Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • My previous post talked about the steps you would follow when attempting to identify process improvement opportunities.  When doing something for the first time do not jump into the hardest stuff immediately.  Try out some of the basic tools first to build your knowledge, confidence and success.  Mastery of any topic is a journey.

    Based on my experience of leading and implementing significant process improvements you need a quality toolbox that contains tools, techniques and concepts.   Below you will find key elements of process improvement work and the list of tools/concepts that will help you get started.  [Note:  there are definitely more tools that are not mentioned.  For a full description, of the tools, refer to the books I have listed at the end of this post.]

    [1] Working with numbers and analyzing data:  You need to be able to count things, identify and track trends, measure relationships, summarize data, recognize the source of variation, present frequency distributions and pinpoint key problems.   These tools provide the ability to analyze the data: tally sheet, histogram, pareto analysis, run chart, scatter plot and control chart.

    [2] Generating Ideas: To improve you need to generate a high volume of new ideas, gather/group the ideas, find relationships, identify root cause, visualize the process, understand the positive and negative impacts of change, weigh your options and rate organization performance.  Here are the tools to use when evaluating ideas: affinity diagram, brainstorming, cause and effect diagram or fishbone diagram, flow chart, value stream map, radar charts, force field analysis, 5 whys and prioritization/voting.

    [3] Working together as teams.  Idea generation and the creation of solutions can only happen with a team.  The process improvement team will need at least one person skilled in facilitation and conducting effective meetings.  Energy is drained from a team that is not focused and efficient.  A good facilitator understands many of the lean/six sigma tools and when/how to use them. They are trusted by the team and support/manage the group’s social and cognitive processes so that the team can put their full energy into the issue at hand.  [Note: Much has been written on conducting effective meetings so I will not duplicate that information here.]

    [4] Concepts of Lean: Tools and techniques are necessary, but so is a belief in the concepts of lean. My favorites are:

    • Genchi Genbutsu:  to best understand an issue go to the place where the work is done.
    • Kaizen: change for the better requires a focus upon continuous improvement
    • Muda: all processes contain waste.  A key element of improvement is the elimination of waste in all of its forms.
    • Poka-yoke: fail-safe your processes to prevent mistakes.

     

    There are many wonderful books where you can gain significantly more insight into the tools, techniques and concepts mentioned above.  Of course, Wikipedia is also a wonderful source of information as well.

    I would value the opportunity to have a confidential and complimentary discussion of your company’s situation.  My phone number is (585) 329-3754.

    References:

    Brassard, M., and Ritter, D., The Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement & Effective Planning. Methuen, MA: GOAL/QPC., 1994. Print

    Crosby, P., Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York, New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1979. Print

    George, M., Lean Six Sigma For Service. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2003. Print

    Ishikawa, K., Guide to Quality Control.  Tokyo, Japan: Asian Productivity Organization., 1984. Print

    Keller, P., and Pyzdek, T., The Six Sigma Handbook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2010. Print

    Liker, J., The Toyota Way. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2004. Print

    Wikipedia Lean Concepts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lean_concepts

    Womak, J., and Jones, D., Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.  New York, New York: Simon & Schuster., 1996. Print

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  • During my career I have had the wonderful opportunity to work on and solve very complicated process issues.  My success is based on 8 steps that I follow when faced with a complex situation.

    [1] Have the knowledge and skills to pursue the problem.   First, be sure you have generic “lean/six sigma” skills. [My post next week will address what the key skills are and how to get them.] These skills are vital and transferrable from project to project.  Second, read existing process documentation.  Third, talk to people who do the work; leaders, experts and anyone else you believe can provide pertinent perspectives and insights regarding the overall process.

    [2] Create a business process flow chart or value stream map.  Using a white board, large piece of paper, Excel, Visio or any other flow chart software, create a complete business process flow chart. In one case, the company I was assisting had a very well written and thorough brochure which included terms and conditions.  By reading it cover to cover, I was able to accurately create a flow chart of the business process flow.  If you are the individual charged with leading the change, creating the flow chart yourself gives you unparalleled insight into the process.

    [3] Corroborate the business process flow chart with others.  Once created, review the chart with the people doing the work.  Almost always, you will find a few things that need to be adjusted.

    [4] Identify where problems occur in the process.  In a facilitated discussion with staff, using the flow chart, identify where problems in the process occur.  Every time I have led such a session, numerous problems were identified.  Then prioritize the list to determine what the most pressing issues are.

    [5] Understand current written work instructions, policies and procedures.  During this step you may find inconsistencies that must be rectified.

    [6] Identify root cause for the top issues.  Uncovering the issues is just the first step.  Now you and the team have to dig into the detail [peel the onion] to determine what the true root cause is.  You must do this for all the key issues.  In this step it is absolutely critical to get the data.

    [7] Develop potential solutions.  With the root cause of an issue clearly understood, the team can create potential solutions.  It is important to have several to choose from because the perfect solution may be too costly to implement.   The team should then select what they believe to be the optimal solution.  Gain approval as needed.

    [8] Implement and monitor the solution.  Once the green-light is given, plan out the implementation.  A robust project plan will ensure success.  [Note: trying to implement a change without a project plan is a recipe for failure.] Be sure to create the appropriate process metrics so that the team can track how well the process is doing after the changes are implemented.  Nothing is ever perfect.  It is likely that the team may need to make some slight modifications.

    You can see how this becomes a continuous cycle of improvement.  Select the most pressing process issue.  Fix it.  Then select the next process issue.  Fix it.  Repeat this again and again.

    Call me if you would like to discuss the 8 steps in more detail:  585-329-3754.  I love discussing operational excellence and continuous improvement.

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  • What is operational excellence?  I think Swati Ranganathan’s definition states it well, “Operational excellence is executing in an efficient and effective manner across the value chain with a focus on delivering value to customers.”  Appropriate metrics will assist you to monitor your progress and successes.

    If you are not sure how to start on your journey of operational excellence, here are 6 steps you can take as a leader to get started.

    [1] Review your work flow and processes.  Lean work flow and processes mean that you have minimized waste of all types.  Teams are then positioned to focus their efforts on adding value.

    [2] Ensure fluid communication flows.  To produce exceptional results you need to have the appropriate and most current information to do your work.  Assess how your current communication flow works.  Undoubtedly you will find a way to improve the timeliness, effectiveness and completeness of your organizational communication.  Then implement the appropriate changes.

    [3] Create a culture that values continuous improvement.  Very few processes exist that cannot benefit from improvement.  No one should rest on their laurels and accept the status quo.  Staff should be encouraged and reinforced for seeking out process improvements.  A very effective way to accomplish this is to include it in individual’s personal goals.

    [4] Leverage and value diversity of thought and experience.   Solutions to problems are a result of creativity and thinking outside the box.  A team with diverse experience and thinking will be able to innovate more quickly than other teams.

    [5] Think like a customer.  A customer can be internal or external to your company.  The best solutions come when you “pretend” you are a customer and think about the problem from their perspective.  This approach helps to minimize re-work.

    [6] Look at and listen to the data.  You must spend the time to define the standards and measures of goodness/excellence.   Data is impartial.  When you measure the result then everyone knows what actions need to be taken.

    Operational excellence is critical to the success of any business.  If you are not sure how effective and efficient your work flow and processes are follow these 6 steps and address any improvement opportunities you discover.

    If you would like to discuss how to use these steps in your organization, please call me at 585-329-3754.  I would be most happy to have a conversation with you.

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  • Recently I have attended several meetings and conferences and observed that many people wanted to express their point of view and be heard; but not so many were interested in listening to what others wanted to say. I recalled a class devoted to listening skills which I attended early in my career.  I believe the lessons I learned helped me become an excellent leader.

    To listen is to hear something with thoughtful attention.  It is the ability to understand what is being said.  Giving the speaker your full attention and consideration makes them much more open to sharing.

    The 5 key points to keep in mind when listening are:

    [1] Focus on what the other individual is saying.  This means that you cannot be formulating a response at the same time you are listening.  When you do this, expect to have some silence before you can respond.

    [2] Share some gentle reminders with your team periodically.  At least twice a month, I remind team members that listening and hearing what someone is saying does not mean you agree.   A team has an obligation to hear everyone’s point of view.  When individuals feel they have been heard without prejudice they are much more willing to accept the team’s ultimate decision.

    [3] Ask clarifying questions.  As the conversation develops, ask questions to fill in more detail or clarify what is being said.  Questions should not be confrontational in nature.  For example, “Why do you think that?” can be seen as judgmental and may cause the speaker to close down.  On the other hand, asking, “What types of experiences or data have led you to those conclusions?” allows the speaker to provide more supporting facts.

    [4] Be conscious of your tone and body language.   If you have a scowl on your face or your voice is extremely terse, the speaker will pick up on those cues and feel you are not listening to what they are saying.

    [5] Paraphrase the key message back to the speaker.  We each have a very different, but valid set of experiences.  Unless we repeat back to the speaker what we heard and receive their confirmation, we cannot be certain that we understood correctly.  It is too easy to filter the comments through our life experiences which can lead to misunderstanding.

    If you would like to refresh your own listening skills I recommend the following book: Listening – The Forgotten Skill”, by Madelyn Burley-Allen.  It contains both concepts and exercises for the reader.

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  • “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    Getting outside of your comfort zone improves your confidence.  It is easy to look at something you have never done and shy away from it.  We all want to succeed at what we do, so trying something new may seem too risky.  However, there are some simple steps to follow that allow you to approach something new with confidence.

    [1] Spend time to really define the situation.  Know what the task really is.  You can do a great job but if you are “addressing the wrong problem” then your work is for naught.

    [2] Ask yourself what information or knowledge you need to solve or address the situation.  Allow yourself some quiet time to really think about the situation and figure out what will be needed to adequately address it.

    [3] Set and communicate a realistic timeline.  You do not want to commit to a timeline that you know from the outset you cannot keep.   Display a sense of urgency but do not rush.  The goal is a lasting solution not a short-term fix.

    [4] Gather the data.  Talk is easy and cheap.  Finding and analyzing the data is more difficult but it allows you to draw conclusions based on information.  It also allows you to do sensitivity analyzes around key variables.

    [5] Involve others.  The more people that help and are behind your effort, the more likely success is.

    The best by-product, of following the 5 steps, is the knowledge that you can face the unknown and find a successful solution. Your confidence will soar.

    If you would like to explore the steps in more detail, give me a call [585-329-3754].

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