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Posts Tagged ‘Six Sigma 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.

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.

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.