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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  • In its’ simplest form it is the monetary/mathematical representation of a series of discrete strategic and operational actions.  All of which are distilled/summarized into three financial statements: income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement.  That definition seems a bit dry and boring, doesn’t it?  Having spent years in finance and loving every minute of it, let me share some of my insights.

    The role of finance is to support the strategic direction and day-to-day operations of a company.  To me, excellence in finance depends upon truly understanding the underlying operational processes and strategic direction of whatever unit you support.  It can be as small as a department or encompass the entire company.  It also requires the ability to get into the numbers and let the “data speak”.  Then as you “listen”, in an unbiased way, you will hear the message.  You must be proactive and not reactive.  You must anticipate.

    To start be sure to formulate the right questions to ask.  Here are a few:

    How do you know the numbers are right?  How do you forecast future results?  When the outcome makes no sense, why?  If our company makes a major investment, what are the predicted results?  We lost 2 days of production due to a massive snow storm that shut the roads down, what will the financial impact be?  And of course, the list goes on.

    Let me illustrate with an example.  While supporting a $300M manufacturing operation, the general manager and I noticed a large chemical usage variance of $1M.  My job was to figure it out.  I started by first eliminating some easy items: were the formulas right in the system, were the proper prices in the system, were the meters working correctly, did our usage match what the supplier gave us?  In all cases, the answer was yes.  Now it was time to walk the operations and see what was happening on the floor.  So I spent a morning with the emulsion makers.  Watched their process, learned how chemical usage data was collected and tallied on a worksheet.  At the end of the shift, they needed to clean out the 10,000 gallon tank.  Bingo, we found the answer.  The amount of solvent used to clean the tank was not being recorded.  As a result, a new process step was instituted.  In the end, the $1M variance was a real cost of the operation.  However, the team could now look at ways to minimize the cost.

    Being thorough and methodical was crucial to solving the problem.  It was important to eliminate all potential root causes one by one.  Without an understanding of the operational process or the data it would have been impossible.

    It also illustrates one last critical point.  Finance owns the numbers.  Some people ask, “How can that be?”  My response is, “If you do not own the numbers, you are only a reporter.  If you own the numbers, you are then an equal partner with line management.”  By putting the operational outcomes and the numbers together, you have the whole picture.  You have earned a seat at the table and are in a position to provide valuable guidance to all leaders in the company.

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  • I believe in the infinite ability of people to learn and grow. I also believe that analogies and metaphors are powerful tools in helping people and organizations learn, grow and improve. That is why I like the Tale of 6 Blind Men and the Elephant and use it to help drive insight into process improvement. Take a moment to read the tale and look at the pictures on WIKI.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant
    Leaders with global and cross-functional responsibility oversee hugely complex processes. By their very nature processes are not flawless and issues arise. No doubt you have had individuals “complain” to you about something they see as wrong in a process or another department. From their perspective they are not wrong – however, they do not have the whole picture. This is where the tale of 6 Blind Men and the Elephant comes in.
    When an issue is large enough and the solution elusive, it is time to bring together a cross-functional team. I use the tale as an introduction. The end-to-end process is the elephant. Each person brings important insight, intelligence and thoughtfulness to the situation but may not see the whole picture. As a leader, spell out the situation and ask them to put their collective insight together to solve the problem. Over and over I have seen teams successfully solve problems because they stepped back to see the whole picture.
    The benefits are threefold: [1] A solution is found, [2] People appreciate each other and the end-to-end process better and [3] Individuals have enhanced their knowledge.
    Do you have a favorite metaphor or analogy that you like to use with teams?

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