Monthly Archives: October 2015

4 ways to make Lean Six Sigma stick!

istock_000012003650smallThis week I finished teaching a 6 week class focused on applying some of the basic lean tools, and in our discussion forum I challenged the students to find ways of how they will take what they have learned in the course and use this knowledge to get better at what they do.

My “last words” to them were the following, that even if you’re not taking my class and are simply a practitioner trying to make the world a better place through process improvement, may help you navigate this long and challenging journey.

1. Keep it simple.

If our goal as advocates of process improvement is to change the culture of the organizations we work in, it’s unlikely this will happen if we try and add more complexity to anyone’s work life.  Think about it-how many people do you work with who are looking to make their life more complicated?  It seems silly to think we would want to create more complexity, but that’s exactly what we do in many cases when rolling out some type of process improvement initiative such as Lean Six Sigma.  It’s all too easy to over-complicate what you’ve been learning in this class by using all the Japanese jargon (i.e. gemba, jidoka, kaizen, etc.).

While it’s important to understand these concepts and be able to identify them as a practitioner, it’s not as important to those we are trying to influence for change.  I would challenge you to use language everyone can understand when leading any initiative in process improvement.  Some of the ways I’ve done this are by suggesting we go to where the work actually takes place (gemba); finding ways to error-proof (poka-yoke) processes; and using working sessions (kaizen) to rapidly implement improvements.  When you talk in language everyone understands you’re far more likely to make change happen and sustain itself.

2. Stay focused on the money!

At the end of the day all that matters, well, mostly what matters, is the money we’re making for our organizations.  Whether you work for a profit or not-for-profit entity it still comes down to financial results.  As process improvement advocates we need to always be focused on how the changes we are proposing will have a financial impact on the organization.  This is what gets leadership excited and engaged in the process, and long-term creating this excitement and engagement is what leads to sustaining a Lean Six Sigma effort.  Without the dollars management begins to question why we are doing this process improvement stuff, and honestly they should question it if the results are not being translated into financial improvements.  Always be thinking in terms of the business case when taking on any improvement activity!

3. Constantly be looking for opportunities to “plant” Lean Six Sigma “seeds”.

We can’t do it alone!  It takes the effort of many people working together to move an organization to world class levels of performance.  Always be looking for opportunities to “plant seeds” in your organization to help “grow” the Lean Six Sigma efforts.  These opportunities often materialize as people come to you or you uncover opportunities to improve processes in your organization.  I’m always looking for a chance to help others learn a tool or technique that will help them achieve a goal.

Start with the 7 basic quality tools the next time you have an opportunity to help someone take on a problem.  You’ll plant the seed by showing them how to use the tool, and when their problem goes away what will “blossom” is another disciple preaching the Lean Six Sigma gospel to others in the organization.  More disciples means more converts, which ultimately leads to greater results!

4. Be patient and persistent.

Comedian Steven Wright stated, “Hard work pays off in the future.  Laziness pays off now.”  The work you’re doing takes time to develop, and in this microwave world we often want crock pot results without putting in the time it takes to get the rich flavor we’re after.  I won’t attempt to tell you change can happen overnight, but if you’re persistent and focus on helping others by understanding their needs; put all this technical Lean Six Sigma jargon into a language they can understand; link what you’re doing to business results that have a bottom line financial impact; and constantly look for opportunities to plant seeds throughout your organization to help spread the power of Lean Six Sigma, good things will happen, but they will take time to happen.  Be persistent, but also be patient because your hard work, if it’s done in a proper manner, will pay off!

150 Million Lean Six Sigma Projects

crowd_people_Shot_webA few years ago I read one of Jack Welch’s (former CEO and Chairman of GE for those of you living under a rock the past few decades:-) books in which he told a story about how he frequently traveled to all the GE facilities around the world, and on occasion he would attend retirement celebrations during his visits.  At one of those visits he met an employee who had worked for GE nearly his entire life.  Jack congratulated the man for his dedication to the company to which the man replied,

All these years you paid for my hands when you could have had my brain for free.

This exchange hit Jack hard realizing GE wasn’t doing a great job, like many companies I would argue, capitalizing on the ideas people who business leaders see as those who deliver value through the use of their hands and not their minds.  What Jack realized is just how many minds he had missed the opportunity to tap into to make GE a better company.

150 million opportunities to improve.

As of 2015 there were nearly 150 million people in the U.S. workforce.  Each one of these people could be viewed for their hands as Jack did, or viewed as 150 million minds to tap into to create a better way.

One of my passions is finding ways to get more people to embrace the lean Six Sigma (LSS) process improvement methodology for solving tough business problems.  The challenge I see on a routine basis with my clients as to why more people don’t embrace LSS is because it’s too complicated, and who’s looking to add more complication to their work life?!?!

I point the finger at myself as to why LSS is so complicated.  People like me, those I like to call “4 decimal place people”, thrive on the complexity of LSS.  We love the numbers and the challenging tools and methods that come with the numbers (i.e. DOE, multiple regression, p-values, etc.).   We can spot a bullet point out of alignment a mile away, tell the difference between 11 and 12 font, and, sadly, this stuff can take our focus away from what really matters-getting better at what we do!

The problem is that if our four decimal place focus is on the numbers and not the people who can impact the numbers we’ve missed the point of process improvement.  It’s not about us and what we get from the process, tools, statistics, etc., it’s about the people who work in the processes and have the ability to make them better.

Simplify to multiply.

Imagine if we could get 150 million people, or half that many as a good starting point, improving what they do at work each day.  What impact would this have on our society?

Imagine millions of people in healthcare, education, manufacturing, sales, finance, food preparation, housekeeping, hotel service, the <gulp> DMV…what would the result be?

Living in a defect free, well, mostly defect free if we strive for 6 sigma where it makes sense, world would be an incredible experience!  Much of the stress in our lives, I would argue, comes from defects.

Imagine a federal government running at 6 sigma!?!?  I’d settle for a congress at 3 sigma!

It starts with leadership’s attitude.

So where do you start?  Arguably, those who have the most impact and ability to make 150 million LSS projects a reality are those of you leading organizations.

As goes the leadership of an organization so goes the organization! 

Having a leadership team who truly believes everyone in the organization needs to spend some of their day getting better at what they do is a great place to begin.  If your focus is solely on getting today’s work done and not spending some time on doing the work better tomorrow you’ll never get better.

The higher you are on the org chart the higher percentage of your time that should be spent finding ways to get better tomorrow what you’re doing today.  Now I’m not talking exactly about tomorrow here, but simply suggesting your focus should be more future oriented than on the present state.  Imagine a CEO working on putting out today’s fires all-day-every-day.  How successful do you think that company will be in the long term?

Shift your focus.

One simple way to analyze where your focus is begins by looking at your personal plan, performance evaluation, etc.  Divide your objectives into two categories of either short (fire fighting) or long term (fire prevention).  What percent of your focus in on long term?

There’s no magic ratio for what is the proper percentage of time to dedicate to short and long term, but I’d recommend if you’re the CEO it needs to be at least 80% long term; if you’re an individual contributor a good starting point might be 25%; and if you’re a middle manager an even 50-50 split could be a good goal to begin with.

Another simple tactic is challenging your team to identify one area for improvement each year.  Imagine if every employee in your organization made just one improvement a year how big an impact it could have!  This simple tactic goes a long way in helping spread the attitude that getting better is part of your job.  It’s also a great way to help those wanting more compensation make an argument for it.

Just because you come to work every day doesn’t mean you deserve a raise.  When you add more value to the business is when you deserve more reward!

A final way to begin shifting attitudes in your organization towards a focus on improvement to make the organization better in the future is to instill an attitude of fixing problems when they appear.  In many organizations we tend to push problems off to the side and say, “I’ll come back to that later when I have time.”

We put our time where we place our priorities, and any leader who says I need to focus on getting today’s work done before I can focus on doing today’s work better is not leading the way to organizational success.

Make it easy and there’s a better chance they will do it.  These three tactics are an easy way to begin the journey toward creating the attitude of “a new day, a better way” throughout your organization.  Start with these simple tactics to get the focus right, then begin the process of equipping your people with the tools (i.e. LSS) to make it a reality.

Far too many organizations I’ve seen try and fail started with the tools by training everybody in the organization.  Why would you buy your tools before you know what you’re building?!?!

This is simple, but it’s not easy.  A final thought I’ll leave you with is that rarely can you do anything worth doing all on your own.  Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  I’m here, along with a team of experts at VRI to help you succeed.  When you’re ready, reach out to us and we’ll help you find a new day and a better way.

From Success to Significance

halftimeAs I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I begin to look back on the first part of my life (I’m 45 as I write this in 2015) and begin to assess how well I’ve done.

This time of reflection is something author Bob Buford refers to as Halftime.  Bob writes that the first part of our lives are mostly spent seeking success from a selfish (what’s in it for me) perspective.  This is usually measured by material things such as possessions, power, money, position, degrees; stuff that generally matters only to us.

Then it happens, usually in our 40s and 50s we begin to think about our second half, where, as Bob writes, the game is won or lost.  Like any game, activity, challenge…

It’s not how you start that counts, it’s how you finish that matters!

Start with the end in mind.

As you approach your halftime one key question you should consider answering is, “What do I want to be remembered for?”  This might seem a little morbid, but consider writing your obituary before they torch your remains or plant you six feet under.

Writing your obituary can be viewed as taking a “start with the end in mind” perspective that you can use to analyze your life up to this point to determine how far your current reality is from where you want to end up.  Think of your obituary as the dash between your birth and death year.  What you did with your dash is your obituary!

Halftime planning.

In addition to considering what you want to be remembered for, many of us, myself included, may struggle with developing a halftime plan.  How do you determine what your second half should be spent doing?  The following are five questions Buford suggest will help develop your halftime plan.

  1. What am I passionate about?
  2. What do I value?
  3. What do I want to be doing in 10-20 years?
  4. What gifts has God given to me that have been perfected over time?
  5. What steps do I need to make my second half better than the first?

Getting older doesn’t have to mean doing less.  I believe that as we age we should think less of ourselves and what we’re getting from life, and instead focus on others and how we can help them succeed.  Think of your age as a percentage of time to be thinking and doing for others.  I would argue as a 25 year old I didn’t have nearly as much to contribute to others as I now do at 45.  I hope to have even more to contribute when I’m 80!

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.           

Start now even if you’re not old, gray, bald, and taking 20 pills a day.

We all have gifts that can be used to help others.  The choice is ours to determine whether or not we “sow” those gifts to help others “reap” the benefits of our knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

The fruit of your labor grows on the trees of those you help. 

Finally, keep in mind that just because you may not be at your halftime doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer.  Having the foresight to prepare yourself for halftime and begin the process of helping others when you’re younger will help in your transition to the second half of your life.  So what are you going to do with your second half?