Category Archives: Identifying Waste

A Different Take on Waste Walks

As you are likely aware, a “Waste Walk” is a planned visit to where work is being performed  (often referred to as gemba) to observe what’s happening and to note the waste. In many organizations Waste Walks have primarily taken place in manufacturing, warehouse or shop-floor environments; and certainly there is much to be gained by “going to gemba” in these areas.

However, while Waste Walks are most often put into practice within the above-mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have also proven to be extremely worthwhile, as we discussed with our Partners in Improvement groups.

For example, a supply chain management company used these walks as a way of solving a recurring order-processing problem that had become a hot issue with one of their mid-sized customer locations. They involved a number of their team members, including representatives from management, customer service and their CI group. It worked out so well that they now do Waste Walks at customer sites on a regular basis. Not only do the teams solve problems and make design changes in ways that benefit both parties, but their relationships with these customers have also grown significantly, which has boosted revenue and customer retention.

Based on the success of gemba or Waste Walks at customer locations, the company has recently started conducting them with suppliers, and anticipates similar positive results.

Other companies send their employees to observe how their own customers use their products and to look for complexities, errors, of troubles that the products cause the customers. Having done that, the employees are able to look at their own work through a different lens, and see more opportunities for Improvement.

In the retail sector, one company conducted a series of Waste Walks during their inventory season, watching and documenting the process at different stores. While some best-practices were certainly documented during the Waste Walks at the top performing sites, the greatest gains were made during Waste Walks at the stores in which performance was traditionally mediocre, where, as a result of the initiative, average cycle time was cut in half!

Even though Waste Walks are used less frequently in areas where the work is “less visible,” such as administrative offices, purchasing departments, and R&D labs, some of the greatest opportunities reside in these places. When the work is less visible, the Waste Walk team needs to ask many more questions of the people doing the work in order to learn what they are doing and to gain valuable insights

During one of our Partners discussions, CI leaders agreed with this perspective and identified some best practices for conducting a waste walk in an office environment, which included:

  • Communicating in advance with the people whose work will be reviewed, making sure to let them know the intent is not to take on a “big brother” approach, but rather to interact and learn from the workers themselves —the people closest to the work!
  • Communicating openly and in a “two-way” fashion during the waste walk. Administrative work can not really be understood by simply observing; the waste walk team must ask questions and engage in a bi-directional dialog with the office workers and thus learn about obstacles and challenges faced by those workers.
  • Focusing on the process rather than the tools. It can be easy to conclude that the best opportunities for improvement involve investing in new IT solutions or software programs.
  • Quantifying the opportunities for improvement and following-up with the office personnel afterward to share what was learned and to discuss specific steps for improvement.
  • Measuring gains and celebrating wins!

Why An 8-Step Improvement Plan?

While organizations in most sectors work at making at least some ongoing improvements to their work and work processes, most industries or vertical markets consist of leaders and followers.

People often ask about what makes the difference between the industry leaders and the follow-behinds.  In our experience, there are two things:

  1. What they work to improve
  2. How they go about the improvement

Industry leaders tend to “work on the right things,” which, as we’ve noted numerous times in this blog, is the most important decision we all must make every day. They also go about making improvements in an effective way. By working on the right things and following a proven effective improvement process, an organization can get further faster.

We recommend an 8-step process for studying and improving the work. While it is possible to make improvements in fewer steps, the more comprehensive eight-step process helps to ensure people are working on the “right” things, and also that the improvements will “stick.”

These steps are:

  1. Identify and quantify the waste you want to eliminate
  2. Clearly define what you want to do (including problem statement, objective, measurements, scope, team, and plan)
  3. Study and measure the current situation
  4. Analyze the root causes and evaluate and plan solutions
  5. Implement
  6. Study the results and take appropriate action until objectives are met
  7. Stabilize and standardize the improvement so that it stays in place and is used throughout
  8. Evaluate and learn from this improvement effort and plan the next

As noted above, some people think this seems like a lot of steps and wherever we go we meet people who want to “streamline” this process . We call them the “two-fivers” because the improvement process they follow is simply:

  • think of something they believe will improve things
  • implement it

Two-fivers eliminate 3/4 of the steps we recommend! Possibly a good, or at least workable idea… but the whole point of the eight steps is to make sure people are working on the right thing, that they get to the right solution, and that it sticks. If you can do without that, by all means, be a two-fiver.

An Often Overlooked Tool for Driving Continuous Improvement

A vitally-important tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce is communication, which many people agree is the most frequently-used skill in today’s workplace.

Aside from standard team or project meetings, there are a number of ways leaders might go about accomplishing this. For example, employee forums are an ideal way to engage people around their work and contribute to the building of a high performance culture of continuous improvement.

Consider that one of the most obvious yet often overlooked requirements for high performance is a setting for employees to share and discuss problems and ideas for improvement.

But too often, managers and leaders tend to believe that if someone has a really great idea for improvement, they will raise it.  Yet when we talk to people close to the work, we more often hear ideas they have carried around for months or even years but never found the right time or place to share; or felt their idea would not be welcomed.

Even worse, when no forum for sharing improvement ideas is provided, people adapt to the way things are and stop noticing the waste—the elephant in the room—and stop trying to think of better ways.

A number of other examples of effective discussion forums that were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions included:

  • Monthly safety talks at the end of which the company president discusses pertinent issues with team members and provides input as well as support
  • Weekly one-on-one session between management and team members during which leaders not only offer ideas and support, but also gather feedback on successes and challenges
  • Regular “town hall” meetings where he shares information about what is going on and what to expect, and also provides an opportunity for people to raise questions or concerns

It is also important to recognize that some “forums” are better than others, which will be the subject of our next post.

Study Your Work & The Work of Others to Promote Internal Change

Continuing to analyze the concept that “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, today’s focus is on what is arguably the most important source of that knowledge — your own value stream, which includes your organization’s work as well as the work of others.

What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you?

In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they
often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Similarly,  those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment.

One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work (a.k.a. Gemba).

Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved, and effective “change” will be difficult or impossible to implement.

Engagement & CI Correlation

In one of last year’s posts we noted that, while enterprise engagement has emerged as a key objective in today’s business world, a surprising number of organizations have no formalized engagement strategy.

At this year’s Engagement World Conference in Galveston, this fact was once again recognized, along with several other connections between enterprise engagement and Continuous Improvement (CI).

For one, an ad-hoc approach is almost never effective.

Whether attempting to engage a workforce or drive continuous improvement, a formalized plan with clearly-stated objectives and measures is required.

Similarly, without the buy-in and support of top management, engagement and improvement efforts alike are bound to fail… they will not become the “cultural way,” and instead will simply peter-out as priorities shift.

Another correlation is the importance of quantification. Just as a CI project requires us to quantify waste and the gains our effort will generate, a successful engagement initiative will include the calculation of an anticipated return on investment or ROI once objectives are achieved.

Finally, just as ISO 9001 helped bring-about the use of more standard procedures in CI, ISO 10018 will now encourage organizations to standardize their engagement efforts. 

As noted in our previous post, the emergence of these new standards brings into focus both process improvement and quality people management/engagement, both of which are necessary to achieve and sustain high levels of quality and performance.

 

 

Sales Process Productivity – 20 Questions?

Our previous post focused on applying the fundamentals of CI to the sales process, and included some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency.

But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution.

Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.

The first step toward improvement — that is, moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right” — is to identify specific areas of waste, and a good way to start might be to answer the following 20 questions:

  1. What is our current market share?
  2. What are our customers’ requirements?
  3. How well are we meeting these requirements?
  4. What would it take to truly delight our customers?
  5. How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
  6. What is our lead conversion ratio?
  7. What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
  8. How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
  9. How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
  10. How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
  11. What percentage of prospects contact us first?
  12. How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
  13. Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
  14. What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
  15. How many customer complaints do we receive?
  16. How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
  17. What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
  18. How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
  19. How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
  20. Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?

Clearly there are many more questions and steps associated with analyzing and improving an organization’s sales process, but these twenty questions are a good starting point.

4DX & Engagement Part 2: WIGS

Our previous post summarized “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling that presents four key “disciplines” for achieving strategic goals.  The disciplines enable people to look beyond the day-to-day requirements of their jobs (the “whirlwind”) to move the organization forward to accomplish something great… to improve both the work and the workplace.

Equally as important, this achievement and the related sense of accomplishment are key ingredients for engaging the workforce; and the research is clear: an organization with a highly-engaged workforce enjoys a significant competitive advantage, including:

  • 50% higher profit
  • 43% higher productivity
  • 80% less turnover
  • 7 times less likely to have a lost-time accident

In addition, and as noted in our previous post, people become increasingly engaged when their goals are clear.

Thus the importance of the first discipline, which is to identify the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). This is the thing that will make the biggest difference for the organization.

Simplicity and focus are important elements in selecting this key goal. More improvements and more goals and objectives can and will be sought, but not at the same time; and while subsequent goals can be different from the first goal, they must ensure the success of the first, most important goal.

An analogy presented is that the first WIG is like a war, and all subsequent or supporting WIG’s are battles; ultimately, winning the battles ensures winning the war.

Each WIG must also have a clear finish line or statement of success. It must be stated in this form: we will get from x to y by when.

This leads to a quick realization… once the goals are identified, then specific action steps for “getting from x to y by when” must also be identified.

Which leads us to the second “discipline,” which we’ll review in our next post.

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Focusing on Waste Part 3: Three Ways to Find it!

Completing our series of posts about focusing on waste, people often ask how they might best nurture the ability to recognize the waste that is undoubtedly embedded in business processes.

Here are 3 proven methods:

  • Constant questioning. Ask yourself and everyone else if you would need this if everything were right, and right the first time.
  • It sometimes helps to bring in outsiders to help you look for waste, because it is easiest to think “outside the box” if you are “outside the box.” Customers and suppliers or people from adjacent processes may challenge assumptions we don’t even realize we are making.
  • Benchmarking internally, within the industry, and in different
    industries can also raise questions and help you recognize waste
    that you have overlooked before.

If you can take a path of searching for WASTE rather than just improvements, regardless of whether you already have a solution, you can avoid the “road of diminishing returns,” and instead delve into the underlying causes to make truly important improvements.

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.