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Posts Tagged ‘process management’

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 ….

Alignment through Business Process Management

February 20th, 2013 Comments off

Strategic Alignment, Organizational AlignmentWhat do we enjoy about leisure activities?  A symphony’s crescendo.  A well executed touchdown.  A sunset from a summit.  We love the harmony.  But in business, there is also value.  Along with that feel good moment, alignment creates value.  It ensures the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.  And the potential for alignment is in many directions.  We want to be aligned to customers, shareholders, employees and our communities.  But alignment only occurs through design.

In a phone conversation this week, someone asked me what BPM is.  To me it is the design of the alignment.  BPM isn’t the only discipline driving alignment.  In another conversation with a private equity sponsor, when asked about their upstream measures of alignment, I was quickly given financial metrics which if crossed triggered an action.  In such an advanced market economy, we have very refined measures for alignment to the requirements of capital.  And alignment with customers is the essence of Voice of the Customer.

Alignment and Balanced ScorecareSo where can the elements offered in SSQ’s business process alignment focus?  How do we contribute to an organization’s quest for value?  We focus on aligning processes vertically and horizontally using KPI metrics.

We introduce scorecards or dashboards as a way to monitor alignment vertically in an organization. The built-in ability of cascading scorecards, regardless of the number of hierarchies, depicts how the business rolls up from any perspectives.  While easily attained but it is readily understood and accepted.  It fits our view of organizations and compensation systems.

A greater challenge is achieving horizontal alignment.  Even though vertically defined functions and groups have a stake in a company’s outcomes, many times the overall company fails to optimize its potential because resources and information are “owned” by the vertical components. Thus, we create silos.  I am an optimist and believe people want to work together.  But I also believe in our quest for simplicity and accountability, we’ve failed to fully understand horizontal relationships and created incentive systems that drive people to work on their own.

So our implementation of BPM seeks to facilitate an organizations’ understanding of how a course of action adopted by one function impacts other functions. We seek to aid the company building a systems approach by giving the various vertical entities visibility into each other’s plans, resources and performance gaps based on internal and external customer requirements.

BPM Whitepaper – A Structured Approach to Delivering Value

We finally seek to redefine the KPI’s balancing the vertical requirements with the horizontal requirements to get the alignment in harmony.  By comparing those KPI’s with actual performance we help a company define the projects and activities that will close the gaps to the highest scorecard to ensure we also meet external alignment.

The BPM we introduce has many benefits.  It examines and aligns to scorecards.  In ensures financial and vertical measures are met by building the muscle tissue in the form of process definitions.  It focuses on KPIs, performance gaps and prioritized project lists.  But it is unique in its facilitation of an understanding and acceptance of horizontal alignment and thus takes organizations a step closer to its optimal value creation.

So in answer to the question for a definition of BPM, I say the essense is alignment.  And in answer to what we bring different than any other focus, we feel we facilitate overcoming horizontal barriers to value creation.  If you’d like to discuss these concepts and how we can help your organization, contact me.

What Can Yellow Belts Do … Really?

January 29th, 2013 Comments off

Yellow Belt TrainingAs a followup to my recent post titled Trained Yellow Belts Think Differently, I thought I would spend a little time talking about what yellow belts can actually DO.

In a traditional six sigma deployment, yellow belts play a critical role in supporting higher level black belt and green belt projects.  They are trained in the foundation of the DMAIC problem solving process and can speak the language of Six Sigma.  They can handle some of the lower level tasks of process mapping, data collection, setting up measurement systems, establishing and maintaining control systems , and may actually be subject matter experts. Basically, they allow the black belts and green belts to focus on the more complex analytical aspects of the project.  If yellow belts are used effectively, they can improve the productivity of black belts and green belts in a BIG way.

BUT, what can they do outside of supporting higher level belts?   What if you don’t even have higher level belts?  What can a yellow belt trained employee do for the organization?

Six Sigma purists might argue that Yellow Belts should not be trained, without Black Belts and Green Belts, and that their role is to support higher level belts.  I don’t agree with this at all.   Again, I have to hedge by saying that I’m talking about the level of capability that yellow belts trained by SSQ have (i.e. 4-5 days of training).   So, what can Mr. Yellow Belt do?

  • Characterize Processes.  Process mapping and characterization is a skill that should not be taken lightly.  All too often,  improvements are made to processes when we don’t know how the current process really operates, the current state.  These so-called improvements, in many cases, add unnecessary complexity and create more problems than they fixed.  We call this tampering and it is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.  A great example of where process characterization is an invaluable skill is with large-scale enterprise software implementations.   It seems common sense that we should understand exactly how a process works before we try to systemize/automate with software, right?  How often is there really a focused effort to characterize and optimize processes?   I would argue not enough of the time and this is readily apparent in the big $’s spent on configuration, customization, tweaks, etc.
  • Establish/validate measurement systems. Yellow belts learn the basics of Six Sigma and its focus on using data to understand problems and get to the root cause.  The learn the basics of what makes a good measurement system, and what does not.    The can certainly help establish measurement and data collection systems that are actionable, and validate (or invalidate) existing ones.
  • Establish Process Control Systems.  This is a key yellow belt skillset and its importance should not be overlooked.  Yellow belts learn how to set up process control systems to assure that processes function as expected by the customer.  Spec limits are establish, as are response plans when an indicator goes out of control
  • Execute small scale improvement projects in their own areas.   Will they have the deep statistical analysis skills that well-trained green belts or black belts have?  No, they will not.  But they will have a solid problem solving foundation around DMAIC and they will have a working knowledge of the basic tools in D-M-A-I-C.  They know what a well scoped project looks like, they know the basic measure and analyze graphical tools, they know how to use a structured approach to select improvements, and they definitely know about process control systems.   Let’s not lose site of the fact that these basic tools will likely be sufficient to address a significant portion of the process problems you’ll face.

Some may think of Yellow Belts as team members, data collectors, or assistants to Black Belts.  I strongly question this view and think, in reality, a Yellow Belt’s role should be much deeper than that.  Yellow Belts practice a Process Management approach (control and manage processes using metrics and data) and can solve real business problems using basic, but proven, quality tools and a systematic approach.

Yellow belt skills are valuable at any level of the organization, from managers to the lowest level process operators, and the processes they improve are usually the ones they work in day in and day out.  Many years back the term daily process management was in vogue.  The term has certainly faded a bit, but it’s hard to argue against the value of actively managing and improving processes on a daily basis.

Contact me if you’d like to talk about how yellow belts might be able to help your organization.  And, if you haven’t already, download our yellow belt training manual to see for yourself the rich skillset a yellow belt acquires.

Yellow Belts Can Help Sustain Your Gains

May 5th, 2011 1 comment

Over the past 20 years of experience, we’ve learned the key to sustaining performance improvement gains rests on process management.  This role is entrusted to a broad group of employees who are often the process owners and, when not the process owners, are still the most affected by large scale improvements.  Providing them the proper skills forms a critical component of a robust quality management system.

Some have dubbed this person and the required skills Yellow Belt but that term hasn’t done the role justice.  Yellow Belts are often thought of as data collectors or Black Belt assistants.  But a Yellow Belt’s ability to control and manage processes using metrics and data as well as solve problems using basic quality tools gives them far more impact.  Their power doesn’t come from their place in a tiered pecking order of Master Black Belt, Black Belt and Green Belt but in their numbers, demographics, foundational skills and role.

Download our executive that discusses how Yellow Belts play a crucial role in sustaining process improvement efforts

our executive brief that discusses how Yellow Belts play a crucial role in sustaining process improvement efforts

Yellow Belt training introduces the majority of individual contributors to the concepts of process improvement and management and their position in their organizations make a direct connection to improvement efforts.  Yellow Belt training can be fit to how people will be expected to operate.  If positioned to assist Black Belts, they have little need for project selection or analytical tools.  However, if Yellow Belts are expected to sustain gains long after Black Belts have left, a more complete set of tools is required.

Many organizations have active Operational Excellence programs that consistently execute projects through to implementation successfully.  But to make it stick, drive it wide and take care of low hanging fruit, they should look at process management which forms the core of Yellow Belt capability.  If you’d like to see the core concepts covered in Yellow Belt training, contact us or go to our website’s Yellow Belt webpage where you can download complimentary Yellow Belt training materials.