Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When to Take Credit for Improvements?

From August of 2012 through August of 2014, we initiated 50 projects in our relatively modest Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) program. Some of those projects resulted in significant improvements and big financial savings. Some resulted in marginal improvements. And a few had no impact, were never completed, or were cancelled. However, every single one of the 50 projects had collateral benefits and training value to the organization.

By collateral benefits, I mean three types of improvements that are not typically attributed to a CPI program.
1. The first type of improvements are undocumented changes that result from focus on a problem. Whenever I initiate a project and start asking questions about data availability, the process changes for the better. It happens every time. Scrutiny of a process leads to undocumented process improvements.

2. The second type of improvements are documented changes that are not called CPI. These improvements would not have happened if the CPI program did not exist, but no one seems to acknowledge the connection. Changes in a focal process always generate collateral changes in related processes -- often without the need for a follow-on project to drive the change.

3. The third type of improvements are changes that are generated using CPI tools but not part of a formal project. The covert CPI program, at least in my present circumstances, is often a more powerful tool than the overt program. As individuals internalize the principles of CPI, these tools become second nature, and documenting improvements as formal CPI projects become less likely.

As a CPI program manager, I could legitimately credit my program with all of the improvements. Such a stance might be considered an attempt to steal credit that rightfully belongs to other efforts. I could chase some of the collateral benefits and attempt to formally document them as CPI-driven improvements. Such an approach might be perceived as a desperate attempt to make my program seem relevant. Another approach would be to only take credit for improvements that are formally documented in CPI-related projects. Of course, that method would grossly underestimate the value of the CPI program to the organization.

When should a CPI program take credit for improvements? It is hard to offer a definitive answer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What's In A Record?: Improved Statapult Performance

We had a stellar Green Belt class last week. We set a new world record for accurate ping pong balls shot with a catapult in 5 minutes. Team Cinco Amigos (pictured here) hit 210 of 233 shots, breaking the old record of 198 hits. However, the overall profit title went to Team Bombs-R-Us, and the overall yield title went to Team Acme Missiles with 98.4 percent accuracy (3.7 Sigma quality). Team Dead Eye was a honorable mention for also breaking the old world record with 201 of 212 shots. Everyone got A's for the day.

Although Cinco Amigos produced the most hits, they also produced 10% waste and finished behind some of the other teams in other performance areas. The cross-team comparison made me rethink how I emphasize the various instructional points in the curriculum. Because I used the idea of breaking the old world record to introduce the concept of process entitlement, I think I may have encouraged the teams to focus exclusively on productivity measures to the exclusion of quality -- not exactly my intention.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Lean Six Sigma Is A Knowledge Management Technique

Building Organizational IntelligenceBuilding Organizational Intelligence by Jay Liebowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

View all my reviews "Knowledge management (KM) is the process of creating value from an organization's intangible assets" - Jay Liebowitz

"Knowledge is information with a process applied to it" - Jay Liebowitz
"Many organizations are drowning in information and starving for knowledge" - Jay Liebowitz

I never thought of lean six sigma as a knowledge management technique until know. After reading Liebowitz's introductory chapters, I have a little insight into the overlap and connections between the allied disciplines. I didn't really enjoy the book -- I thought it was light on useful content -- but it definitely made me think.

Friday, April 25, 2014

How to Measure Organizational Learning

One of my tasks at work recently was to measure organizational learning. "How would I know if my organization is a learning organization," I wondered?

Training activity seemed to be the most common answer. The logic is easy to refute when simply stated: If we offer a lot of training opportunities and a lot of people attend, then we must be a learning organization.
The evidence of individual learning is a change in behavior, or at least a change in the behavioral options available. But how does that translate to the organizational level?

With just a little bit of background reading (thank you Peter Senge), I came up with a tentative checklist. It still needs some refinement, but here it is:

1. Does the organization have a shared vision; does everyone know what it is and how their actions support it?
2. Is personal mastery expected; are learning and growth required of individuals in the organization?
3. Does the organization utilized team-based approaches to learning such as cross-functional teams?
4. Does the organization reflect on Mental Models and Culture and make attempts to adapt these to achieve better results?
5. Does the organization consider the whole System when making decisions; are second and third order effects considered routinely?
6. Does the organization exhibit an effort to adapt to changes in the environment? Are these efforts proactive or reactive?
7. Does the organization use systematic problem identification and problem solving techniques?
8. Does the organization have systems in place to detect and correct errors and mistakes?
9. Does the organization make deliberate efforts to expand its capacity to create results in the future?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Keeping Backyard Chickens

My chicken journey started in 2013. I was experimenting with gardening, and learned from a library book that chicken manure is prized as a fertilizer. As I investigated further, I learned more about the conditions in which chickens are raised on industrial farms and was very surprised. Partly in protest, partly for the fertilizer, partly in the spirit of experimentation, I decided to try raising a small flock.

The reasons people raise chickens at home are varied, and the trend is growing. No one tracks chicken ownership statistics, but my own experience suggests that the trend is exponential. When I bought my first set of chicks, no one I knew in my suburban community was raising backyard chickens. Twelve months later, five families in our immediate area have started small flocks. Before joining the trend, prospective chicken owners should consider the following points:

.. Check Local Ordinances and Rules

Read the whole article:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Value-Added Approach to Meetings

Be honest: have you ever taken 1-second naps at a meeting? What if the room is hot, the meeting is after lunch, the topic is boring, and the speaker has the charisma of a rock? Have you ever drawn doodles at a meeting? Daydreamed? Checked your messages?
Do you think it is rude to act bored at a meeting? It isn't. It is rude to have bad meetings. If my meetings are bad, I am at fault. If your meetings are bad, then it is your fault. Most meetings are "BAD" for two reasons: (1) Nobody wants to be there, and (2) Nothing gets done.
Part of the problem is that many meetings are simply not necessary. There is only one reason to ever call a meeting; meetings are to develop shared understanding. If you need shared understanding, call a meeting. Otherwise, don't.
If you must have a meeting, then you owe it to the attendees to plan for success. The first rule of successful meetings is:
Rule #1. Only call a meeting if you plan to keep minutes.
Read more:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Key Performance Indicators in a Nutshell

KPI Definition
Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) are measured evidence that desired business results are being achieved. KPI's are feedback about how the business is performing.

  • KPI's are essentially metrics linked in a meaningful way to an important business objective. These are the "critical few" measures that you need to know to get the job done.
  • Goals define the end results we hope to achieve, and KPI's define the measurements used to monitor progress toward goal attainment.
  • As a general rule, if you will not make business decisions based on a measure, then that measure is not a KPI.

Purpose of KPI's

When structured to reflect business strategy, KPI's provide business owners with answers to important business questions, help managers understand how their organizations are performing in relation to their strategic goals, and provide an indicator to determine whether performance is on track.
The term KPI tends to be misunderstood and overused as a buzzword. The KPI bottom line is that good measurement provides timely feedback to make quality decisions at the right time.
Getting Started with KPI's

  • First, You Have to Understand Your Business and Business Goals. What are your real business objectives and what does success look like for your company? What is its vision and current mission?
  • Second, You Have to Select a Specific Goal That is Important to Achieve. People do not care about measures - they care about problems (i.e., fixing them). To understand your business objectives, it is important to drill down into specific aspects of why your company exists and what is it trying to achieve.
  • Third, You Have to Set Relevant KPI Metrics for A Specific Goal. KPIs are concrete measurements that provide empirical data about your businesses progress. For any active goal, a gap exists between current reality and the desired end state. A KPI measures the size of that current-vs.-desired gap.
  • Fourth, You Have to Define a Specific Data Source and Method for Determining the Value of the KPI. If a KPI is going to be of any value, there must be a way to accurately define and measure it. Data quality matters, but beginning with imperfect data is vastly superior to waiting until perfect data is available.
  • Fifth, You Have to Take Action. Interpret what your KPI is saying, and why. Context is often important, so you may need to view the KPI along with other relevant measures. Most important, make a decision and take action to move closer to your goal.

Two Examples

  • Objective: lose 20 pounds. To achieve this, you set a KPI to illustrate your progress toward your goal. How many pounds do you want to lose each week?
  • Objective: build your cash reserve to $100,000. Your KPI to reach that goal would be to add $10,000 per month to cash reserves. The metric would be how much cash you actually contribute toward the total goal.