Up to now there has been much discussion around getting organized, gaining clear and thorough understanding, and documenting the organization. Last installment I wrote about the importance of measurements and finding the balance of what to measure. Some measurements will change over time either in scope or duration as processes become consistent and in control. By in control, I am referencing process flow adjustments, which include checks and balances for adherence to consistent sustainability. In some cases a work flow adjustment may need to be made first, then the process flow. The key I stressed last week was regarding what is done with the measurement results. If there is no reaction towards an undesirable measurement result, people really have to step back and ask themselves why the measurement is being taken. So lets assume all the measurements are being monitored and are valid. Now the continuous improvement process should kick in.
The goals in any improvement area should be to either increase efficiencies or reduce costs. Arguably, in most cases, both apply. It should be a constant moving target within the organization. As you consider work flow, it is important to understand what part of that flow becomes the bottleneck to a final product or service. It takes the entire organization to produce a product or service, and any segment, portion, department, division, etc., can contribute to the bottleneck. This is where I highlight my point
and main theme of my consulting business
Think Global Within the Organization. With global thinking, all facets that affect the final product or service are not left alone, left out, or considered not part of the process. The biggest gap I see is regarding non-direct areas or departments that do not necessarily touch the final product or perform the final service. Yes, it is the ultimate What came first, the chicken or the egg? question. MY answer to that question is it doesnt matter because they both are required and both need to be considered as equal contributors. One is not more important than the other and the allowance of an attitude towards that way of thinking that one is more important is the biggest impedance towards cost reductions and improved efficiencies. Remember one my notes very early on, where I stated you cannot improve or grow a business if you dont have everyone pushing on the same wall in the same direction at the same time. There is only one direction to push and that is getting product out the door or the final service rendered at a level that meets or exceeds customer expectations. Think of it in the same way a machine runs, or even your car, where as if one part isnt functioning properly, efficiency is impeded and a majority of the time, if not always, costs increase.
The most effective way to make improvements is to get people involved. The workforce tends to know best of what it takes to perform their function. Get them involved in the measurements, monitoring, and routine discussions towards results. If the attitude within the organization is established, that business sustainability and growth is solely on the shoulders of the managers of the organization, than the culture needs to be changed first. If there is a fear of the production staff knowing too much and is therefore limited to a need to know basis, the culture needs to be changed first. IF the management staff operates under an assumption that the workforce is not knowledgeable enough to make important decisions, the culture needs to be changed first. If the culture is in place and staged to be the eyes and ears of the organization at the point of boots on the ground, the skill set needs to be built to enable them to hear the loudest and see the clearest as good as or even better than the managers. Dont get me wrong, if this is not your organization, it is a BIG step to take. It is a gradual progression and building of trust that breaks down the wall between leaders and doers of the organization. This should be the direction the unions should be going. Their agenda should be to assist the organization in building the best and most efficient work force. Many are still focusing on saving jobs through rules and forced employment and not efficient and effective work. But I digress and will leave that discussion for another day.
When looking at results, it is important to remove all hearsay, speculation, and simple guessing. Target low margin areas, high costs areas, inefficient areas, etc. Find them using measurements for key components in the work flow and against key processes in the process flow. Measurements must be based on solid process steps, defined components, and sound data points. If established correctly and consistently, they cannot be cheated. Be objective and filter out the noise. Set aside personal frustrations and opinions. If the workforce gets involved up front on the measurement side, they will become motivated and a part of the solution. Action plans against improvements need to be written, discussed, monitored, and carried out to the end. It is important to note, if a project plan is to be written and carried out, all aspects of the project must be understood, including costs. I see it routinely where someone puts together a project plan to spend money and develops an exaggerated ROI that is simply not feasible given the current situation or circumstances. This is even more so, when some well know programs are put into place building on a weak or limited foundation. The maturity level has to be in place at the level it is being implemented to support any major program. You can only force feed a child so long, and then they spit everything back out as soon as the project team goes away. Build the structure and foundation for success and growth first, and then any changes in efficiencies or improvements will be realized for the long term.