Archives for category: value stream mapping

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.

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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.

I have been reading The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Reis and Jack Trout. Some of the “Laws” are interesting and even though it is about marketing there are great lessons for the CI professional. One of the first ones I gravitated to was the Law of Singularity.

The Law of Singularity as explained by the authors is subtitled “In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. This is focused on marketing strategies that are different than what the company has done in the past. I was taking this idea a little differently. When looking at it from the CI perspective, I was thinking about the output from a value stream mapping exercise or process mapping exercise. Everyone finds their pain points and opportunities but we are sometimes constrained by the goal, scope and metrics that drive the process. What if we looked deeper before mapping the process and really look at instead of a “better” process, a different, more strategic process? I realize this is part of the future state map exercise but rarely does the team, leadership or sponsor have the courage to truly blow-up the process and look at something totally new.

The other point to this chapter is to focus on the one element that will make the biggest impact. This means when there is a laundry list of pain points, focus on the one that makes the biggest change. There is no reason to try to fix everything since everything doesn’t matter all that much and you don’t have the resources to do it anyway. This one item can usually be the pivot point for a whole new process. This is helpful when the team is stuck on improving what is already there instead of envisioning the what could be.

Reducing waste by 30%, increase throughput by 1000 widgets an hour, improve “customer experience” by 10 basis points. Very inspiring. How about starting with, “If you opened your own business, would you even do this process?” or “If you have to do it, how would you do it, regardless of what systems and processes are in place?” Is it helpful to have this kind of conversation without the sponsor of process and leadership behind the potential changes? No. This just demoralizes the team and then the process suffers. Next thing you know you hear these types of phrases in the hallways – “The process didn’t work” or “We used to do that” or “We need a new team or new leadership.” This is the typical response. Culturally, is your business able to pull this off? If not, improve the process but understand you need to start sowing the seeds of fundamental change.

When looking at processes, let’s not just “improve” them, lets change them or destroy them for the better.

 

There were a couple of value stream mapping and process map exercises that needed to be performed and I was unable to go to the event. The person who was leading the event was very knowledgeable about the process but they were concerned about what to work on.

“What is the focus of the event?”, I asked.
“Eliminate non-value added time.”, he said.
“What type of process map are you planning on working on?”
“Because there are various departments as well as many operations, I am leaning towards a swim lane map.”
“Great. Then look for the diamonds and the crosses.”
“Diamonds and crosses? What are you talking about?”

Simple close up of a swim lane with traditional flow chart symbols

Diamonds are the decision points. When there is a decision, there is usually time lost, even if it as simple as a signature, there is time that is lost due to indecision, incomplete information or lack of ownership. When these can be eliminated or at the very least put into yes / no questions will improve the timeliness of decisions. Try not to add steps to limit the decision path. This may add time as well as complexity.

Crosses are those items that go from one department to another. There is almost always time lost across departments, even in ERP and software transactions. This is usually due to the batch and queue type processes that software works.

Once these items are identified and the screen shots, documents or evidence of the decisions and hand-offs are provided, it isn’t long before the team sees redundancies, time traps or both.