Sunday, April 26, 2015

Welcome to the Practical Process Improvement blog.  From January 2014 to March 2015, I published a twice monthly Process Improvement Prognostication (PIP).  I have discontinued the series and now focus on various LinkedIn groups to continue the discussion of topics of interest to those in the process improvement profession.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Process Improvement Financials: Make Sure You Are Really Saving the Money You Think You Are

In last weeks’ PIP, I went over five criteria for project selection.  At the start and during the project, it is important to make sure we have a common understanding of metrics used to measure performance improvement.  In business there are many but in nearly all organizations, they all boil down to money in one form or another.  Like oxygen to the human body, deprived of money an organization will quickly perish.

So how do we measure the true, incremental improvement money our projects deliver?  In a previous PIP I mentioned the importance of determining the true, incremental cost savings or, if appropriate, increased revenue.  You should take the same disciplined approach to analysis of these financial measures as you do with other process metrics. 

You will have to be skeptical with all these measures.  Before six sigma entered the quality profession, many of the gurus and practitioners were too nonchalant with the financials around improvement projects.  The best approach to take is the opposite of the US justice system and can be summed up as ‘guilty until proven innocent’.  An increase in revenue or cost savings is neither until it can be proven with hard, indisputable data.

Lastly don’t forget to include the costs of the project in the calculations.  You and your project colleagues are an expense to the organization.  There is the cost to have your work covered if this is a full-time commitment.  Process or service improvement tests will cost money to develop and trial.  These costs must be added to others when calculating the benefits of the project.

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the common metric categories of increased sales, improved productivity, reduced cycle times, improved satisfaction scores, etc.  Just remember to continually dig deeper and deeper into each so you can determine if they are truly incremental and in fact actual increase revenue or cost savings.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Get the Right Start: Five Criteria for a Practical Process Improvement Project

What are the proper criteria necessary for a successful start to your first practical process improvement projects?  From my experience, five are necessary.

      First, I suggest that you start with a small project first.  It should not be too big or too ambitious.  It should be big enough though that its success would be clearly beneficial to the department and, hopefully, the entire company.

Second, the top management team of your company must be committed to the project.  Not just involved but committed to the project. 

Third, try to find something that “slightly hurts” the organization at this time.  A little pain is ideal and for our purposes, it should involve something that your area or department is directly responsible for.

Fourth, set up a system to track the cost of the project before you begin.  For the type of basic project you should start with, labor is probably the most costly component.  Keep in mind though it is not just the cost of the time participants meet for the project.  They will need additional time to perform project tasks. 

Fifth review team size.  I would like to suggest that for your initial projects, you keep the team small and involve the areas “touched” by the process you want to improve.  My suggestion is no more than four or possibly five to start.

It’s a good idea to get a few successful projects under your belt to build momentum.  By taking this approach you will build credibility and gradually move to bigger projects with larger benefits to your organization.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Assembly vs. Transformation Production: Some Commonalities but Also Differences

      Until recently much of my career I was in the printing industry.  My undergraduate degree is in printing and I spent over twenty five years in the newspaper business.  I’m mostly out of it now but I still keep up with some of the goings on.  Recently I read a printing group discussion on LinkedIn on application of the Toyota Production System to printing production.

      The dozens of comments are interesting but through it all one point was not clearly brought up which is not all production operations add value the same way.  Because of this, not all approaches to improvement apply equally to both.

      Let’s start with vehicle production in any plant.  Very little if anything is actually made in the plant.  Components and subassemblies from different vendors all over the world are placed onto the vehicle as it proceeds ‘down the line.’  Value is added in this case by “assembling” the various pieces onto the vehicle.  In the vehicle assembly plant, product control is key.  Each of those components must have final specifications from their production operation which dovetail with those of other components when they are assembled.

      Printing is different.  Substrates/paper and colorant/ink of many different types are supplied to a printing press.  The paper and ink are put in the press, it is turned on, and through the use of an imaging technology those components are “transformed” into a printed product.  That is how value is added in this production operation.  Printing must use process control to ensure ink is placed accurately on paper during transformation.

      These are two examples of the common types of production and there are many variations.  By all means study the various techniques of how any manufacturer controls and improves quality.  But take a selective approach and you’ll be much more successful.  Approaches don’t apply equally across industries.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Formal Certification: Independent Organization or Company Issued, Which Way to Go?

       I recently saw a discussion in a LinkedIn group around six sigma certification.  The question is a good one.  Is six sigma black belt certification from ASQ or another respected, accredited organization the way to go or is through your work organization the better path to take?  There is another question which needs to be asked at the same time also.  Do you intend to stay with the organization or do suspect you will eventually seek employment elsewhere?

      If the organization you work for is Motorola, Allied Signal, General Electric, or another recognized as a six sigma leader, a company issued certification is the way to go.  These organizations have credibility producing top shelf six sigma belts.  Individuals selected to six sigma certify go through thorough training, need to demonstrate mastery of the body of knowledge and complete an appropriate project.

      Many other organizations offer six sigma certification but do not have the same level of credibility.  In all likelihood, those organizations have high standards and are as rigorous to certify belt status as the three companies above.  But outside the organization, their certifications are questionable.  In the future, you might apply for a position at another organization and if the company you received certification from is one they never heard of, you could have a problem.

      That’s where ASQ or other credible, accredited organization certification is the path to follow.  ASQ certification is recognized and readily accepted by organizations worldwide whereas a six sigma green belt from XYZ Widgets is not.  The same goes for other quality certifications, along with non-quality certifications such as the PMI PMP, CAPM and PgMP certifications.

      All my quality certifications come from either ASQ or Villanova.  I am a certified quality manager from ASQ and have lean six sigma master black belt certification from Villanova.  I also have ITIL and CMMI certifications.  If I should ever leave the organization where I now work, I know all of these certifications will be recognized as credible and accepted.  Others I know who company certified and then left their organizations had their certifications questioned and in some cases were not recognized at all.  Given the dynamic, readily changing world we live in today, that’s not a risk I suggest anyone take.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lean Six Sigma – Is it an Oxymoron?

      During a conversation with a colleague this week, we got into a discussion around a favorite topic, lean six sigma.  Both of us received our initial training when it was just called six sigma.  Lean tools were briefly mentioned in the body of knowledge.  The formal addition of ‘lean’ came about in the early to mid-2000s.  The conversation eventually lead to the point where we tossed around the question of do the two belong together?

       At a certain level one could argue they do not.  Lean looks to improve efficiency with a laser focus on optimizing processes to reduce or eliminate waste.  Steps of the process or processes are examined for either value-added and non-value added activities.  Other concepts include pull systems, value stream mapping, Kaizen events, and 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain).

      Six sigma seeks to improve effectiveness of processes with an intense focus to determine, meet and satisfy the needs of customers.  A strong underlying philosophy is that if one puts customer needs to the front of the line, the net results will improve the bottom line.  There are frameworks such as DMAIC and DMADV, each with a plethora of tools we all know very well.

      So is there a conflict here?  I’ve seen and I’m sure you have also the definition of efficiency as doing things right and effectiveness as doing the right things.  I’ve seen situations where too intense focus on efficiency ended up producing a product or service customers perceived as cheapened and stopped their purchases.  I’ve also seen situations where listening excessively to customers resulted in a great product or service the customer was delighted with but nearly bankrupt the organization. 

Coexistence is the best way to describe it.  At certain points in a process improvement project, you should pull out the lean tools.  Example are when you look at the existing processes or processes and propose new ones.  At other times in the same project don’t forget the six sigma tools such as the voice of the customer and critical to quality.  So like many areas of life the need is for balance. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Self-Focused Continual Learning: Keeping Your ‘Edge’ as a Six Sigma/Process Improvement Professional

      As I write this PIP, it is January 3rd, 2015.  Like many of you, I make New Years’ resolutions and I’ll achieve some but may come up short in others.  When the end of this December rolls around though, I will have improved myself in many areas with professional development being one of them.  With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some areas where six sigma and process improvement professionals can focus on to further or fine tune their skills.

      First is applied statistics which is a key tool and knowledge area for any six sigma belt level.  For many of us, statistics was challenging to learn and the ease with which we learned was in direct proportion to the effectiveness of our teacher/professor.  Recently I got my hands on three basic statistics books with simple, even humorous approaches.  I intend to read them and incorporate as appropriate their approach to teaching.

      Second is project management an area where a number of process improvement projects I’ve been involved with were lacking.  Right now, I’m going through DVDs, CDs, and books to prepare for the PMI PMP exam.  I see a lot of information in the PMBOK which we should use on our projects.  Even if you are a PMP you might want to pull out the latest PMBOK book and go through it again for ideas.

      Finally is to review the basics of six sigma.  I obtained both my LSSBB and LSSMBB certifications through the University Alliance/Villanova University.  Both courses supplied printed material and CDs with the course lectures in video format.  Over the course of this year, I will go through each one of them again.

      To conclude, I’d like to remind everyone of something I heard earlier in my career around professional athlete skills.  When those professionals need to improve their game, do they seek new techniques?  Occasionally yes but more often they work over and over relentlessly on the fundamentals.  Daily batting practice for baseball players and foul shots for basketball players among others.  In your profession, you are no different than they are.