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Posts Tagged ‘Lean project selection’

Business Process and Performance Improvement – Strategic Initiatives to Tactical Actions?

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
For many companies, CI has has moved from a top-down strategic initiative to tactical activities focused on specific business problems

For many companies, CI has has moved from a top-down strategic initiative to tactical activities focused on specific business problems

I’ve written several articles that talked about how views on business process and performance improvement have changed over the last 3 years.   In the personal development world, there is a mantra that basically says that meaningful change comes only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain associated with change. 

The economic downturn definitely created the pain that caused a lot of companies to change the way they look at their business, and at process and continuous improvement.  I see very few companies saying they want to launch a top-down, enterprise wide Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) initiative, especially ones that focuses on investing big $’s on training and infrastructure up front.   Those days, for the most part, seem to be over and gone.  Certainly a big change from years past, but is it a bad thing?

Some purists might argue that it is a bad thing, that top-down, large scale change management and process improvement initiatives should be a fundamental part of any enterprise.  Theoretically, yes, but how many large-scale Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) initiatives basically collapsed under their own weight in years past, after a great deal of money, time, and intellectual capital was spent?   A great many, I can assure you.  Why?   Well, I might argue that it’s because they took on a front-and-center life of their own, as initiatives, growing unbounded for the sake of the initiative when their place should have been in supporting the core value-generating processes of the business.

Download our short guide to project selection and definitiona short guide to project selection and definition.

I would argue that the change is not a bad thing, and was necessary to survive in this new normal.  Let’s think about where are we now?   Companies are lean and mean, operating in very much of a do-more-with-less mindset.  For many, big Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) organizations have been disbanded.  Productivity is at record levels.  60 hour + work weeks are the norm for many.  But, you can only ask so much of your people for so long.   Sooner or later the business processes have to be looked at, right?

But, now, what I see is that many organizations are taking a very pragmatic and tactical approach to CI.  The competitive environment, the regulatory environment, or maybe even a very important customer is telling them EXACTLY where process problems are, and they are listening.  They then focus like a laser beam by identifying and rigorously defining good projects (see a recent article I wrote on the elements of good project definition) that solve real, specific business problems.  They then develop the process improvement skills in-house or work with a specialist partner to execute what are, by definition, high-impact improvement projects. No guesswork, no unnecessary overhead, no unnecessary infrastructure.

In essence, what I see is a fundamental shift from CI initiatives that are pushed into the enterprise to an environment where CI and process improvement are pulled in, as specifically needed by the business.  Of course, the pendulum has swung very far from the strategic to the tactical and the optimum is probably somewhere in the middle.  But, was this change a bad thing?   I think not.  I think it will serve to refocus CI on what really matters …. making the business more competitive and profitable in an ever-changing marketplace.

Feel free to contact me directly.  I’d like to hear your thoughts ….

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.

Download our BPM Overview Presentation

 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.

Drive Results by Managing Outcomes through Networked Teams

January 8th, 2013 Comments off

The field of Operational Excellence, including Six Sigma Qualtec, has often laid out the case that you drive improvement by properly chartering projects aimed at performance gaps. The performance gaps are chosen by looking at enterprise level value streams’ ability to meet critical requirements laid out by various voices important to the organization. The challenge is often to overcome functional silos. Cross functional teams are formed to overcome that challenge. To progress, the conflict which must be resolved is often resolving the white space between functional responsibilities.

But there is a third axis. What if instead of trying to reconcile the differences between value streams and functional areas, the real challenge was to marshal the energies of existing networks of personnel.

The concept of organizational networks has grown by leaps and bounds. It has happened for a variety of reasons. Our general understanding, and probably more importantly our level of comfort, with our lives being dependent on networks has probably been one of the most important reasons. On a personal level, we manage a networked life with Facebook. Professionally, we do the same with LinkedIn. Organizationally, we’ve increasingly dealt with the concept as we outsource more shared services, expand and contract supply chains, use more contractors and manage activities with cloud based solutions. We live and manage networks.

How then does the concept of networks impact our ability to improve processes? Well, they are as important to understand as value streams, processes and functional areas. And in many ways, it is networks that get projects and initiatives successfully completed as much, if not more so, than functional areas. The challenge therefore isn’t to build a project team cross-functionally but to do so with the right support of critical networks.

A basic view of BPM and a three step approach to implementation.

Networks aren’t invisible as much as they aren’t tracked. They can be identified with organizational network analysis. I suggest you look at the work done by Rob Cross, a faculty member the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia to see the basic elements of identifying networks in your organization.

Once you understand your networks and they touch critical improvement projects, we suggest managing desired outcomes by holding elements of the network accountable for milestones. Naming and using cross-functional teams can still be effective if the people chosen from the various functional areas are well connected within the critical networks.

I may be tossing out some ideas that might seem to muddy the waters. Do we really need to introduce one more axis into how we successfully execute projects? We know these networks exist. We know processes produce outcomes and people reside in functional areas. We know to

fix problems we must execute projects within processes that cut across functions. And to execute the projects we must have cross functional teams. But to ignore that networks get things done simply because they are messy or not shown on an organizational chart isn’t a good way to go. We need to tap into the networks to get projects done. Ensure team members are well networked and then manage the outcomes of the network through those individuals. Recognize and leverage how things get done.

If you wish to discuss these points, feel free to contact me.

Where Process Improvement Projects Go Wrong

December 28th, 2012 Comments off

While doing some general Christmas reading I came across this June ’12 article in the Wall Street Journal’s on-line edition by Dr. Statya S. Chakravorty, the Caraustar professor of operations management at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University.  While we can debate how to improve the application of the methodology or make recommendations how to address the cited breakdowns, I think Dr. Chakravorty wrote a great article detailing many places a project or program can go off track which I wanted to share with you.  If you’d like to discuss Dr. Chakravorty’s article, contact me.

Where Process Improvement Projects Go Wrong by Dr. Statya S. Chakravorty

What do weight-loss plans and process-improvement programs such as Six Sigma and “lean manufacturing” have in common?

They typically start off well, generating excitement and great progress, but all too often fail to have a lasting impact as participants gradually lose motivation and fall back into old habits.

Many companies have embraced Six Sigma, a quality-control system designed to tackle problems such as production defects, and lean manufacturing, which aims to remove all processes that don’t add value to the final product. But many of those companies have come away less than happy. Recent studies, for example, suggest that nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to yield the desire results.

We studied process-improvement programs at large companies over a five-year period to gain insight into how and why so many of them fail. We found that when confronted with increasing stress over time, these programs react in much the same way a metal spring does when it is pulled with increasing force—that is, they progress though “stretching” and “yielding” phases before failing entirely. In engineering, this is known as the “stress-strain curve,” and the length of each stage varies widely by material.

A closer look at the characteristics of improvement projects at each of the three stages of the stress-strain curve—stretching, yielding and failing—offers lessons for executives seeking to avoid Six Sigma failures. The discussion that follows is based on what happened at one aerospace company that implemented more than 100 improvement projects, only to determine less than two years later that more than half had failed to generate lasting gains.

Stretching Phase

When a metal spring is pulled initially, the material stretches to accommodate the increase in pressure. In much the same way, the people involved in a process-improvement project generally find themselves stretching and willing to tackle all necessary tasks in the early going.

At the aerospace company, an improvement project typically began with the formation of a team consisting of 10 to 18 members from various departments. A Six Sigma or other improvement expert was assigned to the team to guide and train them. At this stage, teams were excited to learn and apply what they were being taught.

Team members collected data on their current working environment and, with the help of the Six Sigma expert, identified the changes they most needed to make to achieve their stated goal—say, a reduction in the rate of defects in manufactured parts or fewer mistakes in order writing and billing. The expert developed a “to do” list that included action items, responsibilities and deadlines and made sure needed resources were available.

Because top executives were paying close attention to the project at this stage, managers made clear to employees that the improvement initiative was their top priority. For example, producing error-free bills became more important than processing a certain quantity of bills each day.

While daily production slipped initially when the team transitioned to the new way of working, it improved when the group grew accustomed to the new process. When the team reached its goal—say it reduced billing errors by a certain percentage—the improvement project was declared a success.

The director who was spearheading the company’s Six Sigma initiatives shared the teams’ achievements with others in the company. Team members were given rewards such as gift certificates to restaurants, and their pictures appeared in the company newsletter. The division vice president reported on the team’s success to the company’s other vice presidents and to its top executives.

Download “Project Selection and Definition – The Key to Getting Fast Results”

Yielding Phase

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

If a metal spring continues to be pulled, there will come a point when the material yields as it struggles to support the increase in pressure. Though still intact, the spring becomes permanently deformed—stretched out, for example—as the bonds between atoms are broken and new ones formed.

Similarly, in the middle stage of an improvement project—when the Six Sigma expert moves on to another project and top management turns it focus to another group of workers—implementation starts to wobble, and teams may find themselves struggling to maintain the gains they achieved early on.

With the departure of the Six Sigma expert, the teams at the aerospace company lost their objective voice and the person who performed the sophisticated statistical analysis that allowed them to prioritize the tasks that most affected performance, thus needed fixing the most. Without the expert to rein them in, some team members began pushing agendas that benefited themselves and their departments, making it harder for the team to agree on new goals.

While teams at this stage continued to look for the flaws in their current working environments, they got bogged down trying to perform the statistical analysis previously handled by the expert. Some teams started spending too much time on the improvement project, which affected their ability to meet production quotas and other daily responsibilities.

Amid the confusion and facing pressure from managers to keep up with day-to-day duties, some team members started reverting to old habits in the much the same way a person who recently lost weight might start skipping gym sessions when work and family demands heat up. The team’s performance stopped improving and, in some cases, started to regress.

When reporting on the status of their projects, teams tried to make themselves look better by highlighting what they hoped to accomplish in the future, instead of what they were accomplishing now. Some team members became discouraged and started to doubt the benefits of the improvement strategies.

The improvement director, whose salary and bonus depended on the success of the company’s Six Sigma initiatives, highlighted projects that were showing great progress and ignored those that weren’t. As a result, company executives were unaware that some improvement teams were slowly starting to crack under the pressure.

Download “The Importance of Project Selection – Why Process Improvement Efforts Falter and How to Assure Success and Sustainability”

Failing Stage

Over time, pulling will cause the material in one area of the metal spring to narrow, creating a neck that becomes smaller and smaller until it is unable to sustain any pressure at all. At that point, it breaks into pieces. Similarly, in the final stage of a process-improvement project, team members find themselves unable or unwilling to tackle improvement tasks, and the effort ultimately collapses.

With the improvement expert long gone and no additional training in Six Sigma or other improvement strategies provided by the aerospace company, team members became increasingly discouraged by their failure to build on earlier success. They eventually stopped caring about the improvement project, partly because it wasn’t tied to their performance reviews.

As morale sagged, no one stepped forward to assume leadership of the improvement project, so the team lost interest in looking for ways to improve their current work environment. The company allowed newly formed improvement teams to poach people and resources from older teams, so the only improvements that were made were those related to safety—and even then, only the bare minimum was done. Members steadily regressed to their old ways of working, and the group’s performance returned to what it had been before the project began.

With projects failing miserably, many teams reported their achievements incorrectly, giving a false sense of success. Because the director continued to communicate only about projects that were showing excellent results, it took several months for the division vice president to become aware of the widespread failures and reluctantly inform the company’s top executives.

Lessons Learned

Four lessons from our research stand out.

First, the extended involvement of a Six Sigma or other improvement expert is required if teams are to remain motivated, continue learning and maintain gains. If the cost of assigning an improvement expert to each team on a full-time basis is prohibitive, one improvement expert could be assigned on a part-time basis to several teams for an extended period of one to two years. Later, managers could be trained to take over that role.

Second, performance appraisals need to be tied to successful implementation of improvement projects. Studies point out that raises, even in small amounts, can motivate team members to embrace new, better work practices. Without such incentives, employees often regress to their old ways of working once the initial enthusiasm for Six Sigma dies down.

Third, improvement teams should have no more than six to nine members, and the timeline for launching a project should be no longer than six to eight weeks. The bigger the team, the greater the chance members will have competing interests and the harder it will be for them to agree on goals, especially after the improvement expert has moved on to a new project. And the longer it takes to implement improvements, the greater the chance people and resources will be diverted to other efforts.

Fourth, executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just “support” them. Because it was in his best interests, the director in charge of the improvement projects at the aerospace company created the illusion that everything was great by communicating only about projects that were yielding excellent results. By observing the successes and failures of improvement programs firsthand, rather than relying on someone else’s interpretation, executives can make more accurate assessments as to which ones are worth continuing.

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.

Download

“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.

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.

Business Process Management (BPM) = Robust Project Pipelines after the Low-Hanging Fruit is Harvested

March 10th, 2011 1 comment

BPM and Improvement Project selectionSo, what does Business Process Management (BPM) mean to you if your organization has already gone headstrong into lean,  six sigma or other improvement efforts?    What does it mean to you if the efforts have really produced some good results?  Think you don’t need it and should move on?   You may want to think again ….

I constantly talk with people and hear some variation of ….

“We got a lot of great results from our program (Lean, Six Sigma, Quality, CI, etc) for the first couple years, everyone was excited and motivated, but now the program seems to be running out of steam.  Results and participation are falling, interest in waning, and we can’t figure out why”.

There are, of course, many potential causes for this, but one of them seems to be pretty consistent.  There is no real project pipeline and project prioritization approach. What happens?  People don’t really know what to work on so they don’t do anything or, maybe worse, they start working on squeaky wheel projects that have little or no impact on the business, and may even have a negative impact.  If this happens, I can assure you that it is a recipe for disaster for any business improvement program.

Download our whitepaper that discusses using BPM and scorecards to align improvement efforts Download our whitepaper that discusses using BPM and scorecards to align improvement efforts

If you build that BPM framework, you will have a clear view of what really matters to the business and metrics to gauge your success in improving those things.  A pipeline of business cases and projects can be built based on measurable performance gaps and those projects will, by definition, have clear line of sight to things that really matter.  A clear prioritization scheme then keeps things practical and real.

If you have a clear list of projects that are absolutely aligned with the things that matter most to the business and you have a way to prioritize improvement efforts, do you think an improvement program is likely to fizzle?   I think not.

So, give BPM a second look, even if you’re well into an improvement program.  It doesn’t have to be a complicated, drawn out task.  If you’re just getting started, you can and should build it in stages, while you’re picking up some of those low hanging fruit projects.   If you have a mature effort, you can still build it in manageable stages by prioritizing the different areas of the business.  In the medium to long run, it might be the difference between your improvement program being a flavor of the month initiative and a long-term, strategic value-add component of the way you do business.

Contact me if you’d like to discuss BPM and your organization in more detail.

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.
adobe creative suite 6 design standard

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.

Why Lean? Why Now?

August 20th, 2010 No comments

A long time friend told me how his boss asked him to manage his processes on a systems basis.  He wanted process maps and metrics.  He wanted control.  I’d like to help this friend so I asked him about his processes.  What were they?  Who owned them?  What was wrong?  But as he started to describe the work environment, he quickly took a left turn.  He began to tell me how hard everyone was working.  He told me how in the end, they met their goals but that it was killing them to get there.  He told me how the number of clients was growing and they anticipated growing further.  He told me how his company planned to add these clients without adding people.  He feared continuing to add work to the existing personnel would simply create an unstable environment in which the best people, who are starting to see job options, might leave.  And these are his most productive colleagues. 

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Basic psychology tells you that when you find someone’s fear, then you have found the motivation for change.  He was talking to me more out of the fear of an increasingly unstable environment with his team than his boss’ desire for control.  What advice could I offer him?  There are lots of options which we offer as services.  This friend is in a highly entrepreneurial environment so he gets to just do one. Which will it be?  What will reduce his fear? 

I told him he needed to simplify what they are doing.  It’s not time for control.  It’s time to reduce complexity.  How could he do that?  Well his company must be doing something right if they are adding clients in this environment.  But how much of what they do along the way is valued by those clients and how much of it is done because it’s the way it used to be done?  He needs to get rid of everything his customers don’t value.  He needs to get rid of everything that makes his team’s life so stressed and isn’t prized by his clients.  The things that make them work late and extra days.  We didn’t talk about deployment maps or how to introduce management systems.  We simply spoke about his fear.  

How many of us find ourselves in the same work environment?  We are trying to do all the things we used to do. But there are less people around.  And we are starting to grow again.  Maybe growth is not in an accelerated fashion but it is enough to stress out who is here.  And while the fear in the board room may be another decline, the fear in the workplace is of accelerated orders.   So, if people are working at their limit, eliminate what your clients don’t value.  And, if you’re sensing a greater risk from adding a customer ahead of another resource, reduce the complexity.   Let’s take out those non-value added activities and reduce the stress.  Let’s give ourselves the ability to handle growth without taking more risk.  If you find yourself in the same situation as my friend, contact me.