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Posts Tagged ‘Lean Program’

Let Your Business Define Your Improvement Program

February 7th, 2013 Comments off

Old Six Sigma Training ModelI remember all too well when companies would be told they needed to “be a Six Sigma company” and to do so they had to subscribe to a formula requiring strict percentages of their employee population be trained as Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts and Yellow Belts.  In addition, the definitions of the knowledge those people required was equally strictly enforced.  Companies were told achieving these goals would make them a Six Sigma company and being a Six Sigma company would make them successful with their customers and shareholders.

Anyone that lived through the last 15 years of evolution in the field of Operational Excellence can recognize the folly of this prescription.  With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious the program can’t dictate to the business.  And in all honesty, I don’t wish to pick on any singular subject area.  We’ve seen the same sin from many other philosophies and disciplines.  In the excitement generated by a successful new tool or compilation of tools, we tend to pursue the expertise ahead of resolution of our problems.

As we enter a new business cycle, let’s bring all our knowledge together and recalibrate how we choose to apply it by putting the problem or portfolio of problems first.  To avoid having a snazzy tool take over what we do each day, we recommend the following path;

  • Understand where you want to go.
  • Understand where you are…which has two aspects; (i) your level of performance and (ii) your ability to improve performance
  • Let the comparison between where you want to go and where you are currently performing define what you need to accomplish
  • Let the comparison between what you need to accomplish and your ability to improve dictate what new capability you need to acquire.

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 Our BPM Overview Presentation.

When you are finished outlining the steps above, you will see something quite different than formulaic curriculum and percentages of your population to be trained.  In fact, the solution will not appear simple or fast.  And therefore it will not be as appealing as the aforementioned formula or any other formula from the array of philosophies available in the profession.  The plan that emerges is a function of applying a series of decision rules more than simply measuring the ingredients of a recipe.

But think about the obvious logic of the outcome.  Your business isn’t simple.  If it were, everyone would do it.  If your business isn’t simple, how can a solution to your challenges be simple.  The complexity of the solution will match the complexity of the problem.

Pull-based Capability and TrainingSo how and where do you start?  How do you bring order to the chaos?  The answer lies in the definition of your projects, the identification of their root causes and in grouping them together by root cause so as to build a roadmap forward.  The complexity is in the selection and prioritization of projects. The simplification comes in executing on the projects.

I spoke to an executive at a company yesterday that described the old process as creating angst.   The word itself gives you heartburn.  When I asked him what gave rise to the angst, he responded that the discipline had been forced fit.  What can you say to such powerful words as those?

If those are the feelings the prior model drove, what do we strive for today?  We strive to “PULL” the required knowledge.  We believe anyone pursuing the path above should one day describe it using words such as choice and flexible.  The emotion we hope to see at the end is relief.  That is the new paradigm.

If participants should one day replace the words “Forced Fit” with “Choice” and “Flexibility” and the word “Angst” with “Relief”, what should we see at a business level?  Well, here are some key results that should be witnessed.

  • Faster returns.  While the long path is more complex, the milestones become simpler so measured returns should be faster. The simple formula of ten years ago is monolithic and so the returns can’t be measured for a long time.  In fact, the fallacy of the monolithic argument is partly hidden by the time spectrum as you are asked not to measure for months if not years.   (A key aspect of this is discussed in our recent article “Pay as you Go”).  Armada v. Drake's English fleet.
  • Organizational Traction.  Creating a ladder of success ensures Organizational Traction by producing “wins” and establishing a foundation of knowledge and capability to tackle tougher problems.  So many Performance Improvement strategies talk about resolving the big chronic problems.  But pursuing them right from the beginning is fraught with risk. And pursuing resolution to smaller problems with the tools you need to solve big problems takes too much time and effort which is wasteful for individuals and the organization.
  • Alignment.  If you adopt a Pull strategy, you can’t help but be aligned.  Your business defines your problems which in turn define your program.  As a result, your activities are ensured to be aligned to your business.  Leadership needs to see resources dedicated to the problems they are trying to resolve.  We are all living in an environment where we must do more with less.  There is no room for unaligned activities.  Pursuing a philosophy for its own sake is a luxury no company can afford.

We see this happening every day now.  Listening to the organization and being flexible produces more of the right gains faster than talking to the organization and forcing it to fit a prescription.  Individuals get more involved with something that produces relief instead of creating angst.  Pull is significantly more effective than Push.  Let the business needs and ability define the improvement program.

Contact me if you'd like to discuss this in more detail.

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.

Download our Lean Quickstart Presentation

 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.

Download our Lean Quickstart Presentation

 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 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.

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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.

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.

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.

Lean Process Improvement / Lean Enterprise – A Key Element of a Pay-as-you-Go Approach

September 22nd, 2011 2 comments

I talk to companies every day about how they can best roll out business performance and process improvement programs.  Now, just to level-set, we aren’t zealots here pushing any one-size-fits-all model for programs. We do have some key principles that we adhere to when designing programs though. One of these is that it’s likely not feasible to have a program that builds infrastructure and trains for many months, before ever delivering any quantifiable return. That is simply not the world most of our clients live in these days.   Our philosophy is that it is always advantageous for the program to deliver near-immediate, visible, and quantifiable impact.

When looking at an enterprise, more often than not, we find that basic process management/improvement and Lean (i.e. Lean Enterprise, Lean Process, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Product or any of the other labels floating around out there) can solve a lot of high impact business problems, without incurring high training and infrastructure costs, and are the right place to start.

Lean Process Improvement efforts can yield big results fast, without big investment or big risk …

 

ROI from Lean Program However, I get a lot of questions dealing with how an organization can get started with basic process management and Lean Enterprise, and how to fit in to an overall, enterprise wide process improvement / CI program strategy.    This is a good question in that, in the past, it was almost always preached that Process Improvement deployments (Six Sigma, Lean, etc) had to be top-down.  Start with executives to get support, develop champions, select projects, train black belts, build a 3-year plan, etc, and grow from there.  The challenge with this approach is that it requires a hefty up-front investment and it takes a long time before results are seen.  Read ….. high cost .. high risk!

our new Lean QuickStart powerpoint presentation.

In today’s business climate, this is simply not palatable for a lot of organizations.  For them, an approach that is much less top-down, and much more focused on near term, bottom line results may be far more attractive.  So, here is an approach sequence that I’ve seen effective over and over

  1. Work with business leaders to identify pilot areas of the enterprise
  2. Identify specific focus areas and business cases in that area(s)
  3. Refine those down to a set of well-defined project charters, segmented by the nature of the problem (defect, cost, cycle time, etc), scale, and perceived complexity.
  4. Select a set of low-hanging-fruit projects that can likely be solved in a relatively short amount of time and with basic lean and quality toolsets
  5. Run 1 or more workshops with specific project teams, with specific well-defined projects that can be executed in 2-5 weeks.
  6. Track real savings and ROI on projects, and publicize/promote heavily internally
  7. After one or more workshops, train champions /sponsors and develop a formal project selection and prioritization methodology (see my recent post on this).  Refine continuously.
  8. Continue with more workshops, to a broader segment of the enterprise

Processes are cleaned up, waste and complexity removed, measurement systems are put in place, and real bottom-line results are realized.  Results drive interest and commitment, so it becomes easier to get the broader organization engaged.  For enterprises that have done little formal process improvement work (or a lot for that matter), there will most assuredly be many Lean projects to be executed, yielding fast and consistent results. And, soon enough, larger and more complex problems that require higher level capability (e.g. six sigma) will show themselves.  Then, and only then, do you bridge up to and invest in the next level of capability …. Pay-as-you-go.

These efforts can easily and painlessly run in parallel with and, indeed, support and pay for the broader activities that are required to make the overall process improvement effort successful long-term, namely identifying CTQ measures for voice of the customer (VOC) and voice of the business (VOB), characterizing value streams and establishing process indicators and metrics, building a mechanism to constantly identify high value improvement opportunities (i.e. project pipeline), and constantly defining and executing improvement projects.

Contact me if talk about whether this model could work for your enterprise.

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.