Process Improvement

The case for data-driven curiosity

When it comes to working smart, a little bit of research can go a long way. You don’t have to be a full-on scientist by any means. But if you want to improve how work gets done, you’ll want to conduct the occasional inquiry. It can be simple, informal, even fun. And it’s likely to be illuminating. My 19-year-old daughter is working as a math tutor this summer. The learning center is across town, and she can take two different routes to get there. Wanting to minimize her drive, she put on her inquiry cap. She started taking the different routes – and used her phone to record the number of minutes for each trip. (You can see some of her data in the photo.) After a couple weeks of testing, she conclusively knew the fastest route. How can this inquisitive approach help you at work? Let’s say your work group gets needed information from an incoming form – but half the time the information is incomplete or inaccurate. So you and your colleagues construct a simple test. As the forms arrive, each of you keeps a running tally of the information fields that have errors. After two weeks, you combine your check-sheet data to create a single Pareto chart that reveals which fields are causing the most problems. All of you had your theories. Now you have data and a convincing picture. You know where to focus in order to improve the quality of incoming information. None of the above requires you to be the next Marie Curie or Isaac Newton. Simply be curious. Seek out data and facts. Organize the information so you can draw conclusions. Then use the insights to power improvement. By Tom Terez •...

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How a few key measures can fuel improvement

1-page handout – 75KB Our lives are filled with measures, except when it comes to measuring the health of our business processes. To monitor our physical health, we keep tabs on weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other indicators. With our favorite sports teams, we track rankings, batting averages, field goal percentages, and more. With our finances, we keep a watchful eye on our bank balances, interest rates, income, and expenses. But at work, meaningful measures can be lacking – with people relying on intuition and instinct to tell how things are going. This is especially the case when it comes to business processes. Staff (and even process owners) will offer opinions when asked about the current “health” of their process. But few will cite quantitative measures that reveal the real health with any precision. This is a problem, but it’s mostly an opportunity for improvement. When people learn about process-related measures, they start seeing the connections between different activities and functions. And when a team begins to track several key measures over time, keeping those numbers front and center week after week, greater ownership takes hold. People start looking for ways to improve their process. To help with this, we’ve packed our best measurement intelligence into a practical one-pager. It gives you a list of key process-related measures, with plain-language definitions for each. They’re sorted into four categories so you can see how the different measures relate. You (and your colleagues) can use this one-pager right now. Decide on two or three high-priority measures for your process, gather baseline data, then gather new numbers at regular intervals so you can see trends. Use visuals (like bar charts) to add understanding and impact. You’ll also use this one-pager when improving a process, whether it’s with a blitz approach like a Kaizen event, or a series of sessions over several weeks. Not all the measures will be relevant, but many will be. The team will want to gather baseline numbers reflecting the health of the current-state process – and put together a separate set of projected numbers to show the expected level of process fitness once the future-state process is in place. These projections serve as improvement targets going forward. With their new numeric know-how, will staff start cheering on their processes like they cheer on their favorite sports teams? We won’t go that far. But you can expect to see a better...

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1-hour eye-opener: Use SIPOC to improve processes

1-page handout – 120KB – Fillable/Savable Don’t be turned off by the acronym. SIPOC works wonders when it comes to process improvement. The SIPOC Diagram is a visual tool that conveys crucial information on a single page. It shows everything that goes on in a given business process. If you’ve ever wanted staff to get a start-to-finish big-picture view of their work, here you go. SIPOC (pronounced sigh-pock) stands for suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers. All are identified when a SIPOC is created. It “makes visible” all the components and connections that end up producing an output and delivering value to customers. That’s a lot of good information for a single one-pager. But wait, it gets better! Click here to download our SIPOC in fillable/savable PDF format. Feel free to circulate it among colleagues, but most of all, put it to work with staff. The PDF includes tool tips for the various fill-in fields. The SIPOC Diagram is often used when planning a big process improvement project. It gives a high-level understanding, and it can help a team sponsor right-size the project scope. Its structured nature ensures that sponsors and others think through every aspect. It also works great as a stand-alone activity. Bring the concept to staff, and work together to talk through and identify all the components. Write on a flipchart or white board, using the one-pager as a guide – then enter the info into the one-pager so everyone can get a clean copy. Believe it: This quick activity is an eye-opener. People typically focus on their own work. SIPOC widens their vision so they see and appreciate all the moving parts. Expect to hear comments like: “So that’s what happens before my part of the process!” “That explains why we have those delays.” “This whole thing could be a lot simpler.” You’ll also hear questions: “Why are we using that supplier?” “What happens when those forms come in with errors?” “Do we really need that check phase?” In other words, SIPOC prompts discovery and curiosity. Staff begin to lean forward, looking for ways to improve their process. Can SIPOC-powered conversation be the starting point for a process improvement project? Can it raise curiosity to the point where people do additional fact-finding and analysis in order to get smarter about their process? Can it uncover some “just do it” improvements that get implemented right away. Yes, yes, and...

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