Focusing on Waste: Part 2 – Trade-offs

Continuing with the theme of focusing on waste rather than “just on improvement,” the secret to making breakthrough gains or “optimization” is in surfacing and addressing the hidden assumptions.

Optimization is the process of evaluating the trade-offs between two things that seem to be in conflict.

For example, as you increase inspection, you increase costs but you decrease the defects that get through. If you shorten your production runs, you can reduce your inventory but your production will decrease because change-over time required to change machines from producing A to producing B means more downtime.

With optimization, you try to find the exact point that minimizes the total cost.

But every optimization problem has some “givens.”

Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System, and his followers achieved breakthroughs by shifting their focus from finding the best trade-off to working on these “givens.”

When we talk about root cause analysis, we mean to focus on those “givens”  or “underlying assumptions” that cause you to try to find the path of least waste.

Once you find and address the underlying cause, assumption, or given, you can find and move to an optimum that is at a totally
new level – often referenced as the “Imagineered level,” or the way things could or should be if everything was right! 

Focusing on Waste vs. Improvement?

Ted Williams was considered the greatest hitter in baseball….

His .406 batting average for the 1941 season is legendary, and he finished his playing career with a .344 overall average, 521 home runs, and a 0.482 on-base percentage — the highest of all time.

A newspaper reporter once said to Ted, “Gee Mr. Williams, you’re the best batter the game has ever seen — you must be a great student of hitting.” Ted replied, “No sir, I’m a great student of pitching!”

Just as there is a difference between focusing on hitting versus pitching in baseball, there is a big difference between focusing on “improvement” versus “waste” in the Continuous Improvement arena.

One of the key differences in Conway Management’s Right Way To Manage© approach has always been a focus on the waste, as opposed to simply improvement.

What’s the difference?

Most of the big waste is hidden in plain sight — long-standing business practices that compensate for a problem that has
not yet been solved. The root causes of the problem have not been addressed, and compensating steps have been built in to avoid bad outcomes such as poor quality or lost productivity.

It’s the understanding of what waste is, and how to search for it, that makes all the difference… which will be our focus in the next few posts.

Improve Sales Too

It’s rare to find a business organization of any substance
that has not implemented at least some type of improvement initiative in their manufacturing, administrative, or service sectors,  whether it be the Conway approach, LEAN, Six Sigma, and so on.

But, as noted in a previous post, not as many have defined a sales process, nor have they taken the hunt for waste and the quest for continuous improvement into the realm of sales .

Selling is a process. The basic principles of work and process improvement certainly apply, and, just as these principles have brought about measurable gains in other sectors, so too, if properly executed, can they help those in the selling arena learn how to contribute more to the overall enterprise; how to work smarter, faster, and with more success.

These principles might also help a sales team stand out from the competition due to more effective execution.

By teaching the basic principles of studying, changing, and improving work and work processes to sales professionals, an organization can empower them to help themselves and the enterprise realize major (breakthrough!) accomplishments, such as:

  • Communicating at a higher level with customers
  • Gathering the “voice of the customer”
  • Interacting more harmoniously with internal customers
  • Selling more in less time
  • Managing key accounts more effectively
  • Increasing margins

As sellers learn more about the effects of continuous improvement, they will become better at translating the company’s true value-added message. They might even help to develop it!

As they become more educated and enthusiastic about the relevance of simple statistics, variation, and waste reduction, it’s likely that they will also become more effective at uncovering and expressing true customer needs.

And finally, a sales force so educated will more readily recognize the advantages of incorporating all of these principles into their daily sales effort. As a result, they will become more efficient. They will become more successful. Successful sales people stay on, sell more, and help the company grow more profitably.

Why not improve sales too?

CONQ?

In a recent CI discussion on LinkedIn, Rob Kooijmans, a quality manager in the Netherlands, referenced the importance of quantifying waste and opportunities for improvement.

“The best way to know the strengths and weaknesses of your organization is to get good insight in your cost of non-quality (CONQ),” he said.

As noted in several previous posts, we certainly agree.

Bill Conway always said, “At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things.”

Thus a “waste and opportunity” search is key. We must identify waste and then act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results – i.e., the “right things.” Once this quantification step has been completed, it is much easier to gain the buy-in of all stakeholders – leadership and colleagues alike –  because it is easier for everyone to see what can be gained (or lost!).

“The biggest reason why CONQ is so important is that it is expressed in money – and money is the universal language all managers and company owners understand. If you need to convince management to invest in your team and to invest in quality in general , you need to be able to substantiate the benefits,” Kooijmans said.

We have found that when organizations “identify and quantify the waste,” people are able to more readily recognize the best opportunities for improvement, allocate resources, and then set effective priorities and time-frames.

 

A Big Challenge to Improvement: Lack of Buy-in X 2

Not long ago our Partners In Improvement forum met to discuss the common causes of failure in Continuous Improvement efforts .

It was noted that when organizations embark on a path of Continuous Improvement, the effort is abandoned within a year or two in a high-percentage of cases.

The reason? No results…

The Partners discussed what can cause improvement projects to fail to achieve their potential. While several challenges were identified, lack of buy-in from both managers and participants was identified as one of the most common reasons improvement efforts get derailed.

Management support is required to free-up the resources to work on improvement, without which meetings tend to get pushed out and progress slows. The slower the effort moves, the more likely it
becomes that priorities will change, or that new opportunities or problems will arise, thus decreasing available resources further.

When projects fail to produce good results, buy-in can deteriorate rapidly at all levels within an organization as well. As people’s interest and confidence levels wane, projects can become “unpopular” or worse, and subsequent efforts become less and less likely to succeed.

In our next post we will share some of remedies our Partners identified for maintaining higher-levels of buy-in for Continuous Improvement throughout an organization.

10 Good Reasons for Defining (& Improving) the Sales Process

Have you formally defined your organization’s sales process?

In other words, have you documented the specific steps you or your sales team must execute to move from identifying a lead to closing the sale?

If so, are they the right steps?  Have you mapped the key objectives and activities for each step? How about measuring team performance on a step-by-step basis? Are people working on the right things? Have you identified the best opportunities for continually improving each step and, as a result, the entire process?

We’ve found that those who place a strong focus on these things are able to execute the sales process much more effectively and, as a result, enjoy a number of advantages, which include:

  1. Consistent approach which can more easily be analyzed and continually improved, most often resulting in a greater competitive advantage
  2. Common language throughout the organization, facilitating more effective strategizing
  3. More consistent and diligent lead qualification, thus promoting efficiency and reducing waste
  4. More precise definition of transaction status and progress, thus more accurate forecasting
  5. More comprehensive need assessment, which promotes a consultative selling style and higher margins; better assessment also tends to bring-about a heightened responsiveness to customer needs, interests and priorities, and often yields larger average order size
  6. Heightened ability to incorporate the voice-of-the-customer into organizational decision-making
  7. Higher levels of conscious competence and team development
  8. Shorter sales cycles
  9. More natural closing
  10. A better customer experience, as the “diligent” execution promotes differentiation

Leading a Culture of Innovation & Continuous Improvement

Tying recent posts together, and spring-boarding off a good comment shared about “the biggest waste lying in the ranks of poor leadership,” this post focuses on the critically-important role leadership plays in developing and sustaining a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Simply stated, given the challenges of creating a consistently effective innovative organization, nothing is more important
than leadership.

It requires powerful leadership skills to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy. In an organization without strong leadership, inspiring and empowering people to contribute their ideas innovations will be scarce. An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created.

But empowerment, important as that is, is nowhere near enough.

Leadership must also create a challenging vision around which to rally the organization’s creative energies. This vision must be grounded in a deep understanding of the market and of the daily struggles of the people who make up that market.

Understanding the market is much easier for a small company where everyone deals with real customer needs every day. But as organizations grow, they expand like a balloon — more mass and less surface area. The surface area has the chance to get close to the external customer’s needs.

So, as a company grows, leadership must maintain or create a mechanism that will ensure that an  understanding of the customer’s needs can penetrate beyond the surface area into the heart of the organization. The same is true of internal functions that work together like a chain of customers. As organizations grow, departments grow and they too develop ‘more mass and less surface area’ — creating the familiar silo phenomenon.

In addition, leadership of innovative organizations must, without stifling creativity, challenge the organization’s efforts with the necessary, market-driven constraints. Without the right constraints,
empowerment cannot succeed. It is too easy to become satisfied with a creative idea before it has been developed into something really workable. An organization that tries to empower innovation without creating the right market-driven constraints, can easily suffocate in an avalanche of incomplete or impractical ideas.
Because they are not fully developed to address the real, but perhaps unspecified, constraints, the ideas cannot be implemented and quite soon people cease to feel empowered.

This is a tall order, and it becomes easy to see why innovation isn’t easier to come by despite all the human talent and energy brought to bear. But creating an innovative culture is, in itself, a creative challenge. By increasing our understanding of the challenges and constraints, we increase our ability to focus our own leadership talents on the right things to make it happen.

Silo Treatment?

Bill Conway always said, “The biggest waste is found in the interfaces and interstices.”

Or, said another way, the waste is found at the seams of the value stream as it crosses  different organizational boundaries, which are often referenced as the “silos” in which many of us work.

Some time ago, we were involved in an exercise in streamlining office work and had set up an order processing operation that had lots of obvious waste analogous to the sort commonly found in office processes. The simulation was conducted a number of times, usually in one large room with different departments in different areas of the room.

Participants were always able to identify large amounts of waste, because it really is much easier to see waste in someone else’s process than in one’s own. The simulation helped participants to see the waste and then to draw analogies to opportunities they had overlooked in their own work. So light bulbs would go on and participants would generally be able to redesign the process to increase throughput up to ten-fold!

Then one day, the training facilities were different: no large room, just one mid-sized room and a number of breakout rooms.

Even more realistic, we all thought… the Credit Checkers were in one room, the Order Processors in another, and so on.

But when we reconvened to debrief, everyone seemed oddly comfortable with the whole process they had been executing. They identified little things they could improve within their small group, but they missed the elephant in the room — perhaps because it was in next room, or rather the hallway where no one owned it.

As Bill always said, the big waste was in the “interfaces and interstices… and, as noted in a previous post,  “It is easiest to think outside the box, when you are from outside the box” (or silo!).

Innovation & Cross-Functional Collaboration

Continuing with the theme of innovation, the breakthrough process innovations that achieve order-of-magnitude improvements almost always require cross-organizational collaboration.

So it’s not surprising that this level of innovation is difficult to achieve because, while cross-organizational improvement efforts present substantial opportunities, they also pose some formidable obstacles.

Three of the most common barriers to cross-functional success, along with some ideas on how to overcome them, are:

Too many people… One of the basic facts of accomplishing cross-organizational work is that we must involve more people.  This size factor alone can make the project more difficult to execute. The larger the group, the more effort is required to ensure that good working relationships develop among the team members.  Scheduling meetings becomes more difficult, and individuals may take less responsibility because with a large group it is easier to assume someone else will pick up the slack.

To better-manage larger project teams, leaders must pay close attention to organizational tools and methods, such as forming a proper charter, clearly-defining roles, maintaining consistent communication with top management, scheduling meetings well-in advance and on a regular time-table, distributing meeting agendas in advance to promote awareness and preparedness, and adhering to effective meeting management protocols.

Cumbersome logistics… Cross-organizational improvement projects frequently involve multiple locations, different time zones, and different cultures. Not only can these factors pose scheduling challenges, but also bring about issues with respect to team-building and communication.

To overcome or minimize these challenges, leaders can schedule the initial meeting in person and invest in intensive team-building up front.   For remote meetings, they can add interactive visual communication and employ a more interactive facilitation style; scheduling can “rotate” to accommodate different time zones as well.

Conflicting priorities… The biggest impediment to accomplishing cross-organizational improvements is the power of competing priorities, which can make it hard to form an overall consensus or gain buy-in to the overall mission and vision.  The danger of shifting priorities is many times larger with cross-organizational projects as well, making it more likely that new urgent demands will arise before the project is complete, and resources become overloaded and start missing meetings and skipping action items.

To address these challenges, leaders can begin by conducting a thorough analysis that highlights the enterprise-wide benefits that are at stake. Engaging top level sponsors is also a must. While sponsor engagement is essential to the success of most change efforts, it is more critical for a cross-organizational improvement project. It is also important for all parties to respect the inevitable differences in priorities and operation models, and to avoid the appearance of being judgmental or of telling others “how they should be doing their jobs.”

Finally, nothing succeeds more than success! Achieving some quick wins, and sharing the details, is a great way to start.  Successfully addressing chronic problems is especially great for keeping people engaged and ready to do more. Facilitators are also sales people for the facts, data, methods, and for getting buy-in for the team’s recommendations.  But be sure to leverage every success to encourage more participation.

 

5 Innovation Catalysts

Recent posts have focused on common barriers to innovation, so today we’ll share five catalysts or tools that can help an organization become more innovative.

  1. Capitalize on a need… It has often been said that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” One company observed that when their very survival was at risk, they began to implement a program of Continuous Improvement that called on everyone to contribute innovative implementable ideas. Because they had to develop new and better ways of operating, they did! Similarly, a start-up company with few resources must innovate or quickly wither away. However, it must be less scary to try something new and risk failure than it is to stay with the status quo, and people at all levels must have a sense of “amnesty” to reduce the risk of sharing new ideas.
  2. Involve outsiders… “It is easiest to think outside the box, when you are from outside the box.” Outsiders often come up with the best innovations, because they have no ties to the status quo. But outsiders often have a difficult time effecting real change because they are outsiders. A senior manager of a once innovative company wryly observed, “We say we like to bring in outsiders with fresh ideas, but when they share them we explain that’s not the way we do it here.”
  3. Know the marketplace…  Market instincts can sometimes be more valuable than technological know-how or financial heft. For example, when Xerox PARC created the mouse, it was simply amazing. But it cost $300 to build and only worked for a few weeks. To make the mouse truly innovative required something quite different: constraints. Steve Jobs had the vision and market insight to add the constraints: the mouse must cost less than $15 to make and operate reliably for two years.
  4. Imagine perfection… To foster true process innovation we must summon the courage to acknowledge the deep areas of waste that are part of our standard work. This might include inspection or rework or moving or waiting that is so intrinsically a part of the way we work that we cannot envision the work without it. Summon the courage to put that waste on the table, calling it what it is. Go ahead and imagine the process without the steps that add no real value — that just compensate for a flaw somewhere in the process — and then take the time to search for ways to get to that vision.
  5. Leadership… Nothing is more important than the right form of leadership to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy.  An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created.

Read the full article…

Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement