationship or brand.  Certainly, there are those cases.  There are products and markets in which launching prototypes is really not possible.  But in many cases, a co-creation process is not only possible but is preferable.  Certainly, when working with a customer where information and actions flow back and forth in a joint value stream that is part of a supply chain, co-creation of prototypes may be the only effective way to find solutions.

I’m not here to tell you we should throw out existing problem solving methodologies.  I’m simply here to say that the right and left hand sides of our brains can work together to be more flexible in how we find solutions.  Design Thinking is very applicable to Operational Excellence and we are using it in many situations to help customers get to solutions faster.  If you’d like to discuss, you can reach me at jlopezona@ssqi.com.

Use Lean to Ease the Pain of Enterprise Software Implementations

September 27th, 2012 2 comments

Use Lean before enterprise software implementationsLarge scale enterprise software implementations … ERP, CRM, BI, BPM, Ware house management, transportation management, talent management, learning management ….. What do they all typically have in common?

I routinely speak with managers who have been tasked with implementing or supporting the implementation of large-scale enterprise software solutions. All raise a similar set of frustrations:

  • There are a LOT of options, all very different. I just don’t know which is right for us …

  • It’s taking much longer than we thought to do this and negatively impacting our business …

  • Integration and customization costs are out of control and way over budget …

  • We have the system installed and up, but can’t get people to use it …

  • We’re different. We just don’t do things in a standard way and no system seems to be able to handle our requirements. Guess we’ll have to build internally …

Coincidence that I keep hearing the same comments? I think not. From my experience, this is absolutely the rule, not the exception. Now, the question is why does this consistently happen?

I think it’s simply a matter of putting the cart before the horse. So often, technology is looked at as a silver bullet to solve business problems when, in reality, the problem is one of process and not product (i.e. technology solution). Let’s put this into perspective … technology solutions should sit on top of good business processes and ideally enable those processes to function better, faster, and cheaper. But,what happens when you try to overlay an ill-defined or just plain bad business process with a technology solution? You guessed it … experiences like those outlined above.

I think some very focused process characterization and Lean work on the front-end of system decisions and implementations could alleviate a lot of the frustration, if people would just take the time to do it. Some things to think about ….

  • Start with top level enterprise metrics and a high level value-stream. Identify the key value adding processes, their associated owners, and the metrics those owners manage to. This will help identify critical stakeholders and to crystallize the reporting that is really required

  • Start breaking down those top-level processes and characterizing across all operations. Are all operations doing things the same way, measuring the same things, etc? Most likely, they are not. Where differences exist, work collaboratively to identify best practices and consolidate to a best-of-breed process.

  • Look for unnecessary complexity, waste and defect-producing aspects of processes. Run focused improvement teams to correct. Remove the fat and make processes as LEAN as possible BEFORE trying to systemize. Waste and complexity in processes equals increased cost for system integration and customization, GUARANTEED.

  • Payoff. From steps 1-3 above, a well-defined and actionable set of requirements will be derived AND prioritized. This helps with product selection AND with system integration, customization and testing. Get it right the first time … what a concept, right?

Of course these actions will take some time on the front-end, but my contention is that the time and expense of doing this process work in front of a system implementation will almost always pay for itself many times over. Sometimes we seem to for get that it’s the business processes that serve customers and produce revenue, not the technology you’re trying to implement to supposedly improve those processes.

A little preparation and risk prevention now, or a lot of pain and suffering down the road? You make the call ….

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss. I’d love to hear your insights and ideas.

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.

Ziggy Stardust: The Ultimate Continuous Improvement Professional Managing Change

June 11th, 2012 Comments off

Time may trace me but I can’t trace time – Changes…released as a single in 1972.

As I pull the vinyl out of the attic box marked 1972, a year marked by Watergate, anti-war demonstrations and Mark Spitz’s gold medal run at a terrorist marred Olympics, I realize we are in a time of tremendous societal change.  In the world of commerce, businesses have posted incredible productivity gains during the last five years which should be followed by hiring.  Yet payrolls remain muted due to concern about what is next.  So companies are left to find new ways to produce goods and services, meet customer demand and still have a healthy workforce.

To successfully lead our organizations through that change, it is good to remind ourselves of change principles because it isn’t just technical skills that produce success.  In fact, anyone who has lead any initiative in an organization understands that without the elements of change, no amount of technical skills can get us to the promised land.

So, let’s think about the key principles of change –

  • First and foremost, authentic, committed leadership throughout the duration of the initiative is essential.
  • There must be compelling reasons to change, that resonate not just for the leadership team, but that will appeal to all stakeholders.
  • Leadership must articulate a clear and legitimate vision of the world after the change initiative.  The vision must be widely understood and shared.
  • With the foundation pieces in place, leverage the “early adopters” where there is low resistance and from whom to learn from mistakes with a forgiving partner.
  • Leverage early wins by taking what you learned with your early adopters to the broader organization.  Integrate with competing, initiatives.
  • Set benchmarks, measure progress and celebrate wins.
  • Identify the systems that influence the desired change and modify them support (and not fight) the desired change.

Remember that continuous improvement is about continuous change.  Facilitating the ability to change is critical.  Focusing on technical skills without addressing the foundational elements of change won’t yield any progress.  It’s not that it is only half right.  Technical and cultural capabilities work together and, if either is missing, progress isn’t possible.

If you’d like to discuss any of these topics, please feel free to contact me.

Selecting the Right Projects…Not too Hot but Not too Cold…Just Right

June 1st, 2012 Comments off

Right fit project selection and definitionWe all know the story of Goldilocks who product tested the food and furniture of her neighboring bear population.  By trial and error, she bounced from too hat and large to too cold and small until she found “just right”.

Organizations go through the same process in finding what is right for their performance improvement initiatives.  Projects are sometimes so small that they aren’t worth management’s attention. And sometimes they are so large and complex that they can’t be supported by the available resources time and knowledge. And so the organization bounces from guardrail to guardrail trying to find the right level of effort, capability and results which in and of itself is a waste of time and effort.

So how do you get it right and bypass the time and effort?  How do you pick projects that fit your organizations goals?

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 an Executive Brief that describes a framework for operational governance that can help you drive real value (ROI) from your performance improvement efforts

We have written extensively about project selection.  We talk about North to South alignment from Dashboards to Improvement efforts.  People have reviewed our recommended path and said “I get it…I believe that process does align the efforts to the strategic goals…but the projects are still not right…how do we get it right?”

The answer is in defining “right”.  And a big part of the effort to define it is to be honest with yourself and your team.  As an example, if you are focused on productivity, don’t pretend otherwise by talking about innovation or the satisfaction of other stakeholders than the business.  And if you want long term growth, face the conflict with short term capital constraints.

Mechanically, where in our recommended roadmap does that mirror get held up?  It’s in the rankings and rating of projects.  Regardless of your priorities, you’ll always develop a project list by moving from the creation of a dashboard to conversion of those metrics to Critical to Stakeholder Requirements to process metrics within a Value Stream Map.  Performance gaps relative to those metrics produce the project list.

It is then that the honesty begins.  As you create criteria, they must be weighted and it is those weightings that determine which projects rise to the top. And it is the depth to which you drive those project definitions that determine the level of their impact.  You can steer the efforts to a few big, breakthrough projects or too many small incremental projects.

But continue to be honest with yourself –those big, high level breakthrough projects are often gnarly and require real enterprise wide capability and focus.  And for those many, small projects to cumulatively have a strategic impact your organization will require a long term vision and fundamental cultural change.

Our Roadmap to Operational Excellence is a practical approach to improving whatever you seek to drive whether it’s your personal golf scores and weight loss or your company’s customer satisfaction and cash flow.  You set measures for targets, understand how you get there, identify how you’re doing and target to improve your lowest performing activities.  But a big assumption is that you all agree on what you want and are honest about it with yourselves and the team including an assessment of your capabilities. Get your rankings right and using the framework for improvement, you’ll progress.

If you want to talk more about Project Selection or our Roadmap to Operational Excellence please contact me at jlopezona@ssqi.com.

When Leaders Overlook Process in Service Organizations …

March 16th, 2012 Comments off

Leadership…we want to be leaders and want leadership.  When you have a leadership role you personally grow and you can help the organizations in which you work and the individuals with whom you work.  When we are group members, leadership sets a vision and inspires us.  Leadership, like great architecture that conceives of a soaring skyline, can be magical.

Process…a series of operations which bring about a result.  It is a logical, nearly mechanical algorithm devoid of emotion.  You unemotionally define the inputs, suppliers, required actions and desired outcome in terms so you can measure.  You strive for stability so you can then improve capability as measured by customers.  Defining each brick and how they are assembled might not sound so inspirational, but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s any less important.

Leaderships’ vision of that skyline and processes’ preoccupation with laying bricks can seem far apart and disconnected.   Yet when leadership looks past process, the results are eviscerating to any vision and corrosive to the leaders themselves.

In service organizations, processes are always driven by people, and managing the people for each process is the work of a process owner.   The process is the service and the people are the process.  So the people are the service, trying to be productive each and every day within their process.  Getting processes to work as a system is about getting people to work together toward a final objective.

When leaders ignore process they ignore the people that are the service.  And that never turns out well with your customer.  A current TV show has CEO’s come down from their lofty perches to work ordinary jobs to get a feel for the people and what they do day in and day out.   In a recent episode, the CEO was stunned at the impossibility of work processes.  Workers were stressed out, fought with each other and delivered poor service to customers.  As you can well imagine, no one believed in the CEO much less the CEO’s vision, as he soon found out!

Download Service Design - Service Blueprinting

this short .ppt overview of customer-focused process design and Service Blueprinting …

A smart CEO might hand the problem over for process redesign.  He might also say with empathy that this is just the wrong way to treat these people and the customer, and do what is necessary to make it right for both.  Theoretically, the two statements lead to the same place.  But the former continues with the same disconnected state between leadership and people while the latter begins a transformation.

The point of all this is to remind ourselves that working with processes in a services organization is about working with people.  That when we see leadership disconnected from the concerns of process we probably see leadership disconnected from people.  And when we find that situation we’ll probably find dysfunctional teams and dissatisfied customers.  BUT,  when we see leadership concerned with making processes work we will see people who find their jobs fair and who are dedicated to their mission, which should lead to more satisfied and loyal customers.

So all of us as leaders and members of a team need to think about the processes upon which our vision is built because, in so doing, we think about the people in the organization and the customer of our service.  And everyone in that chain will notice the attention, how their work is made easier and thus buys into the larger vision.  If you’d like to discuss the points in this article, contact me.