Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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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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  • I have just finished a marvelous week of bicycling in the Finger Lakes.  Camped with 8 friends at Taughannock Falls State Park and cycled 40 to 50 mile loop rides every day.  The leadership lessons found on vacation and in everyday life are abundant.  Being able to create metaphors and analogies from common experiences helps leaders communicate more effectively.

    [1] Find common ground:  This is an annual event for us so we all meet about 5 months before the trip and decide upon what we want to do.  This includes timing, location and length of rides.  By doing this we all have a common set of expectations.  In the workplace, common expectations helps a collection of individuals evolve into a high-performing team.

    [2] Play to and value everyone’s strengths:  Each of the riders/campers has a strength.  We play to each other’s strengths.  In this way, everyone is a full participant.  It also lightens the load of preparation since we all share in the work that needs to be done.  In the workplace, everyone needs to feel they are making a meaningful contribution.

    [3] Create detailed daily plans:  One of the riders is really good at creating cycling routes.  It involves ensuring that we stay off of heavily trafficked roads, do not have excessive elevation gains and have a convenient place to stop for lunch, even though we do make our sandwiches every morning.  Map sets and cue-sheets are then created for each rider.  This comes in handy when something unexpected happens, such as a significant detour due to a bridge being out.  Which in fact happen on the trip we just finished.   When working on a project it is also important to lay out the steps or map to be followed to get to your destination.

    [4] Recalibrate:  At the end of each day, we ask ourselves if there is anything we need to change to make the daily tours better.  Modifications are then made as needed.  This is also critical in the workplace.   Nothing can be planned to perfection ahead of time.  You need to create a decent plan and then get on with the work.  However, on a daily or weekly basis, monitor your progress and make course corrections if required.

    The skills of life and the skills of leadership are interchangeable.  Use your life stories to create leadership lessons that will resonate with you and your teams.

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  • A lot of emphasis is placed on creating a customer 1st focus when dealing with external customers.  It is not always clear, however, what it means when you are part of an internal support organization such as finance or human resources.

    As a member of an internal support organization, most likely you are a technical expert in your field.  When you interact with others outside of your department they will not have the same knowledge and expertise that you do in your field.  However, no one works in a vacuum.  All functions are inter-linked with the overall end-to-end enterprise process.

    Here are six steps that will carry you a long way in terms of delivering exceptional internal customer service.

    [1] Understand what the information you are providing will be used for. It is very easy in the rush of day-to-day work to not ask clarifying questions.  Be sure to ask enough questions so you provide the right information the first time.  By doing do you prevent re-work.

    [2] Share your knowledge with the department so they grow and learn.  For example – in finance it is easy to rely on policies and procedures and tell other groups what they need to do.  However, explaining “the whys” helps others understand.  Additionally, you may discover a policy or procedure that needs to be revised or an exception that should be granted due to business circumstances.

    [3] Agree up-front on timing and deliverables. Then ensure you deliver on-time.  One key advantage of setting expectations up-front is the ability to iron-out differences immediately.

    [4] Ask for feedback on how to improve both the deliverable and the interaction with the individual or department.  Asking for feedback does not mean you have to comply with every request but it opens up a dialogue. You can then commit to an agreed upon improvement.

    [5] Visit “the shop floor” and get to know the business you support.  The more you know the business, the better you will be able to anticipate their needs.

    [6] Eliminate surprises to the best of your ability.  Business by its very nature can be unpredictable.  However, in that rare case where you cannot meet a commitment, do not wait until the precise time it is due to tell your customer.  Let them know the moment you do.

    What actions have allowed you to deliver exceptional customer service?

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