Tag Archives: continuous process improvement

Why “Quick Wins” Are Important to Your CI Effort

When it comes to Continuous Process Improvement (CPI), action is what it’s all about — thus the importance of “Quick Wins,” which require us to promptly move into action to get things done, measured, and stabilized.

A “Quick Win” must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a “kaizen blitz” where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is probably not going to be a “Quick Win.” If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all. In fact, many “Quick Wins” do not require a formal team, but rather a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution. For a solution to become a “Quick Win” it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand.

Sometimes a “Quick Win” is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

In addition to making sustainable and potentially-recurring gains in less time, there are a number of related or consequential benefits associated with “Quick Wins” as well. For example, according to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change,  “Quick Wins” are important because they:

  • build momentum
  • defuse cynics
  • enlighten pessimist
  • energize people

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.

The Right Tool for the Job?

It’s been said that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Such is not the challenge we face today! Over the past 50 years, a tremendous number of analysis and problem-solving tools have been developed and are available to deploy in the unending quest for better service to customers, producing greater value with less waste. In today’s world, the efficiency and efficacy of continuous improvement depends on selecting the best analysis and problem-solving tool at the right time.

Perhaps the most important tools for success start in the scoping.

Defining and Scoping Improvement Projects
One of the most valuable tools early on to effectively define the process, problem, and project is the SIPOC:

  • 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:

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

And then there is a lot of learning about the high level process flow and the process measures for each step.

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.

4DX & Engagement Part 4: The Scoreboard

As we’ve noted in recent posts, the effective execution of improvement and other strategic initiatives results in both goal achievement and workforce engagement. Thus it is to any organization’s advantage to promote and enable effective execution… as presented in “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

The first two disciplines are setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGs or lag measures) and Lead Measures (activities).

The third discipline, which has a strong impact on engaging people throughout the organization, is a scoreboard.

The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measure defined in the first two disciplines.  This scoreboard must be ‘a players’ scoreboard’ not a ‘coach’s scoreboard’. It must support, guide, and motivate the players to act effectively on the lead measures and influence the lag measures (WIG’s). It must have the feel of a game — people play the game differently when they are keeping score, and they play differently if they are keeping the score themselves!

In fact, the action of recording their own results has proved to have a strong effect on people ― fostering ownership, engagement, and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their effort.

However, as authors Covey, McChesney, and Huling point out, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:

  1. The scorecard must be visible. If it is out of sight, on your computer or on the back of the door, it is less effective at aligning the team to focus on moving those measurements.
  2. It must be simple, showing only the data required to ‘play the game’ ― to let the players know how they are doing day to day.
  3. It must show both lead and lag measures.
  4. It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.

This scoreboard helps the team to both recognize their progress and also identify the next actions required to achieve the WIG’s; it also displays their achievement for all to see ― two critical components of engagement.

From a communication perspective, the scoreboard also plays a role in promoting a sense of accountability, which we’ll discuss in our next post.

The Most Effectively Managed U.S. Companies

On Wednesday December 6, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the country’s most effectively-managed companies as ranked by the Drucker Institute.

Interestingly, the selections were based on a “holistic approach, examining how well a business does in five areas that reflect Mr. Drucker’s core principles.” These areas are:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Employee engagement and development
  3. Innovation
  4. Social responsibility
  5. Financial strength

In case you’re curious, the top 5 on Drucker’s “250 most effectively-managed” list are:

  1. Amazon.com Inc.
  2. Apple Inc.
  3. Alphabet Inc.
  4. Johnson & Johnson
  5. I.B.M. Corp.

It’s encouraging to see customer satisfaction and employee engagement/development atop the criteria list, as these emerging measures have proved to be common threads among the most successful organizations we’ve encountered — these organizations tend to enjoy a safer, more productive workplace, with low team turnover, high safety ratings, and high customer retention rates; they operate with a culture of continuous improvement, and they are consistently able to achieve goals through people in a measurable way.

10 Workplace Behaviors that Promote Engagement & a High-Performing Culture

As noted in a previous post, new ISO Standards (ISO 10018) are about to be introduced, which will focus on employee engagement.  This development is considered long-overdue by many, as  surprisingly few organizations have a formalized engagement strategy.

If you would like to create such a strategy, here are ten behaviors  you might initiate, which are based on our research and experience that shows productive employees tend to be engaged employees (as opposed to the other way around. Read more on this perspective…).

  1. As with all change initiatives, get acceptance and buy-in from senior leaders. Little will be accomplished without this; the best results are achieved when leaders understand the benefits of engagement and take action.
  2. Create a formalized implementation plan and establish performance measures so that progress can be tracked. Develop realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives.
  3. Work with the leaders so that they can model the right behaviors and cascade the concepts to their reports and throughout the organization.
  4. Create and equip project teams to identify and quantify opportunities for
    improvement.
  5. Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, continuous improvement, and fun.
  6. Make sure people have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
  7. Empower people to take action.
  8. Implement an appropriate integrated communication plan, reinforcing the concept of improving both the “work and workplace.”
  9. Reward and recognize people so that they feel supported in their efforts.
  10. Measure return on investment, and reinvest appropriately in the above-listed activities.

 

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! 

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?

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