Enhanced VOC Data Collection Can Jump Start Projects

An enhanced voice of the customer (VOC) data collection process can improve Lean Six Sigma project execution and make the project leader’s job easier.

During many Black Belt training sessions, the instructor teaches the class that it needs to develop statements on critical-to-quality elements (CTQs) that summarized the customer requirements in specific and measurable terms. But how? To facilitate this activity, the instructor introduces, a CTQ flowdown process. Unfortunately, experience suggests that the process capability is poor for this critical step in the Six Sigma methodology (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Standard VOC Approach

Figure 1: Standard VOC Approach

These requirements are usually grouped by common focus areas using an affinity diagram or similar tool. Project leaders generally struggle with how to extract the “raw” VOC data. The Six Sigma improvement methodologies are a process, and each step is an individual process. Collecting the raw VOC data varies from project leader to project leader, resulting in frustration, poor process capability, and projects that take too much time to complete, leaving a less than delighted customer.

Observations on Usual Collection Process

Here are a few observations that set the stage for improving this critical step in any improvement process using Six Sigma tools. Some VOC data collection processes may be flawed, since often the project leader is handed a draft charter to kick-off the project. Since variation is the enemy, then variation in this step is even more critical as the output from this step is an input to the project charter.

Customers do not necessarily know what they want. They know what they do not want (i.e., high prices, poor quality, late delivery, etc.). The project leader has to determine how the product or service affects customer behavior – not just what the customer says. The Japanese have a term for this – gemba. Gemba describes the true source of information. The gemba is where the product or service becomes of value to the customer, that is, where the product really gets used and delivers real value to the customer. It is in the gemba that a company really sees who their customers are, what their real problems are, how the product will really be used by them.

For example, a mechanical seal supplier provides a seal that requires plant maintenance to ship pump parts offsite to be machined to accommodate the supplier’s mechanical seal dimensions at a premium cost, and extends the cycle time to replace pumps in this chemical plant with more than 500 pumps. See the gemba.

The improved process map for collecting VOC data is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Enhanced VOC Data Collection Process

Figure 2: Enhanced VOC Data Collection Process

A Guide to Enhanced VOC Data Collection

Suggested VOC questions are summarized under four headings.

Identify Customers by Functional Area:

  • What is the organizational structure of the business?
  • What are the customer touch points (supply chain, manufacturing, marketing, etc.)?

Develop Business-focused Questions for the Interviewee:

  • What is the strategic vision of the business?
  • What tactical activities are supporting this vision?
  • What is the issue from your prospective?
  • What products/services are affected?
  • What pain are you feeling?
  • Can you measure this pain?
  • How?
  • What is the financial impact of the pain?
  • What is the impact on your business objectives?
  • Do you have any business objectives addressing the issue?
  • How long has the issue existed?
  • How do you know?
  • How much of your personal time is spent on the issue resolution?
  • How much time do your direct reports spend on the issue?
  • What is the impact on the business, if we do nothing?

Develop Functional-focused Questions for the Interviewee:

  • Are your customers internal or external?
  • Who are they?
  • Do your customers know about the issue?
  • What do/would your customers think of the issue?
  • How do you measure the business impact of the issue (customer complaints, product returns, repair costs, etc.)?
  • Can you describe the data collection process for these issues?

Group Raw Comments by Category:

  • List CTQs for each category that are specific and measurable (For example: On-time delivery is not adequate.)
  • Prioritize the CTQs with the project sponsor/process owner using a Pugh matrix or equivalent weighted-factor system.

By asking these questions and analyzing the answers, the quality of the VOC data is vastly improved. The raw VOC data will give the project leader tips on potential project Ys, data collection plan candidates, a sense for the process capability and “entitlement” of the process that is being improved. That, of course, will result in reduced cycle time and increased customer satisfaction level. Expect the VOC data to be in conflict. To further show the benefits of the improved process, the raw VOC data in the table below was obtained on real projects, resulting in separate fixed-cost focus and variable-cost focus improvement projects.

Examples of Real-Life Issues and Benefits

Issue

Enhanced VOC Project Benefits

“The catalyst recovery equipment is not reliable and needs to be replaced. The centrifuges were only available 50 percent of the time in 1999.” Tips on process capability and stakeholder analysis are indicated.
“Since January 1996, the profit objective catalyst ratio goal has only been met five times in 44 months.” Tips on entitlement and performance standards are indicated.
“The catalyst ratio goal of 0.010 pounds of catalyst per hundred weight of finished product is not attainable. Catalyst will be costing us $22.18 per pound after September 1999.” Tips on stakeholder analysis and initial financial validation are indicated.
“Based on the plant cost summaries, the centrifuge maintenance costs were $1 million in 1998. When catalyst recovery is bypassed, we are purging 38 pph of catalyst or wasting $834 per hour in variable manufacturing costs.” Tips on potential project Ys, measurement systems and financial stake are indicated.

The projects resulted in a catalyst ratio improved process capability from -1.18 to 3.40, resulting in $911,000 annual variable cost savings and $545,000 annual fixed cost savings, with the projects completed less than 12 months.

Not All Interviewees Will Embrace Process

A final word of caution: Not everyone interviewed will embrace the enhanced VOC data collection process. On one project, the project leader had to interview the “freight bill error clerk.” (Yes, that was the person’s job title.) The business had created a job description to handle the defects associated with the freight billing process. The project leader had to use these techniques to extract the raw VOC data from someone whose job assignment might be impacted by the improved process.

Project leaders need a little good luck with their gemba hunting.

A Parallel Process View for Information Technology

The value and impact that a solid Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) approach can bring to an IT business is well known. While many organizations understand the relationship between DFSS and their own project management approach, what they often miss is attention to the foundational concepts of Lean and DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) to ensure that DFSS is applied most effectively.

The IT practitioners’ situation is uniquely challenging in that they must see their world from two very different perspectives:

  1. How the business uses their services.
  2. How IT provides services to the business.

Interestingly, both views of the organization distill to one fundamental concept – the value stream, applied in two different ways. And of course, anyone with even limited experience with Lean or Six Sigma will recognize this concept as a critical element of both process management and process improvement.

Better Core Business Processes

From a simplistic point of view, the IT function exists to make the core business processes (marketing, developing, selling, producing and distributing a product or service) more successful. In fact, whether providing its wares to external customers or supporting the management systems and operations of its own organization, the IT function is an operation unto itself. IT’s processes provide products (applications, hardware, networks) and services (security, maintenance, support, technology consulting) that create value for its customers (internal and external).

Users of IT products and services seem to demonstrate a unique lack of restraint when expressing feedback relative to the quality (cycle time, capability and cost) of their customer experience. As a result, when introduced to the utility of the Six Sigma approach, many IT managers immediately embrace the notion that DFSS is the most useful application of Six Sigma to enhance their current project management discipline and delivers better applications, networks or hardware faster and at a lower cost. In executing this well-conceived notion, IT organizations are quick to realize the importance of understanding the customer’s value stream and both the latent and expressed requirements through the effective analysis of use cases and language data. By this point, a typical DFSS project will have facilitated completion of the requirements-gathering component of a project management discipline by executing the Define and Measure phases of the DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) approach.

But the IT dilemma becomes more acute in the Analyze phase of the DMADV cycle when a project team must determine which combination of features and levels of functionality will best satisfy the requirements of the customer(s) in terms of quality, cycle time and cost. To make matters more difficult, the project team must have some way to objectively evaluate cost and quality both in terms of the initial release as well as ongoing support. The DFSS project team must optimize the natural conflict between the need to satisfy the customer requirements and the capability of the complex IT architecture – the combination of people, hardware, networks and management systems that defines the IT organization. Many useful tools exist within Six Sigma to conquer this challenge. They range from the very simple (brainstorming and prioritization matrices) to the very complex (statistical experimentation and simulations). But no objective assessment of the alternatives is possible without quantitatively measuring the various value streams that exist within the IT organization. And furthermore, no meaningful project plan can be developed without the same IT process information.

Back to the Dual Process View

This brings the subject back to the dual process view that characterizes the IT environment. For any given project, a DFSS project team must understand the value stream of its customers. This is often facilitated by some combination of the voice of the customer tools from the DMADV roadmap and the data provided by the customer’s own process management system. (Any effective process design should include the ability to document, measure, monitor, report and control the critical aspects of that process. IT software, hardware and network development projects must take those process management needs into account when participating in the design of new processes. In addition, the new process should be flexible enough to change its management system when critical process characteristics change.)

But this understanding of the customer value stream is not enough. The IT organization must document, measure and control its own value streams if DFSS projects are to be successful. This view then completes the Six Sigma management system within IT by addressing the three process dimensions upon which the Six Sigma methodology is built:

  1. Process management – document, measure, monitor and control internal processes.
  2. Process improvement – use the DMAIC cycle repetitively to continuously improve.
  3. Product/process design – apply DFSS (DMADV) to radically redesign internal processes or to create new products/services for customers.

Dilemma of the Analyze Phase

Inevitably the dilemma of the Analyze phase of the DMADV cycle begs the question: “If we need process management data to execute DMADV projects but we have urgent needs to apply DMADV tools to new projects, do we need to implement process management before applying DFSS in our project management system?” Fortunately, the answer is no. But understand that without an effective process management and improvement system the results of DFSS projects will necessarily be compromised. As a result, the Six Sigma deployment plan for an IT organization must account for the need to document, measure and – where applicable – manage and improve both types of value streams.

One important characteristic of Six Sigma is that no project is perfect and no set of data is perfect. This is particularly true in new Six Sigma deployments where the three process dimensions have not yet been adequately addressed. Choosing to apply DMADV to current or new projects without the benefit of a robust process management infrastructure is a viable strategy as long as there is an explicit plan to document, measure and control the critical value streams within the IT organization. The development of a mature process management system takes time and will ultimately require the participation of most, if not all, IT employees. The result, however, will be powerful as this view of the internal value streams will provide the organization with the basic understanding of Lean principles as it relates to value, waste and process performance measures (including quality, cycle time and cost). This internal process perspective will provide a foundation which will enhance the application of DMAIC to continuously improve internal processes and DMADV to optimize the effect of IT products and services on the customers which it supports.

In both service and manufacturing environments, the IT systems play an important role in determining the capacity, flexibility and capability of its customers’ processes. As a result, the IT organization is particularly suited to deployment of the three Six Sigma process dimensions. Recognizing the need to understand both internal value streams and customer value streams is an important first step to creating a successful Six Sigma deployment in IT.

Is Talent or Process Vital to Lean Success? It’s Not Really a Choice

There is a common lean phrase, “Bad systems beat good people.” Sometimes it is attributed to Dr. W. Edwards Deming although it isn’t actually his quote. I’ve used it for 20 years but couldn’t tell you if I heard it or was paraphrasing Dr. Deming’s teaching.

The sentiment is that good people come to work and try to do a good job, but encounter bad systems of work. Management is accountable for these systems. This helps us understand the role of process in achieving performance. Lean certainly has a plethora of methods that are process focused, from processing mapping to standardized work.

However, the relationship between lean and process is overstated. People believe lean is all about process, and anything that makes processes better is inherently lean. We often create program names such as Continuous Process Improvement because of the process focus. People will tell me that they have an industrial engineering degree and therefore are fully versed in lean. But process, while vital, is not enough. For example, you can’t put me into the New England Patriots’ system, or the New York Philharmonic’s, or follow James Patterson’s fiction-writing process and produce the same results. There is something missing: talent.

Talent is a vital ingredient of success in any domain. Too many improvement efforts treat talent as a fixed commodity. Certainly, it shouldn’t be an excuse, nor should it be a reason not to improve your processes. You don’t just hire talent and then leave it alone.

What do you do about talent? Here are some leverage points.

1. Put the right talent in the right place. Hiring is part of this, but so is organizational design. Too often I see an organization reward talent by taking them out of the place they perform the best. That’s like taking your best hitter on the team and making them a team coach before their retirement as a reward. So top salespeople become sales managers, and top engineers become engineering managers. Was that the best use of their talent?

More and more, organizations are developing technical competence career ladders in parallel to the typical management tracks. This allows the organization to reward talent with career advancement without misplacing it.

2. Talent is responsible for its own improvement. Your talent should hold the primary responsibility for their own development. A lean thinker is looking to improve their talent in any skill that matters. When I started joining companies’ boards of directors, I pursued my leadership fellow with the National Association of Corporate Directors. Earlier this year, in the pursuit of improving as a youth soccer coach, I achieved my national diploma with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Each year, I establish goals for my own learning based on areas that I want to develop. More often than not, they are about building on my strengths rather than fixing a deficiency.

3. Coach and train. Making the development of talent a core part your business means integrating it into your management systems. This is not something to delegate to human resources. The hardest part of this is how you leverage your top talent. While not everyone is suited to coaching and training, leveraging your top talent to build more talent is the long-term play.

In one small organization, one of the key figures was brilliant and one of the best in the industry, but was so good that almost every decision had to be channeled through him. Every time the company grew, it collapsed back down under its own weight. We moved him out of the information flow and put him in a pure training role, sharing his knowledge full time, and the organization grew 40-fold. There was now plenty of talent to go around.

Talent plus process can lead to success. Of course don’t ignore your processes, but also don’t sacrifice talent in the pursuit of process improvement. Talent matters. Cultivate it, and make the target condition to have the most talented team in whatever you pursue.

The Case for Civility in Manufacturing

 

 

 

Anyone that’s read my column over time knows that in OEM supplier negotiations I am an advocate of finding the middle ground and making the pie bigger. Why? Because I know from experience that if an OEM and its suppliers are open to working together to find optimal solutions, both usually end up with most of what they wanted in the first place. On the other hand this approach usually takes more time and effort than a strict imposition of leverage.

I’ve found this strategy also works well in resolving conflicting views—which, after all, can be thought of as a type of negotiation, including those involving political issues. The best example I’ve seen of this was when Ronald Reagan (a Republican) was President and Tip O’Neill (a Democrat) was Speaker of the House. They decided the best way to serve the American people was to look for the middle ground and, as a result, during their joint-tenure Congress passed a lot of constructive laws based on bipartisan support, including the last rewrite of the tax system. After O’Neill retired, Reagan—to both honor his patriotism and recognize his openness to middle ground solutions—named him Ambassador to Ireland, i.e., Tip’s ancestral home.

The purpose of the IdeaXchange is to facilitate manufacturing-related dialog. IndustryWeek should be given kudos for sponsoring this forum. I—and I suspect most IdeaXchange authors—really enjoy sharing ideas and receiving feedback on them, which usually take the form of constructive alternative points-of-view. That’s what exchanging ideas should be all about.

There will always be competing outlooks. But as we saw under Reagan and O’Neill, they don’t have to lead to rancor and derision which, unfortunately, they seem to in many of the Idea Xchange articles which posit governmental involvement in business. Much of this feedback seems to take more of an “us-vs.-them” tone rather than a “looking-for-middle-ground” tone. In fact, the impetus behind my writing this specific article is some of the feedback to a recent article, “First Look at Trump Budget Isn’t Pretty: Commentary”—an article that, by the way, except for its title was—in my opinion, anyway—well-founded and not really that controversial.

I worked in manufacturing for over 40 years and held executive level positions. I understand what competition is all about as well as what it takes to successfully compete. I found very few business issues where the solutions were binary, i.e., one-way-or the-other. This implies that development of optimal solutions requires finding middle ground. Unfortunately, on the issue of government involvement in business, most Free Market extremists—whom I label as Uber Freemarketeers—seem to believe in a “my-way-or-the-highway” world. In their world, if you don’t support a total survival-of-the-fittest economic construct you are a socialist or, worse yet, a communist. Most of the negative, non-constructive comments I’ve seen on the IdeaXchange seem to be from these Uber Freemarketeers.

I’ve got news for you. As much as you wish it was so, a pure Free Market strategy isn’t always in the best interests of our country. I’ll make this point by laying out one of Trump’s proposed budget cuts that was discussed in the above-cited article. It relates to a federal program that is proposed to be zeroed out—the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).

The congressional charge of the MEP is to provide subsidized support to small- and medium-sized manufacturers to help them more effectively compete, primarily against foreign competition. Last year, MEP centers interacted with 25,445 manufacturers leading to $9.3 billion in increased sales; a $1.4 billion reduction in cost; $3.5 billion in client investments, and helping create and retain more than 86,000 jobs. MEP services are not a free-ride. The client pays over 50% of the cost of the support, with the federal and state governments covering the rest. The program’s impact is even more impressive in view of the payback on the federal investment. Specifically, its annual budget is $130,000,000—a small amount in the big picture of things—and last year for every $1,501 of federal investment, the MEP created or retained one manufacturing job.

It’s hard to argue with numbers like those cited above, but the Uber Freemarketeers do and that’s the basis behind the proposal to eliminate federal MEP funding. Their counter-argument to having the MEP is that there is no need to provide federally subsidized manufacturing support since private sector—free market—consultants are available. This is true. But what also is true is that these consultants are either not accessible to the little guys or, when they are, many times aren’t worth their fees. Let me explain.

In my seven-part series on Next Generation Lean last fall I laid out the premise that Lean consultancies can be classified in two ways: experts and all-the-rest. I should mention that after working for OEMs for 30 years I spent the last 10 years of my career as a consultant, so I am familiar with the field. On the plus side my experience is that expert class consultancies are worth every dollar invested in their services. However, it is a reality that these consultancies are the exception not the rule, and that they are seldom interested in accounts where contracts are not well into six figures. This means that expert class consultants are not affordable to small- and medium-sized firms.

On the other hand, I have seen far too many instances where the impact of all-the-rest consultant engagements wasn’t worth the cost, time, or effort. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Several years ago I was visiting a supplier to one of my clients. By coincidence, this visit occurred on the same day that they were bringing in what turned out to be an all-the-rest consultant.

During my visit I had the opportunity to take the consultant aside and question him about his background and employer. I discovered that he worked in industrial outreach for a local technical school and had both undergraduate and Master’s level degrees in business as well as a certificate in Lean. And, while he had been providing consulting services for his employer for almost two years he had never actually worked in private industry. In other words, he lacked a degree from the “school of hard knocks.”

This raised a red flag with me since most expert class consultants I’ve met have underwent extensive experience in private industry prior to putting up their own consulting shingle. The consultant went on to tell me that he had been brought in by his client to implement Lean and that he was hoping to have his first kaizen event completed within a week. I asked what area the kaizen would focus on and he told me he wasn’t sure yet but they’d come up with something. Hmmm.

The technical training school he represented was subsidized by federal, state and local tax dollars, making the cost of their industrial support affordable, i.e., certainly under six figures. At the end of the engagement, though, the engagement resulted in minimal financial impact and the owner of the company (who I developed a good working relationship with) told me that based on this experience he would never, ever bring in another consultant. My purpose here isn’t to bad-mouth technical school industrial outreach programs, but rather to make the following two-points:

• The experience of the consultant is more important than their degrees or the name of the institution/consultancy they represent.

• The only reason why the supplier was able to hire this consultant was because of the state and local subsidies.

So what is different between MEP and typical subsidized all-the-rest type consultants? While their fees are roughly the same, most MEP personnel either have extensive experience in private industry or access to a mentor that does. In other words, MEP’s clients can be assured they have a good chance of having an expert practitioner experience, i.e., one that delivers measureable financial benefit. And, as they say, the-proof-is-in-the-pudding so it is pertinent to point out that the vast majority of MEP engagements result in future repeat engagements, based on the success of the earlier projects.

Uber Freemarketeers take the position that if a manufacturer can’t afford an expert consultant—and consequently, can’t keep up with modern manufacturing practices—they don’t deserve to survive. I guess there is some merit to this argument if looked at on an individual basis. But in a big-picture sense it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a U.S government manufacturing strategy that allows our country’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers—along with the wealth and jobs they create—to go the way of the dinosaur.

I saw first-hand the effects that a lack of a supportive government policy can have on small- and medium-sized manufacturers during the 1990s and early 2000s. It was during this era when much of corporate America was outsourcing work from domestic to offshore suppliers. And for the most part—at least from my seat in the ballpark as an OEM purchasing manager—our federal government stood on the wayside expecting these firms to compete on-their-own against not only foreign competitors but also the governments of the countries they were located in (and some of these countries blatantly subsidized them in a variety of ways—for an example of this see my previous column,

During that time the only governmental support this class of manufacturer had access to for assistance in competing was the MEP. And I know from personal experience that during this period MEPa helped many of my company’s suppliers remain in business, which meant that my employer could keep sourcing in the ”good ol’ U.S. of A.”

In spite of this, the Free Marketeers influenced the George W. Bush administration to cut MEP funding by almost 50% in their 2004 budget proposal. That didn’t last long as the outcry against the cut quickly reached a crescendo and the next year—also under Bush—original budget levels were reinstated. Now we’re on the cusp of this happening again. Don’t we ever learn?

In my mind the bottom-line question here is whether the United States should have a strategy of providing support to its small- and medium-sized manufacturers or let them fend-for-themselves against foreign firms and their governments? Again, we’ve been there before. That second option will lead to a continued decline of our manufacturing infrastructure along with massive job losses. The point, then, should not be whether to close down the MEPs but rather to ask how additional government support can increase their effectiveness.

I will say I also find it interesting that other types of government involvement in business don’t seem to faze these same Uber Freemarketeers. I’ll give an example. A few years ago I had a long-term engagement in Houston while working for a major player of oil extraction equipment. Houston is the home of most of our nation’s oil production corporations. In fact, if you go into a restaurant in a certain part of town after work you’ll likely run into employees of these companies. That’s how I met a group of people from one such company in one restaurant’s bar one evening. When I offered to buy a round of drinks they invited me to join them at their table.

After introductions they all wanted to hear about my consultant gig, which I filled them in on to the extent that my confidentiality agreement allowed, i.e., the company these guys worked for purchased a lot of equipment from my client. I then asked them about their roles and found that they were working on some pretty interesting projects. At the end of the evening I told them I had one more question regarding their business.

As part of the due diligence in working for my client I had reviewed the annual reports of several of their biggest customers, including the employer of my bar-mates. I complimented them saying that I had found their company to have one of the healthiest sets of financial exhibits I had ever seen which, by the way, they very much liked hearing. Then I went on to ask—in view of this—why had the U.S. Congress recently seen fit to subsidize them to the tune of several billion dollars? The initial response to this question was a lot of nod-nod/ wink-wink around the table. In the end, though, one of the guys acknowledged the subsidy by saying it had sure made things a lot easier. Hmmm. Are government subsidies really meant to make things easier for financially healthy companies?

I think I understand why Congress subsidizes oil companies. It is because the U.S. has a strategic goal of ensuring our country access to low-cost fuel. And I’m sure that subsidies to oil and gas corporations also result in additional investment and jobs. But that begs two questions:

• Should the U.S. also have an economic strategy of ensuring the ongoing viability of our small- and medium-sized manufacturing base such that U.S. OEMs retain access to local suppliers?

2) What is the return on investment of those oil company subsidy dollars compared to that of the federal government’s investment in MEPs?

Based on the impacts cited above—which, by the way, were figured by independent auditors—the MEP system is well worth its federal funding. In fact (and I admit I have no numbers to back this up), I suspect the return on the MEP subsidy is at the same level of or greater than the return of subsidies given to the oil companies. And I don’t see Uber Freemarketeers—including anyone in the Texas congressional delegation which, by the way, can for the most part, be classified as belonging to that group—complaining about them!

I admit that I think there are things that the MEP system could improve on, such as how they leverage OEM supply chains. But overall, it is a good investment of tax dollars and it should be entirely acceptable in an IdeaXchange article to bring up the position that elimination of MEPs would be against the best interests of our country without receiving deprecatory feedback. I’ll add that I guess I’m one of those people who believe the manner in which an individual expresses disagreement with others tells you a lot about the character of that person.

My next article will focus on a successful instance of both finding the middle ground and increasing the size of the pie from my days as a procurement engineer, i.e., technical buyer. It will also relate a supplier effort above-and-beyond what could normally be expected in selling the proposal to management.

Are ‘Concrete Heads’ Wrecking Your Lean Manufacturing Efforts?

Question: Lean or CI experts seem to be the first to get laid off at manufacturers. How can we change this mentality of management? Also, there is a tendency to outsource many products instead of fixing the processes in the U.S.A. and making sure all of the expenses of making overseas, including quality problems and transportation, are looked at before the decision is made.

Answer: I don’t know what role in the company this reader plays, but I’ll address both questions since the root cause for both is the same.  Your management are known as “concrete heads.” This is a term often used by Art Byrne, who led the transformation of Wiremold a few decades ago. These are so-called leaders who don’t get “it,” don’t want to get it and won’t listen to those who do get it, understand it and simply need their “leaderships” support to go do it!

If I were you I’d update my resume and find a more enlightened business that’s focused on improving the business and developing a CI culture of involvement for all. Otherwise you’ll forever be frustrated and unhappy and simply putting in your time for unappreciative bosses. While you’re at it, find a great company to work for, and facilitate an opportunity for the best of your current co-workers to go with you.

To your specific questions:

1) You can’t change the mentality until/unless the board of directors or owners of the company change out the senior managers. Seems pretty unlikely based on your situation. Anyone who elects to terminate the very people who can improve the business, the right way and the fastest way, deserves whatever outcome they get. After the heinous events of 9/11/01 the economy tanked. At about the same time, the telecommunications segment of our business at General Cable also tanked.

When the fiber trunk lines across the country were turned on, copper trunk cables became a necessity only for maintenance of legacy installations. This was an unstoppable speeding bullet that killed the old paradigm for the business and a new paradigm was created. Not long after that wireless technology emerged as well.

My company’s answer to that was a steep headcount reduction that included corporate staff and the closing of multiple factories. These drastic actions were necessary to stave off bankruptcy of the company. At the time there were six people in the corporate learning center. Four of the six had to be let go. The two who remained were the trainers for lean and Six Sigma both at the learning center and out in the field.

That sent an obvious and powerful wave throughout the rest of the company that our senior leadership would continue to focus and stay on course with CI. Through shorter cycle times and better planning, our inventory reduction of hundreds of millions of dollars kept the creditors away until higher volumes were restored a few years later. That’s the mindset that enables success with CI.

 

2) The second part of your question regarding outsourcing is the kind of mistake many companies made years ago during their exodus to the Far East in general and, more specifically, to China. The fury of finding low-cost labor in those days is being reversed slowly since China’s labor costs have gone up substantially the last five years or so, plus China’s labor is far less efficient than in the U.S. You may have seen articles penned by Harry Moser under the banner of “onshoring” and his “Reshoring Initiative,” which details the progress being made. Not surprisingly, China remains the reason why our trade balance is so negative. U.S. imports/exports are relatively balanced except in the case of China. The U.S. trade deficit with them was nearly $400 billion last year.

Lots of companies have made these outsourcing decisions. Some are regretting it and reversing course. Just like in the reader’s case, many companies failed to look at the total supply chain costs and instead just compared unit cost prices in the purchasing department.  There simply wasn’t enough holistic thinking applied, not enough collaboration with cross-functional resources, not enough good data analysis involved to make good decisions.

As a result lead times went from days or a few weeks to 90 days or more. Inventories became bloated to supply customers in the U.S. for a three-month-or-more cycle time. Warehouses were expanded or built to hold the inventories. There was no clear traceability of quality issues because of the long delays from when defects were produced and when they were found half way around the world.

Bottom line to the reader’s question is this: I’m not surprised that your company made bad decisions on outsourcing. There were many companies that learned this lesson the hard way. But as I said at the top of this article, the root cause for the reader’s current managers’ ailments is the same for both questions. These managers do not have the correct mindset for continuous improvement. The culture necessary must be supported by education, training and communications. The management group must be open to new ideas and interested in leveraging the brain power of all employees. This mindset is clearly not and won’t be in place until major changes are made. Sorry, but it seems you’ll have to continue to check your brains at the employee entrance and pick them up on the way home until you take control and find the right fit for you.

The Five Kinds of Six Sigma Projects: Process Redesign

At its core, the Six Sigma methodology focuses on improving business processes and reducing production errors. However, more often than not, it’s not that simple. How a company restructures a business process, decides who manages it, and how to deploy it determines its overall success. For many Six Sigma professionals, the first line of action to resolving errors in a process is to locate the problem at its source. Yet, this is not always the easiest or most effective mode of improvement. If a business process has multiple errors, is constantly decreasing in efficiency, and creating waste, sometimes the best option is to redesign in. This week, we have been analyzing the different types of Six Sigma projects professionals will encounter in industry. Today, we will look at Process Redesign, what is it, and why you should use this project type in your career!

What is ‘Process Redesign’?

Firstly, Process Redesign projects work to re-engineer a business process where starting from scratch is just not possible. Sometimes, a process becomes deeply integrated within a larger system and a complete removal or rebuild of it will jeopardize other processes at the same time. For this, Process Redesign is an ideal option. These types of projects work by following a structured procedure that assesses multiple variables. From the resources being used to prioritizing parts within the process, how a function is managed is completely redesigned.

While most Six Sigma projects follow the DMAIC method, Process Redesign closely aligns itself with DFSS. Since processes are completely revamped, reengineered, redesigned, it’s no surprise that DMADV is the more “go-to” methodology. Although, DMAIC is still very much relevant to the success of Process Redesign projects. The need for a statistical data approach with problem-solving discipline is an absolute must.

Why Use a Process Redesign Projects?

Of course, completely removing and rebuilding a flawed process is an easier way to achieve improvement. However, this is not always the most economical or feasible solution. When companies merge, new departments form, or managers are rearranged, former business processes may also need a change. Yet, removing current infrastructure can cause more harm than good. Most Six Sigma professionals choose to implement a Process Redesign project to better understand why a process is failing, how it’s impacting the company, and how it affects clients or customers. When you reorganize a business process, you have the chance to create a somewhat “common language” throughout the process. In return, you can analyze how different variables interact with one another, how to prioritize functions, and how efficient the process is.

When combining Process Redesign with the structure of the DMAIC methodology, automatically you open a collection of statistical data. You have the ability to assess the process’ history, what the greatest influences are, how to manage it, and where most major problems arise.

Who Manages Process Redesigns?

While project teams carry the bulk of Process Design projects, experienced Six Sigma professionals will manage their tasks. Typically, these managers will be at least Six Sigma Black Belt certified and report directly to executives. Additionally, these project managers will assess the progress of the Process Redesign and relate relevant information and guidance when needed.

Developing Key Performance Indicators

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical to ensuring a project team has the performance data it needs to sustain improvements. With KPIs, a team can evaluate the success of a project against its established goals.

Types of Metrics

There are two types of metrics to consider when selecting KPIs for a project: outcome metrics and process metrics.

Outcome metrics provide insight into the output, or end result, of a process. Outcome metrics typically have an associated data-lag due to time passing before the outcome of a process is known. The primary outcome metric for a project is typically identified by project teams early on in their project work. This metric for most projects can be found by answering the question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Process metrics provide feedback on the performance of elements of the process as it happens. It is common for process metrics to focus on the identified drivers of process performance. Process metrics can provide a preview of process performance for project teams and allow them to work proactively to address performance concerns.

Example of Selected KPIs

Consider an example of KPIs for a healthcare-focused improvement project:

  • Project: optimizing hospital patient length of stay
  • Outcome metric: hospital patient length of stay (days)
  • Process metrics: discharge time of day (hh:mm); time discharge orders signed (hh:mm); time patient education completed (hh:mm); discussion of patient at daily discharge huddle (percentage of patients)

In the example above the project has one primary outcome metric and four process metrics that compose the KPIs the team is monitoring. Well-crafted improvement project KPIs will include both outcome metrics and process metrics. Having a mix of both provides the balance of information that the team needs to successfully monitor performance and progress towards goals.

Teams should develop no more than three to six KPIs for a project. Moving beyond six metrics can dilute the effects of the data and make it more challenging to effectively communicate the progress of a project.

Questions to Help Select KPIs

Common questions coaches can use with teams to generate conversation about potential KPIs include:

  • What does success look like?
  • How will it be known if performance is trending away from goals?
  • What data would the stakeholders and sponsors be most interested in?
  • What data is available to the team?

The 3Ms: Meaningful, Measurable and Manageable

Coaches should keep the three Ms of crafting KPIs in mind when working with teams.

  1. Meaningful: KPIs should be meaningful to project stakeholders. Developing metrics that those closest to the project team find useful without getting feedback from a broader group of stakeholders can be a recipe for stakeholder disengagement. The KPIs a team selects need to resonate with the stakeholders closest to the process and the problem. The team will know it is on the right track when it has KPIs that stakeholders want to know the current status of and are discussing progress toward the project goals with their colleagues. Meaningful KPIs make excellent additions to departmental data walls for use in daily huddles and to support the efforts of leaders to get out on the floor and speak directly with employees. leader rounding.
  2. Measurable: KPIs should be easily measurable. Sometimes teams can get stuck trying to identify the “perfect” metric for measuring progress toward their project goals. In this pursuit, the team may lose sight of metric options that are already available or automatically reported. Sustainable KPIs should be relatively easy to obtain updates for. If a metric requires time-consuming auditing, or is not readily available to the project team, groups should think twice before selecting it as a KPI. Data that is challenging or time-consuming to obtain is not likely to be regularly updated and reported to stakeholders. Providing timely and accurate updates on KPI performance is an excellent way to support the sustainability of improvements and spark conversations about additional opportunities to enhance processes and reach the team’s goals.
  3. Manageable: KPIs should include metrics that are within the sphere of management control and influence for the project team. If the team selects metrics that include measuring process elements that the team has no control over, then they are not going to be measuring what matters. Teams should select KPIs that are within the scope of their project, are reflective of a successful outcome and are performance drivers for their work. Sometimes nice-to-have or might-be-interesting metrics can sneak onto the KPI list for project teams. These additional metrics are not needed; the team should focus in on the metrics that will provide accurate feedback on its performance.

Summary

Remember that successful KPIs:

  • Include a balance of outcome metrics and process metrics.
  • Total three to six metrics.
  • Are developed with the 3Ms in mind.

Crafting KPIs is an important step to guide teams through a continuous improvement process. A coach needs to keep the team focused on what success looks like and how best to measure it.

OPERATION EXCELLENCE/BUSINESS EXCELLENCE/PROCESS EXCELLENCE(ROBOTIC)

JOB DESCRIPTION

Must have skills
Experience on driving process improvement initiatives through a team of BB/MBB
Understanding of features & functionalities of RPA tools, approach to identify opportunities, qualify them and deploy etc
Drive change management through stakeholder management and influence business improvement objectives for the vertical
Domain knowledge is an added advantage (preferably BFSI)

Basis requirements
Post graduate with minimum 10 to 14 years of experience in Operations Excellence.
Six Sigma Master Black Belt with good knowledge of Lean practices, Knowledge of Quality Principles and Techniques essential
Should have strong financial and client facing skills (strong delivery leader)
Should have experience into Robotics process automation business execution experience at clients.In depth understanding of features & functionalities of RPA tools.
Multi Domain and Process Expertise across Global Markets.
Should have mentored and led BB and GB projects- Acts as a mentor to Six Sigma and Lean projects
Ability to merge Technology & Process

Objectives:
Drive Improvement projects on processes to improve
a. Productivity
b. Improve SLA performance
Drive Automation penetration and improve business outcomes for client through evolution in Automation maturity curve
Interact with client/ internal stakeholders to drive and influence improvement objective
Lead a global projects in OE
People manager for a team
Drives the OE program for a client/ clients in a site/ across sites
Acts as a mentor to Six Sigma and Lean projects for his influence

Salary: INR 17,00,000 – 32,00,000 P.A.
Industry: BPO / Call Centre / ITES
Functional Area: ITES, BPO, KPO, LPO, Customer Service, Operations
Role Category: Operations
Role: Operations Manager
Keyskills: Six Sigma, Master Black Belt, Process Excellence, MBB, Lean, Business Excellence, Change Management, Process Improvement, Initiatives, Operations, Operational Excellence, Robotics, RPA.

The Five Kinds of Six Sigma Projects: Process Improvement

For most Six Sigma professionals, the type of projects they work on determines how far they will advance in a single career. Similar to how Six Sigma ranks certifications into Belts, projects also follow an order. In our previous article, we introduced the first project type, Quick Wins. While these type of projects easily resolve compound and isolated issues, they are not ideal for more experienced, full-time professionals. In order to truly enhance your understanding of the methodology, you will want to begin working on Process Improvement projects. As the second level in the five-tier system, these projects offer more experienced professionals the opportunity to showcase their skill sets. Additionally, these projects differ from Quick Wins and separate those who understand the need for due diligence apart from others. In today’s article, we will look at what Process Improvement projects are, who works on them, and who manages them. 

What is ‘Process Improvement’?

Unlike Quick Wins, Process Improvement projects are relatively slow. They focus on incremental reduction of errors, defects, cost, and other variables. As a result, these projects work to improve and perfect a process over time with small, carefully thought out phases. One reason for the longevity of Process Improvement projects when comparing to others is the lack of a known cause of the error or defect. Because professionals must spend more time locating the problem’s source, these projects tend to take longer to complete. Likewise, after locating the problem, a straightforward solution is not always apparent. For this reason, professionals must use Six Sigma tools, such as DMAIC or PDCA.

Who Works on Process Improvement Projects?

Because of their more complex nature, Green and Black Belts typically carry out Process Improvement projects. The reason for this comes down to one thing: knowledge of the Six Sigma methodology. Unlike more simplistic projects, these require further analysis of all related causes to the problem. A basic Root Cause Analysis will not suffice with locating the source of the problem. Likewise, one the problem is located, a solution is then needed. For this, professionals with more experience conducting data analysis and working on additional Six Sigma projects will partake in Process Improvement projects.

Who Manages Process Improvements?

Often, Process Improvement projects are referred to as ‘DMAIC Projects’. This process method, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, is key to solving these more complex projects. Likewise, more experienced Six Sigma professionals will typically manage Process Improvement projects. These individuals are usually full-time Green and Black Belt certified and have years of experience working on similar projects. Almost always, these professionals guide other project team members in caring out corresponding tasks to resolve the issue at hand. Strong, effective leaders are a must for these projects. Organization, due diligence, and following strict criteria can be more difficult if management is lacking.

Developing Key Performance Indicators

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical to ensuring a project team has the performance data it needs to sustain improvements. With KPIs, a team can evaluate the success of a project against its established goals.

Types of Metrics

There are two types of metrics to consider when selecting KPIs for a project: outcome metrics and process metrics.

Outcome metrics provide insight into the output, or end result, of a process. Outcome metrics typically have an associated data-lag due to time passing before the outcome of a process is known. The primary outcome metric for a project is typically identified by project teams early on in their project work. This metric for most projects can be found by answering the question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Process metrics provide feedback on the performance of elements of the process as it happens. It is common for process metrics to focus on the identified drivers of process performance. Process metrics can provide a preview of process performance for project teams and allow them to work proactively to address performance concerns.

Example of Selected KPIs

Consider an example of KPIs for a healthcare-focused improvement project:

  • Project: optimizing hospital patient length of stay
  • Outcome metric: hospital patient length of stay (days)
  • Process metrics: discharge time of day (hh:mm); time discharge orders signed (hh:mm); time patient education completed (hh:mm); discussion of patient at daily discharge huddle (percentage of patients)

In the example above the project has one primary outcome metric and four process metrics that compose the KPIs the team is monitoring. Well-crafted improvement project KPIs will include both outcome metrics and process metrics. Having a mix of both provides the balance of information that the team needs to successfully monitor performance and progress towards goals.

Teams should develop no more than three to six KPIs for a project. Moving beyond six metrics can dilute the effects of the data and make it more challenging to effectively communicate the progress of a project.

Questions to Help Select KPIs

Common questions coaches can use with teams to generate conversation about potential KPIs include:

  • What does success look like?
  • How will it be known if performance is trending away from goals?
  • What data would the stakeholders and sponsors be most interested in?
  • What data is available to the team?

The 3Ms: Meaningful, Measurable and Manageable

Coaches should keep the three Ms of crafting KPIs in mind when working with teams.

  1. Meaningful: KPIs should be meaningful to project stakeholders. Developing metrics that those closest to the project team find useful without getting feedback from a broader group of stakeholders can be a recipe for stakeholder disengagement. The KPIs a team selects need to resonate with the stakeholders closest to the process and the problem. The team will know it is on the right track when it has KPIs that stakeholders want to know the current status of and are discussing progress toward the project goals with their colleagues. Meaningful KPIs make excellent additions to departmental data walls for use in daily huddles and to support the efforts of leaders to get out on the floor and speak directly with employees. leader rounding.
  2. Measurable: KPIs should be easily measurable. Sometimes teams can get stuck trying to identify the “perfect” metric for measuring progress toward their project goals. In this pursuit, the team may lose sight of metric options that are already available or automatically reported. Sustainable KPIs should be relatively easy to obtain updates for. If a metric requires time-consuming auditing, or is not readily available to the project team, groups should think twice before selecting it as a KPI. Data that is challenging or time-consuming to obtain is not likely to be regularly updated and reported to stakeholders. Providing timely and accurate updates on KPI performance is an excellent way to support the sustainability of improvements and spark conversations about additional opportunities to enhance processes and reach the team’s goals.
  3. Manageable: KPIs should include metrics that are within the sphere of management control and influence for the project team. If the team selects metrics that include measuring process elements that the team has no control over, then they are not going to be measuring what matters. Teams should select KPIs that are within the scope of their project, are reflective of a successful outcome and are performance drivers for their work. Sometimes nice-to-have or might-be-interesting metrics can sneak onto the KPI list for project teams. These additional metrics are not needed; the team should focus in on the metrics that will provide accurate feedback on its performance.

Summary

Remember that successful KPIs:

  • Include a balance of outcome metrics and process metrics.
  • Total three to six metrics.
  • Are developed with the 3Ms in mind.

Crafting KPIs is an important step to guide teams through a continuous improvement process. A coach needs to keep the team focused on what success looks like and how best to measure it.