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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.

10 Elements of Continuous Improvement Infrastructure

January 31st, 2013 2 comments

The dramatic changes of the Great Recession have left many starting over.  Continuous Improvement programs are being rebuilt, reconstituted and revitalized.  The people, knowledge and leadership are critical elements but an important lesson we learned over the last 15 years of helping our clients is that the success of a Continuous Improvement program is highly dependent on its infrastructure.   So whether you are staring over or just starting, very early in the deployment, you must implement the following:

  1. Launch Planning; Establish the schedules and activity tracking/reporting techniques
  2. Human Resource Guidelines; Establish competency models and participant selection, position and role descriptions, compensation, reporting relationships, career planning.
  3. Communication Plan; Create an overall message for the implementation.  Provide clear reason why the adoption of the program makes business sense by explaining how it aligns to the Company’s strategic vision and each individual’s success.
  4. Financial Guidelines and Responsibilities; Agree upon financial definitions, project forecasting requirements, methods of evaluation, realization tracking and reporting process. Agree how the financial arm of the organization will be involved.
  5. Project Selection and Prioritization Guidelines; Recognize and define criteria, project type categorizations, problem statement and objective criteria, targeted savings values, approval process, completion requirements that collectively are to be used to rank and rate projects.
  6. Establish a Project Pipeline; Go beyond selection, ranking and rating criteria to outline how ideas for new projects will be gathered, converted to projects, ranked, rated and assigned.  A pipeline of worthwhile projects is imperative to maintaining a program’s momentum.
  7. Project Tracking and Reporting; Organize report requirements, systems and initial reports.
  8. Information Technology Support; Software installations, computer needs, Intranet development, databases for final reports.
  9. Management Review; Ensure constant measurement, feedback, and reporting on key deployment metrics to all stakeholders to ensure deployment objectives are met.
  10. Commence and Maintain Executive Training; Whether you want to think of it as part of infrastructure or as a separate item for organizations that are ready, upfront executive training is imperative.  You can’t allow the CI program to be something to which leaders aren’t aware, engaged and committed.  The training should go beyond “overview” training.  It should layout executive’s responsibilities and how they are to engage.  It should also explain what benefits the executives will accrue – what is in it for them.  Make sure the training emphasizes the benefits of aligning improvement activities to their business goals – the things that really matter to the business.

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 our latest executive brief, 10 Essential Do’s and Don’ts for a Six Sigma Deployment

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To date, we have discussed many things important to a CI initiative from good knowledge transfer methodology to project alignment.  But to attain real long term success, make sure you have a good infrastructure.  Think of it like the barrel of a gun.  It will ensure the program takes a straight line to its target.  If you would like to discuss how to build your infrastructure and ensure your program’s success, 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.

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.

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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.

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 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.

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.

What about Lean in a Services Environment?

September 9th, 2010 Comments off

Everyone knows that Lean came from the manufacturing world, and many aren’t quite sure how, or even IF, it applies to more service oriented environments. Well, rest assured, it does.  I see countless examples of Lean success stories in a broad range of services/transactional domains. Financial close, claims processing, call centers, software development, enterprise software implementations, patient waiting times, logistics and supply chain, order fulfillment  …. The list goes on and on.

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Our Lean QuickStart Presentation here.

Granted, adoption of Lean in services environments has been a little slow, but adoption is happening now at a rapid pace.  Why?  It could just be the natural progression of things, but I think it’s also a function of the business environment since the recession.  Internal efficiency and productivity, doing more with less, and cutting costs are now just the way business is done, the new norm …. And that, my friends, is what Lean is all about.

Lean can deliver big ROI in services processesLean first and foremost is about the elimination of waste, and it defines 7 ( or 8 ) elements of waste. Any activity that doesn’t add value, from the customer’s perspective (internal or external), is by definition non-value-add and should be minimized (or eliminated).   Now, think about this … some very reputable research suggests that, in a typical services process, 80% of the activities are non-value add. 

Yet, all those NVA activities add time and cost, and opportunities for errors to the process. In the case of most back-office processes (e.g. Finance, Customer Service, HR, IT, supply chain, etc), any saving in cycle time / cost filter straight to the bottom line.

80% NVA activities, savings straight to the bottom line … That tells me that there is ample room and opportunity for Lean in Service-oriented processes.      Think about it and contact me if you’d like to discuss in more detail.