Archives for category: Policy Deployment

In the book, How to Measure Anything, it is discussed how ranges are more preferable to a target number. I have had this discussion around annual planning time and I get blank stares. What I found was a better way, at least from my organization, to sell this concept and work through it with a team.

When working with a team around annual planning, we look at what the plans were for this year and what has worked and what hasn’t. We look at the gap from plan and last year and discuss what could have been done differently. This gives us some context on what should be worked on. The goal may or may not be known but either way we are focused on misses from last year.

The next step is looking at other opportunities. These are items that have not been covered or based on next year’s products or innovation items and processes that will be changed over the budget time horizon. These are captured with the current gap for further discussion.

Now that all the items are captured, a three dimensional matrix is developed. It is easy to hard, and simple to complex. There can be complex items that are easy because the organization is behind the initiative just as there are simple and hard items because though it is a simple item to fix, the organization isn’t aligned. The image of the process is below.


3 Dim Matrix


From this exercise the team now has a range of possibilities from Do it’s to moderate projects to major initiatives. This now becomes the range of values that the plan can encompass. What becomes the discussion now, is where in the range does the target land.

Does the target land within the range of values? If not, what needs to change on the financial side to fit it into the range? This can be a creative writing exercise more that hard science but at this point the dollars are a jumping off point anyway.

Does the target in the range but on the side of major initiatives? If so, how can the team makes some of those more doable? Is it by breaking them up into smaller projects? Is there a way to increase the impact of other projects? Is the target not realistic? That is a funny one I put in.

This has been a useful way to get leadership to understand and start thinking about ranges from the historical target focus. This may also giving the team the ability to treat the annual budget process closer to what it really is, an annual guess.



From time to time I have worked with companies that bring in a team to work at a site and fix a process or productivity or just improve the performance. What I have found is that we rarely have the right team assembled. They have individuals with experience with the process and the company as well as solid knowledge of processes, management, and engineering. All good but not enough.

When going into a site to better understand and fix major issues, the first individuals to show up should be HR not Process engineers. This is because 80% of the time, the leadership has issues and engineers or continuous improvement professionals do not have the skill set to deal with these issues nor do they have the authority. This is first. The HR audit should drive the next step.

Step 2 is engineering. This is to ensure that the equipment and processes can perform what is being asked of the site. Engineering should be used to protect / improve the plant for the future. Even if this is their main role, there are still limits to what the engineering team can do in real time. This review of the site can determine what is possible, what is out of the site’s hands and what resources are needed if there is a gap.

The final step is bringing in the CI / process improvement team. From HR and Engineering perspective it will be very clear the role of the CI team, the scope and timing of the project and the goal of the intervention.

Though, I showed this sequentially, this could happen simultaneously. One other item that I did not mention is related to the corporate leadership that is bringing the team in. they have to be open to any direction that improves the overall performance and no pre-conceived notions about what is wrong and how to fix it. I have had teams that were undermined by a leadership that already had the answer or was unable to remove themselves from the root causes and solutions to the problems at the site.

The team approach to improve a site or process is definitely the way to go as long as it is the right time focused on the right issues with the freedom to fix and perform their role.

On a previous post, I mentioned that I couldn’t find a situation that Continuous Improvement didn’t help but I looked back at some of my notes from other companies and sites and did come up with one area where CI has limited impact. This is when there is a dysfunctional team running a site or process. I have run into these environments a few times and I think I need to be more specific when I mention a dysfunctional team. This is related to trust, leadership and ownership.

A trust issue is when process / site leadership does not trust the front employees or vice versa. This environment creates inefficiencies due to Auditing for “wrong” behavior, Stand up meetings turning to blame games and holding things back for both parties. I have seen this in union, non-union and “High Performance Work Teams” as well. This also turns supervisors and the middle team into a confused mess and ultimately short term employees

Leadership means that one will lead the team. The whole team. All the time. I have found the biggest issues around this are when the site / process leadership start thinking they are CEO’s instead of team leaders. This can be witnessed when leaders are in their offices instead of the processes. Meetings in conference rooms instead of production floors. Talk about why we can’t get something done instead of what can be done. It is subtle and sometimes needs outsiders to see how bad it is.

Ownership is that the team is together and knows that the team determines the results. The term team isn’t leadership or supervision or front line. It is and. This means the blame is shared just as much as the glory. It is recognizing individuals and turning that performance into subprocesses so that everyone can be a hero. It stops the excuses and supports standard work. If Tony fails, we all fail. It is the responsibility to state that Tony and John and Jenny all work together to find the one best way and they all do it the same way – Their way. Not managements way, not Tony’s way, the way.

In these type of environments, CI work can be very challenging and the basic ideas of 5S and standard work don’t have a foundation to work from. When I have been confronted with this type of environment my recommendation is to step back and reassess what the site or process really needs. That can be hard because it may be as simple as a mirror.

“The Line always goes down at the X!”. Fill in the blank. How often do you hear this? That the piece of equipment that goes down on a line or in a process is blamed for the downtime or quality issue. This can sometimes turn into a belief or perception instead of actual information. The equipment is a piece of junk or we have a rebuild coming up or its always been this way are some comments I have heard. What I find interesting is that some organizations at one time or another think this is okay or that this response will satisfy customer demand, employees frustrations or shareholders needs for returns.

I look back at my career and wonder if I have had the reaction to things. I probably have, though I can’t think of it. I am the kind of person that focuses on a few items and then I don’t even look at anything else. I have multiple blind spots and maybe that is why I don’t have too many memories of this type of issue. My real concern is how do we get root cause and deeper thought at the level of manifestation to drive to causation and countermeasure. How do we get this type of analysis of the situation at the very level of incident?

What if we give employees the basic knowledge of their job and then 3 more actions:

  1. If your work becomes harder, notice it
  2. Look where the issue is occurring
  3. Is the problem before or during the process

With these actions, they will at least be able to find out if the issue is internal or external to the process. From that, the lead should be able to do the same 3 steps at their level.

This should at least start the conversation on causation.


Waitress at a restaurant notices that the meals are coming out late and the customers are getting frustrated. Is their job harder? Yes. Okay, I have noticed this. Instead of going back to the cook and yelling, is there something else that I can notice? Are other people getting their food late? Yes or no or don’t know. Am I picking up my food when it is ready? Am I putting my orders in the right process? May be the ordering process is broken or someone called in sick.

You are at your piece of equipment and jams start occurring. Where are they occurring? They are at the end of the process. What is causing it?

Are there areas where continuous improvement / Lean Six Sigma do not need to be used or shouldn’t be used?

What about a known solution? Is there no risk related to this change? Is everyone aware of the changes? Even if there is a known solution, if it crosses process owners and potential unintended consequences, it is wise to at least review the process, look at an FMEA, Change Management and Control plan.

What about CapEx or buying equipment? Would that need LSS help? Let me ask you, in your experience, how many of these projects have been on-budget, on-time, and SLA’s, service level agreements, are satisfied? I have found that is not the case. Early management, Risk assessment, Widening the options for what to purchase and when are all items that continuous improvement could help with. This doesn’t even include the CapEx process that most companies struggle with.

I started thinking about this idea based on the belief that there are some items and topics that continuous improvement. I now think that there is always a better way and that CI tools can help in any situation. I have had multiple discussions in the companies that I have worked with and almost all of them have had what they perceived as “A players.” They are very capable and smart and know their business but I have rarely seen one of these teams put together a project that produces better results or less unintended consequences than a good process. Great teams have a hard time beating a great process.

I will be the first one to say that I want to make a large improvement without any expense or capital. I have always stated that the requirements of money to improve a process is like hedging my bets. It is like saying Lean Six Sigma isn’t enough. I hate that idea and yet I find that without some kind of commitment from the leadership or organization, it is difficult to make the changes stick and change the culture. This investment comes in a few forms that I will explain below.

Resources. Though this rarely shows up as money, when chartering the process improvement or the scope and team, make sure you determine, to the best of your ability, who needs to be involved and, more importantly, how much time will they need to commit to on a weekly basis for this project to be successful. This will force the organization to free up the resources and take items off the teams plate for the duration of the project. Good stuff but that turns into dollars just like anything else.

SME Time. This is Subject Matter Experts time. This is the time needed for individuals in the organization that are not on the team but have real expertise in an item that is within scope and the team is lacking knowledge. This time, once again, can be hard to estimate but it must be done prior to the project kicking off. This is sometimes even more difficult to pull off for leadership or organization because the SME’s time is critical. The leadership will really have skin in the game if they do this as long as they carve out the time and make it flexible based on the project team’s needs. If the leadership states that the SME will have to “work it in” and not take anything off their plate because of the cost to the business you have your answer about their commitment.

Real $’s. Not that I want this to make process changes but doing this means a couple of items. The organization has committed to whatever the money is to ensure this will work. This is above and beyond the spend on your services if you are a consultant or contractor. This also means that the leadership has had a discussion about the needs of the organization and what they want out of the project.

In the end, I don’t want to money and resources to “help me” to improve the process. I want the money and resources to gage if the company is honest about what they want to do and have skin in the game during and after the event to make it stick.

How many projects do you work on that the leadership ask you two quarters later if you are sustaining the gains? Hopefully, more than I have through my career. One tool that I find that is not used often enough are the 1-sided and 2-sided t-tests. These tests can prove that the team’s work has been statistically significant from the perspective. I will be setting up a Vlop shortly to explain, with an example of a t-test but below is a discussion related to the uses of the tool rather than the mechanics.

t-tests should be used when testing if there is a change. This is part of the baseline data / measure phase. This will show you when your pilots have a statistically significant change in the metric. Many statistically astute leaders know this but don’t use this as a tool to track process improvements. It is not as slick as DOE’s and ANOVA’s to see where there are issues but those tools aren’t as easy to understand and, from my perspective, limited in use.

t-tests can easily be shown throughout the process life cycle. From baseline data through control, the t-test can show improvement. This can be used for almost any audience too. I have used this with Finance teams to see if there has been sustained improvement that leads to an individual G/L account. I have used this with parts of HR organizations related to talent acquisition, Outsourcing effectiveness, and payroll transactions. I have had to explain this with some groups but I have not had any say that this doesn’t make sense or not a key part of understanding improvement.

t-tests as trigger points. As an example, every week we check downtime as it relates to production. If the t-test shows that the average downtime is greater than the standard, move into corrective action, root cause analysis, countermeasure.

t-tests should be used to recognize improvements during a project, report out findings at the end of an improvement cycle as well as a dashboard metric to know if the process is staying on track or not.