Sometimes, very small parts of a process can have a massive impact on overall performance.
Take Formula 1 racing.
Quite often, the winner is determined by when tyre changes are carried out .., or the speed at which they are carried out. Yet tyre changes probably account for less than 1% of elapsed time.
So, when looking at business processes, don’t ignore the small details. They may be one of the governing or influencing factors. Ask the same searching questions about every stage of the process.
Why do we do it?
Why do we do it like that?
Why do we do it at that point in the cycle?
Why does that person or team do it?
Could we eliminate it?
Could we simplify it?
Could we rearrange it?
Could we do it differently?
Keep asking these questions and you’ll find yourself on the winner’s podium.
Many of us are about to celebrate the start of a new year. It is traditional to make resolutions or promises to oneself that should make us a better person in some way. Those of us who are committed to productivity or performance improvement should make a similar professional promise.
For example if you travel often, especially by train or plane, how about promising yourself to buy a new business text to read on each journey. At the end of the year, you should have learnt some valuable lessons to help your improvement efforts.
If you are a business person, how about promising to take a waste walk each week, looking for obvious and less obvious signs of waste.
The promise you make to yourself will depend on where you are in your career, in your organisation and in your personal development. But, today, take a little time to think through possibilities – promises you know you could, and should, make and keep.
Six Sigma is based on consistency – on reducing variation so that processes run smoothly and consistently, to their specification.
Most processes have some variation – due to inconsistency of raw materials, variations in machine or equipment performance, human inconsistency and error, variations in the environment and so on.
We either have to stop such variations occurring or design the process to be flexible enough to cope with the variation.
If the variations are within acceptable – and planned – limits, the process should be able to cope.
So, oddly enough, our aim is to control process elements and environmental factors and train our staff so that we have consistent inconsistencies – within tolerance limits. If you can get there, give yourself – and your team – a pat on the back.
What will a group of productivity experts do for you if you want to improve productivity.
Well, the best you can expect is to gain wisdom about best current practice. That’s the job of an expert – to disseminate the best of current knowledge.
What the experts won ’t necessarily give you is innovation, new thinking and transformational improvement,
For that you need cognitive diversity – you need the views of the experts tempered and enhanced by other who are perhaps creative in other fields.
Cognitive diversity comes from educational and cultural diversity – so your recruitment and assignment process should help you achieve such diversity of employment – not because it is a good thing to do (which it is) but because it can help change the culture, the thinking and the innovation potential of your organisation.
Asking engineers to solve your engineering problems is clearly a good thing to do – but if you sprinkle into your thinking some extra, divergent thoughts from, say, musicians, sports coaches, medical professionals or others with different background and different expertise (perhaps by establishing a ‘performance advisory group’) … you might just hit on a radical solution .which will transform performance and productivity.
Why do people keep pretending that useful things have not been invented
For example, I keep seeing waiting staff in restaurants struggling to carry more than a couple of plates and IK want to shout ‘There is such a thing as a tray” but some unwritten convention decrees the tray to an ‘object non grata’. Why?
I am sure you can think of other examples.
Learning from the failure of others can be hugely rewarding. But so can learning from their successes, their innovations, their ‘wins’.
If we pretend that useful objects and devices do not exist, we are doomed to recreating the inefficiencies of the past … and we have enough in the present to concentrate our efforts on!
When we are young and inexperienced, we tend to think that if we work harder we will be more productive.
As we gain experience (and age), we start to realise that this is not true. Too much of our effort is unproductive. We slowly learn to work smarter, to prioritise, to eliminate waste, to think our way to a better solution.
As a manager or leader, you must remember these things. Do not keep exhorting your troops to work longer hours or work harder. It is your job to find (and fund) the smarter ways of working, to eliminate tasks that are not productive, to eliminate distractions and to motivate behaviours that move things forward.
This is not always easy … but you fail if you don’t try.
I was back in China last week.
The economic miracle of China is well know but many people still think it was, and is, built on cheap labour and ‘copycat’ products.
These people have never been too a modern Chinese gigafactory – lots of automation, just in time manufacturing, good use of AI – all backed up with solid, efficient supply chains.
Just like the Japanese a few generations ago, the Chinese have taken the best of the West, reviewed and refined it, and employed their improved version to dominating economic impact
Underestimate Chinese manufacturing at your peril!
Recently I got caught up in a great commute … I had to travel into the city centre at the same time as all the other unfortunates that do so at the sane time every day.
It is clear (or it should be) that we need a new model of work, of workplaces, of team working, of synchronicity. Technology can offer us a number of possibilities. Yet our cities are swamped by millions of people swarming in at the same time each day on overcrowded roads and overcrowded trains.
Take a link around your factory, hospital, retail store, office or wherever you work. How many functions and processes are similarly in need of fresh thinking. They work .. but they cause problems. We continue to operate them in the same way because that is how we have always operated them.
Take a look with fresh eyes. Look at the wastes of time, effort, materials involved. Take a little time to dream up possibilities. Then take more time to develop practical solutions.
You might remove your traffic jam.
Does your organisation practise 5S?
The answer Is probably ‘No’. It is a much misunderstood and little used approach., regarded by many as ‘mere housekeeping’. It is, of course, housekeeping but absolutely not ‘mere’ housekeeping.
It improves engagement, productivity and safety … who doesn’t want to do that?
As an example, think of your home desk. If you clear away the clutter you don’t need on a daily basis, get rid of cables (by routing them properly and using cable clips or ties), organise your computer and peripherals, use the stationery trays you always meant to get, place things like the stapler, scissors and hole punch somewhere close but out if the way, etc. then you should notice a change in your attitude to the desk,
It becomes a place for ‘work’ with fewer distractions, fewer delays, fewer frustrations.
If you maintain that new tidy workspace, your productivity should improve.
Now imagine doing that to a whole workplace!