Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Lean Training’

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

buy application essay
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.

Economically Delivering the Right Mix of Lean, Six Sigma and Business Process Management

January 17th, 2013 Comments off

The Right Mix

My colleagues and I have written about this subject from several angles I want to start bringing it togetter.  In my post On Demand Performance Improvement  and Lynn Monkelien’s, Senior Director of Enterprise Learning at the Apollo Group and SSQ guest blogger, post entitled Pull Learning in Business Process and Performance Improvement we discussed how to break the paradigm of training inefficiencies.  This was further supported in my white paper entitled On Demand Performance Improvemnt – Traditional Training Meets Social Media which is available on our website’s home page in the “spotlight” section.  Then my colleague, Eric Harris wrote Back to Basics where he introduced the various foundation aspects of Yellow Belt, Lean and Business Process Management.   Since then there have been numerous posts on each of these subjects.

Together we are all describing a new training paradigm that is emerging where with our clients we not only making better use of technology and social media standards but also of a contemporary and robust library of materials and broad capability of personnel to meet the contemporary needs of organizations.  Specifically, with so much pressure on costs and the limited availability of company personnel’s time, it’s not surprising that most companies are looking hard at how and what they delivery to their workforce.  The key is to define what is needed… nothing more and nothing less…in terms of both content and exposure.  And that is done by matching the depth of training to the problems the organization seeks to address and putting the information into the users hands in as many low cost forms as possible as close to the actual application as possible.

And here are some questions to ask when considering how to get the chosen information to the user:

* What sort of time is available from the targeted personnel? Can they spend a day in a classroom or is thier time limited to hours per day or per week? Will targeted candidates be in different locations or at one facility?

* Do you know exactly what thier problems require or will it evolve over time?

* Are they comfortable with technology and social media?

Overview of SIPOC & a 12-step process to build one

Here are some factors to consider when asking what training and coaching is needed:

* Are you addressing manufacturing, engineering or transactional processes?  In factories and laboratories where much of the improvement activity may focus on equipment, techniques such as Gauge R&R, Process Capability, Setup Reduction, Total Productive Maintenance and perhaps even Design of Experiments are invaluable.  But in transactional businesses, they can be substituted with more impactful subjects.

* Are you dealing with high-volume repetitive processes?  Much of the Lean training can be simplified and reduced if you are not.  Value Stream Mapping, for example, can be covered at a more general level.

* What is the objective and the environment?  Are you attempting to remove defects or reduce cycle time?  If you seek to reduce errors in a financial services company, the focus is on process analysis so Pareto Charts, Run Charts and the like, which are quick and easy to teach, become the focus.

The point is that you have choices.  You can follow a fairly standardized prescription for Lean Six Sigma training as described through the classic belt definitions or you can tailor your training to unique needs.  At the same time, you can perform standard instructor lead training or you can use various communication tools that leverage technologies and social media standards.

I have one note of caution –if you cut the content or instructor interaction too far, the price for the mistake doesn’t immediately show itself during the training.  Problems evidence themselves once the training is well underway or completed.  And the problems might be that projects get delayed, more coaching is needed to complete high value projects or certified candidates fail in follow-on projects.  The result is a general loss of confidence emerges for the whole process.  By the time you discover your mistake, the effort is deemed a failure.  We don’t say this to scare you into overbuying or overdesigning.  We believe the answer is to monitor the situation closely and maintain flexibility in both the training and support.  It is in this reaction time that modular content and flexible, technology enabled support tools and methods really make a difference.

If you would like to discuss this emerging model, 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.

Success With Lean Isn't Just About Tools and Training …

October 30th, 2012 1 comment

Lean toolsI talk to people everyday in all kinds of industries who, for their own reasons, have decided that they need to do Lean.   And, in most cases … it’s pretty easy to confirm that they REALLY do have legit business reasons for doing Lean.  So far, so good … we’re talking about solving real business problems …  I’m happy.

Now, let’s start talking about execution.  Oh no … Almost always, the conversation jumps to Lean tools and tools training.  And, you know what …. tools and tools training are not the most important considerations for achieving success with lean.   There … I’ve said it …

Now, before I get people thinking I’m completely nuts and sending me nasty emails, I’m not saying that Lean tools aren’t important. Tool knowledge is obviously necessary, but it is absolutely not sufficient.  Here’s my thinking.

First, what is success, or maybe better, what is not success?  Success IS NOT training 100 people across 5 operations in Lean. Success IS NOT about certifications. Success IS NOT completing X projects last quarter, all with slick final report outs.  If these or things like them are your measuring sticks for success …. well, you’re just being lazy and I can assure you that your relationship with Lean will end badly.

Download our Lean Primer kit an overview of project selection and definition ….


I’ll argue that success can only be defined by BUSINESS RESULTS, results that can be objectively measured and verified. Am I improving service to the customer in a meaningful way? Am I reducing risk (compliance, regulatory, liability, etc) in some meaningful way?  Am I pulling cost out and improving margins? Am I making better use of finite resources? Am I doing a better job of retaining existing revenue streams? Am I doing a better job generating new top-line growth? etc, etc.

Squishy, feel-good measurements (# people trained, # projects executed, etc) really just equate to an academic exercise and, let me tell you,  I don’t talk to a lot of business leaders that are interested in academic exercises these days.  It’s all about results … show me the money …

So, without further adieu, here’s a 3-step formula for Lean success:  Identify your target, then take aim, then fire.   I know … I know … not exactly a sophisticated or earth-shattering pronouncement, but sometimes taking things that have been made unnecessarily complicated and putting them in overly simple terms helps …

Identifying targets is about aligning the lean effort with the REAL NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS. No squeaky wheel projects! Do things that matter.  Aiming is about defining and scoping projects so that they are well-defined and manageable. We don’t want boil the ocean things that have no chance of getting done and we don’t want death by a thousand cuts through the dreaded scope creep.  We want high-value projects that have a clearly defined scope and objective.   Then … and only then … we fire by attacking our good projects with good training and Lean project execution.

I know it’s simplistic and really just common sense, but all to often the identify and aim components are put on the back burner in favor of fire events like tools training and kaizen events.  Why?  Well, because identify and aim are just plain hard sometimes and it’s awfully easy to just train people and do stuff.

But, realistically, what’s likely to happen if the identify and aim components are ignored? You’ll get a lot of people trained and a lot of meaningless, squeaky wheel projects being worked on that really don’t make any measurable impact to the business. Training for the sake of training and projects for the sake of projects …. a recipe for a Lean train wreck you want to avoid.  But I maintain that if the 3 steps I laid out happen well, then success in terms of meaningful business results is always within reach, and meaningful business results is the right definition of success for Lean.

Thoughts?  I’d like to hear from you …..

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.

BPM and Lean – For Many Service Oriented Organizations, Enough to Get Big Improvement Results

October 4th, 2012 1 comment

Might Continuous improvement (CI) be making a comeback after a several years of being severely cut back or outright eliminated?  I think they just might be, and I see it most in service delivery organizations. But, they’re doing it for different reasons and they’re doing it in a different way.  Simple and light-weight trumps top-heavy and complex.  Near-term wins reign supreme over long-term initiatives.

Why the re-emerging interest? Well, the simple answer is that things are just different than they were, even just a few years ago.  I talk to business leaders every day, and I don’t hear “we want to start a program to instill a culture of quality and continuous improvement in the company”.    No, what I hear about are specific business problems, and immense pressure to immediately and inexpensively fix the problems.   Feel good corporate initiatives are out ….  in the trenches get it done  thinking and actions are in.

Problems in service organizations seem to cluster around being able to deliver an increasing service level while maintaining or growing margins, WITHOUT adding headcount.   It’s do more with less (or at least with what we have).  This insight doesn’t bode well for the near-term employment outlook, but it’s what I see nonetheless.

BPM and Lean for Services OrganizationsAnd, it’s not just the reasons for doing CI that are different. The way business leaders want to do CI is also different.  There is almost no appetite for big dollar, infrastructure-heavy corporate initiatives. The focus is almost entirely on quick wins … show me the money.   Now, I know there are some practitioners out there might say that a focus on near term results is just a recipe for disaster, but I just don’t think so.  We have to live in the real world, and this world requires a shift in perspective.

So, my argument …. For many service organizations, fundamental Business Process Management (BPM) and Lean combined with some light-weight infrastructure components can make for an incredibly cost-effective way to make near-immediate, high impact improvements and set the stage for long-term sustainable results.  A true win-win.

In a services environment, simple BPM and Lean allows you to consistently execute well-defined, low risk, and high impact projects  that are clearly aligned with the real goals of the business …. for many, a better path  to  Continuous Improvement

BPM crystallizes value streams (processes) and establishes measurement systems that clearly identify the highest value gaps in performance, from both customer and business perspectives. These gaps represent business cases, and ultimately, projects.  Define a good prioritization approach, and you have a project pipeline.

Download BPM

a BPM Overview presentation

Lean is an inexpensive and highly effective way, then, to execute those projects and close those performance gaps.  Now, there is not doubt that not all projects identified will be lean projects.  You will for sure find capital projects, six sigma projects, and even some process redesign projects.  BUT, my experience is that a significant number of the highest value projects in service and service delivery organizations are indeed Lean projects. They focus on doing more with less, reducing cycle time, or reducing cost.  That’s lean.

Download Lean Services

 this short .ppt overview of Lean for Service Operations

BPM and Lean.  Done well, you can get near-term results AND set the stage for long-term sustainable results.  And, the beauty of it is that it can be very lightweight and cost-effective.  Contact me if you want to discuss how this lightweight approach to CI might work for your organization.

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.

VOC and Lean Value Stream Mapping – A Simple, but Powerful Equation

March 2nd, 2011 Comments off

It sounds so simple. Lean eliminates waste defined as any activity that does not provide value to the customer. Eliminate the waste and you will bring products and services to customers better, faster and at a lower price. Finally, combine it with Six Sigma to reduce variation and defects, and you make breakthrough results.

We all start by understanding that value is defined solely by what the customer actually desires and for which they are willing to pay and that value enabling activities, while not adding direct value, are necessary. We all then look for the true non-value added activities that add waste in the form of unnecessary time, effort or cost. We learn to seek and eliminate those non-value added activities. That is the essence of a lean project.

So what is the lynchpin that makes this elegant equation work? Identify what your customer considers of value and how you deliver it. Once you have that line of site, if you maintain efforts to continually improve, you’ll get there. But without that clarity, your improvement efforts are a march to nowhere.

It is important when developing that line of sight to define value from the perspective of the customer, the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Understand clearly and exactly what product or service the customer desires, when it is to be

delivered, and at what price.

Download a VOC training module dealing with Critical to Customer Requirements, a key element of VOC

Download a training module dealing with Critical to Customer Requirements, a key element of VOC

To understand how your company actually delivers what the customer considers of value, leverage lean tools to precisely map the set and sequence of all specific actions done to bring the product or service from conception to final delivery. This provides a visual display of exactly how a particular process is carried out. Mapping this “value stream” enables you to identify value-adding and non-value adding activities from the customer’s perspective thus setting the stage for improvement.

Along with providing a sense of alignment between your goal of delivering value and your opportunity for improvement, this exercise also carries the message of how problems and solutions are cross-functional in nature. If process owners participate in this process with an open mind, they will learn the futility of looking for a solution from someone else independent of their efforts. Thus, not only does value stream mapping provide alignment from the customer to performance improvement opportunities, but it continues through to an individual’s actions.

Yes it can be a simple equation – understand what your customer values (VOC), eliminate waste (Lean) and be more competitive. But to do that, make sure you get the front end right using VOC and value stream mapping to get the target and alignment to individual actions.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss ….