All posts by pdonehue

Increasing Throughput Without Adding Resources

Continuing with our theme of Continuous Improvement (CI) tools, people often need to increase the throughput or output of a process, but don’t have access additional resources to do so.

In these situations a Process Flow Chart is an excellent tool to start with.

A Process Flow Chart or Process Evaluation Chart (the latter is populated with measurement data) can be created by bringing together the participants in the process and mapping it out together. Some
organizations believe that mapping the processes with the frontline associates always results in lightbulbs going on and the associates voicing concerns and ideas once their process is on the wall.

There are always surprises, as people find ‘black holes’ or dead ends, and see the ‘wastes’ that are often invisible during the typical business day. Unnecessary waiting and handovers suddenly become visible; details about the things other teams or team members do suddenly become clear as people realize how their work impacts others and vice versa. Action logs based on the concerns/ideas are almost always a result at well, and they serve as the basis for the improvement project to increase output simply due to the heightened awareness stemming from the flow chart.

Here is a sample of a simple flow chart:

flow chart
Sample flowchart

When creating a flowchart, process steps are shown as shapes of various kinds, and their order by connecting the shapes with arrows or lines. Different shapes are used to indicate actions, decision points, recycle loops, work and wait times.

Here is a summary of the most commonly-used shapes:

flowchart symbols

Improvement Project Success Predictor

improvement tools

Our previous post focused on defining and scoping an improvement project prior to launch. Another useful pre-launch tool, which was created by our consulting team, is a “success predictor.”

The “success predictor” distills a century or two of collective experience with what characteristics are most necessary for an improvement project’s success – in other words, it can help to prioritize options and increase the likelihood of working on the right things.

The following eleven factors can predict with a fair degree of accuracy how likely a project is to succeed:

  1. The potential benefit of the project to the organization is clear, substantial and quantifiable. (10 = very clear, quantifiable, substantial)
  2. The problem to be solved is clearly defined and quantifiable, and the project scope is focused and well-defined. (10 = very clear, focused, and well-defined)
  3. The project has top management’s commitment and support (resources, sponsorship and follow-up); no influential person is actively opposed to the project. (10 = very strong support)
  4. The sponsor and team leader are clear about each one’s role and partner effectively to ensure the success of the project. (10 = very clear)
  5. The team leader and key resources are devoting enough of their time to the project to complete it very quickly. (10= full time)
  6. The team is staffed and led by the right people for the job, and they are determined and capable to quickly achieve results. (10 = very determined and capable)
  7. Meaningful and accurate facts and data about the process are available. (10 = very available)
  8. The process to be improved is repeated frequently enough to efficiently study variation in the current process and to and test and measure improvements. Hourly? Monthly? Annually? (10 = very frequently).
  9. The processes to be improved are within the team’s span of control. (10 = under control).
  10. The expected timeframe for completion of the project or for achieving concrete and measurable milestones. (10 = 4-8 weeks to completion or measurable milestone)
  11. The processes are stable, that is not undergoing very recent or imminent major change (10 = very stable).

Defining & Scoping Improvement Projects

SIPOC

An earlier post referenced one of our founder Bill Conway’s favorite quotes, “The most important business decision people make every day, is deciding what to work on.”

This pearl of wisdom applies to all forms of work, and is certainly critically important when it comes to initiating an improvement project. Various tools have been developed to help people better define improvement initiatives, one of which is SIPOC, an acronym formed in the early days of TQM and one that continues to be used today in Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and business process management..

SIPOC enables people to effectively define the process, problem, and project early on to ensure they are, in fact, working on the right things. The acronym stands for:

Suppliers
Inputs
Process
Outputs
Customers

Some organizations always start with the SIPOC to get the team on the same page so they can answer six important questions:

  • What is the process?
  • Its purpose (why are we doing this)?
  • Who owns the process (surprisingly sometimes not obvious/known)?
  • Who are the customers/suppliers?
  • Who is the primary customer?
  • What do they get out of the process or provide for the process?

Once the questions above have been answered people can focus on the high level process flow and the process measures for each step by answering five more questions:

  • What’s the ideal?
  • Is the data available?
  • Are we already measuring it?
  • What is the goal?
  • What is the impact?

Once the team members have a shared high-level understanding of the process using the SIPOC, and have gathered the data that enables them to measure the gap between the current situation and the ideal, they can create a good problem statement, objective, scope, and timetable.

These together are key components of a Project Charter, the ‘North Star’ of a project that helps keep the project moving forward to successful completion.

Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something!

sales growth

You may be familiar with Arthur “Red” Motley’s quote, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something!”

Leaving aside the extent to which Motley’s perspective might or might not be true, effectively managing the sales process and maintaining a path of steady revenue growth are every-day objectives within organizations of all types and sizes. And while many external factors, such as variation in the economy or increased competition, can significantly impact results, the selling process — like all processes — can and must be studied and continually improved.

Interestingly, when we delve into that subject with organizational leaders we frequently find that they have not defined a “sales process” that focuses on the work. Instead, they refer to their CRM categories as the sales process.

We understand and appreciate the value of CRM systems and forecasting, but this type of measurement does not focus on the work. It is, therefore, not surprising that a common challenge facing so many organizations is how to grow revenue.

If sales growth is an issue for your organization, here are a few strategies you might consider from a past newsletter:

  • Looking outward to test or confirm what customers deem most important
  • Looking inward for opportunities to define and improve the sales process
  • Looking forward to maintain an innovative edge, based on 3 key criteria

Read the full article…

It’s All About the Work: 10 Questions

Continuous Improvement is all about the Work

One of Bill Conway’s favorite sayings has always been, “The most important business decision people make every day, is deciding what to work on.”

In fact, we’ve found that half of Continuous Improvement involves working on the right things!

Once people know what to work on, there are ten critical questions to consider, the answers to which will lead the way toward building a high-performance culture of continuous improvement:

  1. What processes should we use to identify the best opportunities for improvement?
  2. How will we prioritize the opportunities?
  3. How can we ensure or increase alignment?
  4. How will we identify what ‘could or should be’ if everything were right?
  5. What specific improvement goals shall we set?
  6. How can we involve the people closest to the work?
  7. What tools will we use to find fundamental solutions?
  8. How will we measure progress?
  9. How will we recognize and communicate progress and achievement?
  10. What is our follow-up system to assure that the processes, once fixed, stay fixed?

Leading Change

You may be familiar with John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, and the founder of Kotter International, a management consulting firm based in Seattle and Boston. He is a thought leader in business, leadership, and change.

He is known for speaking passionately about the difference between “managing” change and “leading” change.

“Management makes a system work,” Kotter explains. “It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.”

Kotter is also well known for his 8-step process for leading change. Here is a graphic depiction:

“In a change process of any kind you must win over the hearts of people and the minds of people,” Kotter is famous for saying. “The most effective change efforts are able to get people to not only think differently, but also feel differently about the initiative.”

Feedback Formula

performance management

As noted in our previous post, an effective performance management regimen is a necessity for any organization hoping to build and sustain a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.

That post also noted that an effective process for giving feedback is a critically-important part of performance management. However, the post went on to share the results of research by Gallup indicating that only 26% of U.S. workers surveyed strongly agreed that the feedback they receive as part of their organizations’ performance management effort actually helps them to improve their work or behavior.

Fortunately, a simple four-step formula for effectively giving feedback or for sharing difficult messages in a “brain-friendly” way (so the receiver recognizes important feedback is about to be shared) was recently shared during a TED talk by Cognitive Psychologist LeeAnn Renniger.

These steps are:

Micro yes. Begin the interaction by asking a short, but important, closed-ended question to gain initial acceptance or buy-in and to give the other person a sense of autonomy (they can, after all, answer either yes or no). The objective is to get them to say, “yes.”

For example, you might ask, “Do you have five minutes to talk about yesterday’s meeting?”

Data point. To help others avoid confusion and to make sure your message is clear, make a concise and specific statement about the action or behavior you want to address. By avoiding ambiguous or “blur” words, you will enable the other person to more clearly understand the issue at hand.

For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you agreed to send a follow-up email with instructions by 11am this morning. It’s now after 3pm and I still don’t have it.”

The data point need not only refer to a negative situation. For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you shared a great example of how the order processing works best!”

Impact statement. Explain how the action or behavior impacted you.

For example, “The story really made it easier for me to understand how the process should work, and will make it easier for me to do my part going forward.”

Question. Wrap-up with another question (open-ended this time) that is geared toward confirming understanding and gaining commitment.

For example, “How do you see it?” Or “What do you think?”

While simple in structure, Renniger explained this approach is a scientifically proven method for gaining the attention of others and for giving feedback in a meaningful way.

Possibly most important, having a set of guidelines can make it easier for the feedback giver to approach potentially awkward interactions with greater levels of confidence, and to execute more effectively.

Giving Effective Feedback

twenty six percent

A recent post highlighted the fact that a proactive and consistent performance management regimen is a key pre-requisite to building and sustaining a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.

However, a recent Gallup study found that only 26% of the U.S. workforce strongly agreed that the feedback they get from managers or supervisors as part of their performance management effort actually helps them to improve their work! Clearly, and as most people agree, giving or gaining feedback can be difficult.

Further research indicates there are two primary reasons for the difficulty, which can be associated with both giving feedback or having “difficult conversations” with team members:

  1. The feedback giver is too indirect, so others don’t recognize the importance or significance of what is being shared. In fact, in many cases the feedback shared has no impact at all and is quickly dismissed or forgotten, because the brain doesn’t recognize the input as worthwhile!
  2. The feedback giver is too direct, thus causing others to become defensive; rather than listening to or giving consideration to the feedback they are distracted by what’s often called the rebuttal tendency, which means that instead of listening they are focused on how they will rebut whatever is being said. Even worse, when others react defensively it can cause the feedback giver (or seeker) to become defensive as well! Symptoms include loss of focus, sudden reliance on filler words (i.e., ah, uhm, etc.), and making potentially antagonistic remarks.

    A similar reaction to overly direct feedback is an “amygdala hijack.” It happens when a situation causes your amygdala (the section of our brains that reacts to emotional stimuli) to hijack control of your response to stress by disabling portions of the frontal lobes.

Fortunately, there is a simple formula for effectively giving feedback or for sharing difficult messages in a “brain-friendly” way, which will be the subject of our next post.

How to Improve EQ

EQ

Our previous post focused on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the role it plays in leadership, Continuous Improvement, and developing a high-performance culture.

Most of us are able to identify people who posses a high EQ, and some of the prevalent traits were listed in our previous post. But what about those who don’t exhibit a very high EQ?

Fortunately, according to data compiled by Richard E. Boyatzis, a pioneering researcher into leadership and emotional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence can be taught and improved.

Drawing on Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he describes five steps to the type of personal change required in order to increase emotional intelligence, which are listed below. However, it is important to recognize that the pursuit of improving EQ, like the pursuit of any sustainable change, must be intentional. The requirement is a desire for change; without that, no sustainable improvement is possible. People with no interest in developing EQ will not do so, but if they are motivated to change, the following steps will help them:

  1. Identify the ideal self. In a way, this is analogous to imagining the future state of an organization — what it would look like if everything were right — but the ideal self is much more personal. One person’s ideal self, building on his or her core identity and aspirations, will be different from another’s ideal self. Personal change starts with envisioning the ideal self — the way one would like to be, to work, and to be perceived. This has three elements: awareness of one’s strengths, an image of the desired future, and a sense of hope that the desired future is attainable.
  2. Identify the real self. Where is one, relative to one’s goals today. This step is not as easy as it sounds. The greatest challenge is to see oneself as others do. Using multiple sources of feedback, such as 360-degree evaluations can be useful.
  3. Develop a learning agenda. In contrast to a list of to-dos and complying with agendas of others, the learning agenda is development focused. It provides structure for exploration and learning.
  4. Experimentation and Practice. Practice, look for feedback, and practice again.
  5. Form helping relationships. Coaches, mentors, or guides are very helpful to someone aiming to transition to the ideal self through practicing greater EQ.

Emotional Intelligence & Culture Building

culture building

As explained in our previous post, Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) is the phrase used to describe the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways.

It is also a capability that leaders can leverage to drive a high-performance culture of Continuous Improvement. Consider that creating a high-performing culture requires a resonant leader who can:

  • Communicate a vision
  • Inspire action
  • Drive out fear
  • Motivate truth-telling
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Create a safe place for people to exercise a passion for high quality, highly efficient work

Equipped with a heightened awareness of the most common traits associated with higher-levels of E.Q., senior leaders can enhance their ability to create a high-performance culture of continuous improvement by seeking-out and engaging those within the organization who exhibit those traits.

By exercising their ability to align and motivate people around a common vision and plan, emotionally intelligent managers and team members are very valuable in organizations desiring to create a high-performance culture and achieve ongoing improvement.

In addition, there are ways for helping people to develop stronger emotional intelligence, which we’ll share in our next post.