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Posts Tagged ‘Lean Six Sigma’

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.

VOC to Process Improvement to Innovation – The Round Trip

January 15th, 2013 Comments off

Roundtrip to Innovation

I’ve written dozens of articles about VOC, Process Improvement and Innovation on this blog.  Most have dealt with those subjects in isolation.  A few have related them to each other.   Really, I should have been discussing the entirety of the system more for the development of each is limited without the development of all.

This became apparent to me when I found a blog post where a portion of the post tied the three together so well I felt compelled to share it with you.  Specifically, it is written by Bradley (Woody) Bendle and it is posted on www.bx.businessweek.com.  The link to the specific post is as follows:

http://bx.businessweek.com/voice-of-the-customer/view?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.innovationexcellence.com%2Fblog%2F2012%2F09%2F17%2Fyour-consumers-are-valuable-not-fickle%2F

The blog post is entitled “Your Customers are Valuable – Not Fickle!” back in September 2012 and the portion that really hit me is shown below –

The great recession has profoundly changed the consumer, and it is highly unlikely that they will return to the behaviors and patterns of yesteryear. Many experts feel there is now a “new consumer normal” that is very different from what we had experienced in the past. In a recent Forbes.com article, Pam Goodfellow from BigInsight asserts that “the clear turning post for consumer behavior during the last decade came with the ‘Great Recession.’ Shoppers went from ‘spend now, worry later’ to an ‘abort spending, worry, worry, worry’ mindset.” The folks from the Future’s Company additionally provide their own perspective about this era of the new normal. “Consumers everywhere … are working from a new orientation about what they want and how they buy… [They] are now battle hardened, having found ways to survive and even thrive on the new opportunities a more competitive market has yielded.”

I think nearly all of us can relate to this “new normal” consumer mindset on some personal level. Who hasn’t had to make adjustments in their consumption over the past several years? If so many of us have had to make our own (sometimes pretty significant) adjustments, why aren’t we seeing more significant changes in how many existing businesses go to market?

There are a number of great books that provide valuable insightful about this phenomenon (e.g., Leading The Revolution by Gary Hamel, The Reinventors by Jason Jennings, Brand Relevance by David Aaker and Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators by Govindarajan and Trimble) to name a few that I highly recommend. And while these books address a range of topics with fabulous expertise, you can essentially boil their key underlying insights to the following two things.

1) Deeply understand you customer’s needs, and
2) Continually innovate.

We all need to face the fact that success is no longer guaranteed for those simply committed to “getting better” at what they know how to do. Twenty and thirty years ago, process improvement and cost containment could make one a titan within their industry. Those days are pretty much gone for good; much in the same way that today’s consumer will never be the same as yesterday’s consumer. 

A PowerPoint framework for a VOC maturity model

I just want to emphasize that VOC, Process Improvement and Innovation are intricately linked. They are not separate topics.  They aren’t implemented without thought to the other two.  You can’t get customers to give you their preferences and work with you on iterations of a product or service if they don’t see value in what you do for them.  You can’t have that sort of relationship if your processes aren’t delivering on your stated promises. And without the trust built by meeting those current promises, you can’t innovate new products and services as they will never be accepted.  VOC, Process Improvement and Innovation. They are the Trifecta.  Contact me if you wish to discuss this post.

Trained Yellow Belts Think Differently…Ask Blue Eyes

December 30th, 2012 Comments off

Some folks think for themselves from the first day.  Frank Sinatra was one of them.  Others learn to think differently.  Yellow Belts are process owners and team members who have been taught to think differently.  We detail our highly popular Yellow Belt training on our website.  While it has been out for many years and reconstituted in many flavors, people remain genuinely interested in this foundation capability.

The Chairman of the Board

By way of history, we were the first to develop yellow belt training.  Six Sigma Qualtec is the renamed Florida Power & Light’s unregulated subsidiary Qualtec Quality Services.  Qualtec housed materials developed when FPL engineers studied under Deming and documented their work.  Qualtec was spun off and acquired Six Sigma training materials and client lists.  The renamed company developed Yellow Belt from the Deming based materials as a foundation for process owners and members that were part of Six Sigma teams and who were left to manage a process after any improvements were implemented.

Like any classic, the concepts embedded in Yellow Belt  remain the foundation for any process improvement program.   In fact, we have posted how companies remain devoted to the basics of Operational Excellence methodologies.  This devotion to the basics continues to deliver results to a broad base of the organization.

Yellow belt is a distinct and valuable skillset.  But a lot of people don’t have a good feel for exactly what a yellow belt does and how it can benefit the organization.  So, I’m going to provide some thoughts here and on some subsequent posts.

As a disclaimer, since we launched Yellow Belt, just like with Black and Green Belts, there have been many others that followed such that there is really no standard out there for a Yellow Belt.   So this description is addressing  Six Sigma Qualtec’s definition of a Yellow Belt.   Yellow Belts really should think and act differently after training so, let’s first talk about what yellow belts should be thinking about after training:

  • Analyzing real data to drive business decisions, analyzing root cause to drive implementation of the right solutions, and understanding that CI (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM, etc) is all about improving business performance in terms of voice of the customer.
  • Identifying and tracking the right metrics (primary, secondary, etc), really understanding process capability and process performance.
  • How to practically get and use data and a scientific approach to solve a problem?
  • Understanding what a problem is really costing the business, the real cost-of-poor-quality (COPQ)
  • Putting in the proper process control mechanisms to sustain improvements over time
  • The project selection and prioritization process of the company to assure that the right things are being targeted, things that will make an impact.

Download “Yellow Belts Play a Crucial Role”

The Yellow Belt skillset is a foundation set of quality improvement and process control tools.  It is something that can be applied anywhere in the organization and on any process to yield wide-ranging improvements.  It is one approach, and an effective one for many, to building a solid foundation for CI in their organization.

Contact me if you want more info or would like to discuss in more detail ….

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.

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.

Cutting Costs with Six Sigma – Making a “Comeback”?

July 19th, 2010 Comments off

A recent BusinessWeek article made the argument that Six Sigma is staging a “comeback” right now, specifically in retail.  The idea put forward is that sales growth will remain sluggish for some time and companies are trying to squeeze out more costs to maintain/improve margins.  The article went so far as to say that a “jobless recovery” may be the RESULT of more and more companies embracing Six Sigma.

While I think that may be taking things a bit far, it’s hard to argue that many companies have leaned out their workforces to bare bones levels.  Even with improvements in the global economy starting to show up, I think companies will indeed remain reluctant to add headcount for the foreseeable future. And, this is the new state of affairs all the way up the value stream, creating a trickle back effect. Companies have fewer resources to get work done, so what do they do?   They push work (value) back to their suppliers and partners. It’s really a pretty simple reality for most companies … do more, do it faster, do it with fewer resources, and do it at a lower cost.

Enter Six Sigma.  Except, it isn’t Six Sigma that is necessarily the answer; it’s Process Improvement and Optimization (PI).  There are many proven business tools and methodologies to do PI (e.g. BPM, Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, DFSS, etc).  Structured PI has been around for 25+ years. It’s never really gone away, hence I have a problem with the notion of a “comeback”.

However, I think PI is and will continue to be looked at in a very different way.  I don’t see a return any time soon to large, top-down, training-focused initiatives that are often associated with a Six Sigma deployment. Big training-focused initiatives that require a big up-front investment and take many months, if not years, to deliver any quantifiable results may be gone for good.

But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I think it’s just the next evolution to something better.  PI is going to be more results-focused, as opposed to training-focused.  The needs of the business will pull training, as opposed to one-size fits all training being pushed down to the organization.  There will be a focus on breaking boil-the-ocean initiatives down to more manageable, tighter scoped things that can yield incremental results in a very short timeframe.  Green Belts, Yellow Belts, and Lean Practitioners will execute more projects that yield incremental improvements, as opposed to massive breakthroughs.  PI will be tightly tied to real business operations, as opposed to being that big on-the-side initiative.  Successful PI will use very tactical wins to create strategic advantage and sustainability.

So, let’s summarize.  What are some likely characteristics of post-meltdown PI ?

  • Lower upfront investment required
  • Focuses on things that can have an immediate positive impact on the business.  Squeaky wheel, project-for-the-sake-of-a-projects need not apply
  • Gets measurable results fast, incremental quick wins
  • Results-focused, not training-focuses.  Training is a means to an end and pulled based on the needs of the business
  • Sustains itself through results.  Pay-as-you-go.  Size and scope of PI efforts are in direct proportion to the bottom line results being delivered for the business

A brave new world, but one where a well executed PI effort just might be the difference between the winners and the losers.