Tag Archives: lean six sigma

Lean for Services? . . . Not!

I read the lean stuff with amazement.  A recent article on sixsigmaIQ is titled, How to lose friends and alienate staff – a lean sponsor’s guide.  This “lean engagement” highlights many of the problems with lean in services.

As most lean efforts go, the focus is on getting “top-down” management support.  I have long noted that to improve the system that management has to change too.  There is nothing in the lean management engagement that addresses the hierarchy problem that must be tended to improve services.  The top-down, command and control, functional separated hierarchy is a huge barrier to improvement.

The lean folks have no human change methodologies in their tool boxes.

The next problem is where they start . . . with the work, inside-out as a process to improve – “The team began work as per the pre-defined schedule, going through the typical due-diligence of comprising value stream walk, detailed process dissection, takt time calculation,  etc.”  In services, this is wholly the wrong place to begin as systems thinking advocates understanding your organization as a system from the outside-in.  In fact, until we understand the system purpose and demands by studying the system, we risk a flawed design of services that creates more waste and sub-optimization.

Further, the use of takt time in service is not applicable.  The concept originated in manufacturing where services have a different problem.  The tools approach is a form of copying from manufacturing, but service has different problems.

Tools like the seven wastes that came from manufacturing are applied to service settings.  If we are looking for the seven wastes and not looking for waste in general we stand to miss a lot in service.  I compare it to taking inventory sheet-to-shelf rather than shelf-to-sheet . . . if you are only looking for on what is on the sheet you may miss what is on the shelf.

Services have different problems than manufacturing:

  • Greater variety in demands from customers
  • Nothing is stored like products and raw materials
  • Service happens between the front-line and the customer
  • The front-line and the customer are involved in service delivery

With more manufacturing people moving into service we have a forced fit of manufacturing thinking and tools represented by Lean and Six Sigma in to service.  The problems are different and so should your approach be different.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columnist (Quality Digest, PSNews and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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Changing Thinking Isn’t Always Easy, but . . .

Changing thinking isn’t always easy, but it must be done or maybe considered. 

As government and business try to overcome tremendous economic adversity people are searching for answers.  For the most part, we hear more of the same.  Technology, cutting costs, smaller government, bigger government, outsourcing, shared services, lean six sigma, etc., etc., etc.  None are new ideas and in some cases represent new names for past failed attempts to make things better.

We have sliced and diced our way to bigger deficits and less competitiveness from faulty thinking to the point nothing seems to work.  Stepping back for a moment, maybe there needs to be a shift in the way we look at things.  We need fresh eyes to old problems, not new labels to old answers that don’t work.

Methods for changing thinking have hardly been explored except between an individual and a psychologist/psychiatrist.  But organizationally in the matters of change . . . not much. 

It is not a matter of just changing thinking, but a matter of methods that teach how to change thinking.  Experimentation and learning in this area is so overlooked.  Yet, as I have seen an area of great learning.

95 has been exploring and learning new methods to change thinking now for over two decades and the area of opportunity for breakthrough change is monumental.  For those that have tried everything else, maybe a new look at a new way may be in order.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columist (Quality Digest and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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The Battle for Change is a War

I was reminded today of the nature of change and more importantly the methods of change.  Here, I am reminded more about the fundamental rules of change and less about whether it is lean six sigma, TQM or any of an assortment of other disciplines that may describe organizational change management.

The default method of change seems to be in making people change or training them in ways to do so.  Neither of these methods are optimal, but both may have a time and place.  The former (making people change) is a reflection of the power in wielding control, while the latter attempts to convince people.

People “do” what they believe makes sense.  It is only when people are constantly challenging assumptions that breakthroughs are realized. 

But this creates an uncomfortable position for a world made of assumptions.  Columbus challenged the flat earth theory with his life.  Copernicus was afraid to reveal his theory that the sun (not the earth) was the center of the universe and waited to almost death to have his thoughts revealed.  And so it goes through history that until assumptions are challenged through theory and observation are advancements made and new paradigms created.

New perspectives are a never-ending cycle that shortens the cycle of discovery through new and better thinking.  And so it is with systems thinking that intervention theory for organizations can create breakthroughs in innovation and method that advance mankind. 

This is not just a battle to win the day, but a war with battles won and lost.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columist (Quality Digest and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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The Challenge – Reinventing Management through Better Thinking

W. Edwards Deming asked us to reinvent management years ago, but instead we have been met with change programs focused on processes and workers.  Often I find myself at odds with lean six sigma folks that swear they are really about improvement but what they write or speak about is more tools, standardization and other strategies that do little to address the management problems that need to take hold to have improvement that is sustainable as well as profound.  All these efforts (although well-intended) ignore the fact that management must come to the table to change too.

Instead we have change programs that compromise the needed management change.  Too few challenge conventional management thinking in favor of “just getting some business.”  Some improvement dreamers hold out hope that if they show management tools at work magical change will happen.  Unfortunately, once you start down the process and/or tool path changing thinking goes out the window.

In an ideal world, we would have any improvement initiative not beginning with tools and addressing the management thinking problems first.  Every organization’s management team would know that if improvement is to occur that they must change too.  Instead we wind up with management believing they can skate while the tools and process improvement fix things.

Each time I see the wrong path taken, I know how much harder it will be to get management to accept the fact that they have to change too.  So, making lean six sigma folks upset goes with the territory as one systems thinker likens it to trying to save someone that doesn’t know they are in danger.  The tool and process people do not see it this way as they see something is better than nothing.

So what has to change in management?  A move from command and control to a systems thinking approach to management.  These are not always easy changes as many are embedded in management thinking through years of a repeated use. But what we find is the faster management puts better thinking in place improvement is usually immediate. 

However, years of building these complex structures in command and control can slow the improvement down.  With great irony, management that wants improvement fast sometimes gets in the way of immediate improvement.

Improvement can not continue to become less, it needs to become more.  This can only happen when fundamental management thinking changes.  A tougher path?  Absolutely, but one that can lead to dramatic and sustainable improvement.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columist (Quality Digest and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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The Difference of Demand in Service

I have posted many times before about the importance of demand for service.  It is something that practitioners of manufacturing-based improvement methodologies like lean six sigma seem to miss.  As manufacturing facilities have closed in the US, the movement of people from manufacturing to service has brought this thinking with them.

What have they brought?

Standardization as the place to begin improvement activities.  Something that I have learned is not a good place to start.  Yet, most service books I read that have applied these manufacturing techniques to service industries like hospitals, contact centers, break-fix organizations and many more.

Service may improve as order is made out of chaos with this thinking, but I often find that demand has a way of changing over time and that the service variety is much greater than manufacturing.  I would also include that most of these manufacturing techniques were deployed on the front-line and the important changes to management thinking never took hold or place in manufacturing.  This hits at the heart of sustainability as in order to improve management thinking has to change too.

With service having greater variety, standardization doesn’t make much sense until we understand demand.  In fact, standardization inhibits absorption of the variety found in service without the insightful study of demand.  It is (in essence) putting the cart before the horse when we start with standardization in service.

A study of demand allows us to discern customer wants and needs to truly design the system to give exceptional service.  The absorption of variety allows costs to be reduced.  When variety isn’t abosrbed like say in an IVR (Interactive Voice Response), customers have to call back with great frustration or they don’t call back which results in loss of business.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Want to learn more about designing against demand?  Check out Finding out “What matters” to your customers under the down loads tab or click here

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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I’m OK, You’re Not OK

US companies have some serious issues to overcome to be able to compete on an international basis.  The most difficult is changing the mentality that unions, individuals and quite possibly aliens are at the root of our economic problems.  As Americans, we have grown accustomed to being the collective kings’ of the world. 

Unfortunately, this illusion of grandeur has been dead for a long time and marked by W. Edwards Deming as 1968 indicating the end of the US economic boom and dominance.  42 years later and we still find ourselves falling deeper and deeper behind economically.  Doing the work that makes products and services has fallen to the feet of the investment banks that profit from buying and selling rather than building.

A handbill from the California Gold Rush. The ...
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The gold rush for greed has been the basis for organizational purpose rather than achieving value from customer purpose.  Too many organizations wallow in measures of revenue, profit and productivity without any sense of what actually creates improvement of these measures.  Some with success using old scientific management theory still believe their “success” is directly related to this thinking.

The problem lies in our thinking and Lean Six Sigma, TQM and an assortment of other improvement efforts have done little to work on the management thinking problems that exist.  Management makes the decisions with a mindset clouded by a plethora of incentives, rewards, targets and commissions.  Short-term thinking prevails to gain stock-price favor or other reward as the ship slowly or quickly sinks.

The penalty for poor management thinking manifests in outsourcing, shared services, labor cuts and other wayward make-up solutions that drive the US economy deeper into melancholy.  The solutions all pointed at diminishing the worker economically or numerically generate an “I’m OK, you’re not OK” feeling.  Sadly, the worker enjoys little power to engage in reversing the course.

This is a management problem . . . where management is guilty, but usually not to blame.  We are a victim of superstituous learning and thinking from generation after generation.  The command and control management that served us well in WWII will not and indeed has not worked for some time. 

Until we awaken from the slumber of our past more troubled waters confront us.  This means more cuts to those that do the real work and in the same breath wonder why Americans aren’t spending to support American companies.  A different approach is needed to save the next generations of Americans.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Wall Street Journal: Over 60% of Improvement Projects Fail!

2010 Improvement
In the Wall Street Journal this morning in an article written by Dr. Satya S. Chakravorty titled “Where Process Improvement Projects Go Wrong,” the author states that 60% of all process-improvement projects fail.  I have found this to be true but with a larger percentage of failures.  In this article Dr. Chakravorty doesn’t cite a source for his statistics.  Too bad, I am sure there are plenty to support this claim (this will be a future mission for me).

Dr. Chakravorty outlines the problems in these failures by using a comparison of a stress-strain curve – stretching, yielding and failing (interesting comparison).  In the “stretching phase”  there is a willingness to tackle the new project and the tasks associated with it.  In the “yielding phase,” the expert moves on to another project and focus is lost.  Finally, in the “failing stage” with focus and expert gone, team members stop caring about the improvement project.

Dr. Chakravorty continues to outline what he learned from his observation of an aerospace company (paraphrased):

  1. A need for extended involvement of the expert.
  2. Performance appraisals need to be tied to the implementation of improvement projects.
  3. Improvement teams should have no more than 6-9 members and last no more than 6-8 weeks.
  4. Executives need to directly participate in improvement projects and not just support them.

Similarly, we have found that claimed gains in lean six sigma projects rarely materialize to the bottom line.  One company told us that with all the improvement projects they should have millions of dollars to the bottom line, but at final account none were seen.  This is a huge problem.

For the most part, I don’t care for the lessons learned by Dr. Chakravorty, I believe he misses the point.  The problem is NOT the expert, team size, length of project and certainly not performance appraisals and incentives.  He seems to have something with executive participation until the reason being for this involvement is to assess the viability of the project.  I believe he hasn’t learned anything.

No improvement effort stands a chance until we understand that the thinking is the problem.  More specifically, the thinking about the design and management of work.  A project is a coward’s approach to improvement,  this does nothing to change the thinking.

If we are to be successful, management thinking has to change too.  The same thinking that has led us down our current path will not suffice.  The new leadership strategy for improvement must be to change thinking.

So what needs to change?  Many of the things I have written in management articles and blog posts. The movement away from things like scientific management theory (functional separation of work), separation of decision-making from the work, targets, incentives, tools, and many other items found in my posts.

To continue down the path of wrong thinking is to spell disaster for any organization.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Lean: Someone has Poisoned the Waterhole!

Perusing emails, websites and conversations on Twitter the purported “lean thinking” crowd seems to be a contradiction of terms. I have been in emotional conversations with some of these folks that claim foul when I categorize them as “lean hornets.” Claims of “we really are about the thinking” is the feedback.

So, what is the big deal? Here is the rub. I like to view folks I encounter by what they do or claim to do. Most of these folks are posting to their blog . . . or when I visit their websites . . . or when I visit prospective customers that have worked with lean consultants about how they use tools (value stream maps, takt time, etc.) Someone has poisoned the water hole!

The classic came via email that I received from the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI). Here is what was written:

“Lean tools are important, but they can’t deliver sustainable results — and often can’t achieve any results — unless we use them with a lean state of mind in an environment that supports problem solving through experimentation by means of Plan-Do-Check-Act.”

Wow! A revelation has taken place, maybe this whole 2012 thing is for real. But wait a minute . . . scroll down further and you see mistake-proofing and value stream mapping workshops for healthcare!!!!?

I appreciate the affirmation that tools don’t deliver. But we need deeds, not words.

I’m sorry my friends, but it was W. Edwards Deming that told us that we have one shot to train people the right way. We have been wrongly led down the tool path by LEI. They may regret the path, but the familiar quack of this duck still rings.

Dr. Deming and Taiichi Ohno taught us a way of thinking and both warned against tools. I find it to be a form of copying. Three questions stand stalwart:

  1. Who invented the tool?
  2. What problem were they trying to solve?
  3. Do I have that problem?

I can taste the poison at this drinking hole . . . can you?

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion! Click on comments below.

Systems thinking . . . Join us in 2010!

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public). His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work. Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com. Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Wall Street Journal's Story on Starbucks and "Lean"

Okay, I am glad that Starbucks is recovering and they have found efficiency in “lean.”  But such articles (The Wall Street Journal’s article, “Latest Starbucks Buzzword: ‘Lean’ Japanese Techniques”) should come with a warning label as people need to understand that copying Starbucks will be a huge mistake.  Lean manufacturing tools and the pursuit of the customer experience do not always go together.  Lean tools tackle the customer experience as an efficiency problem and some times it is and some times it isn’t.  Think about it . . . does every service organization want their customers flying in and out of their business as fast as possible?  I don’t think so.

Working with a bank in North Dakota I found that large groups of customers like to come in and stand around, eat cookies, have a cup of coffee, some conversation.  Could you imagine someone rushing them out the door in this setting?  The point is your service organization may need something different than Starbucks.  A Service company shouldn’t start to go nuts on “lean”, “six sigma” or “lean six sigma” tools . . . like I know will happen anyway. 

“Lean” manufacturing tools really don’t transfer very well to service industry anyway (see: Lean Manufacturing is Not for Service Organizations).  The variety of demand gets in the way.  Although Starbucks is almost a “pseudo-manufacturing line” they will miss opportunities if they just have the “lean team” do the work for them.  They would be better off understanding the customer demand and purpose and allowing the front-line to figure out ways to absorb the variety of demand.  Business improvement need to be unique to each organization and their customers, demands, structure, management thinking, work design, technology, etc. it is what makes you different.  Copying will only lead to trouble.

So before every service organization runs around with stop watches and spaghetti maps, can we stop and think first before implementing “lean” manufacturing tools in service?

Leave me a comment. . . I can take it!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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How Do We Become a Systems Thinking Organization?

A natural question for the curious is “how to do something.”  What are the steps to becoming a systems thinking organization?  The answer I will leave you in this blog will be somewhat of a paradox consistent with the discipline itself.  First of all, you can’t copy another organization, each organization is unique and part of systems thinking is understanding that copying  can lead to more problems.  And it was Dr. W. Edwards Deming that said that it is difficult for an  organization to see itself.  So combining theory and knowledge the 95 Method takes organizations through a learning model that requires an unlearning and relearning method to change thinking.  We believe that this is best done with the work so one can see the waste and inefficiency in your organization.

Someone might say that this is awfully convenient to have to hire a consultant to do it right.  So, we offer much in the way of self-guided learning, as we also believe that an organization must change willingly.  We do not use coercive or rational methods to learn.  This is long-term counterproductive.  Here are some recommendations to becoming a systems thinking organization. 

  1. You must be curious.  If you are trying to rationalize systems thinking against other disciplines like lean six sigma you are off on the wrong foot.  As a “reformed” lean six sigma master black belt, I can tell you this journey will be like nothing you have gone through before.
  2. Read the books.  Systems Thinking in the Public Sector for government and Freedom from Command and Control for the public sector.  These will help in understanding what is involved with practical examples.
  3. Read the Fit for the Future series.  This is a series of six management articles to help an individual understand systems thinking and takes you through (step-by-step) some of the general elements.
  4. Download and read Understanding Your Organization as a System.  This is for the diehard lots of information on how to look at an organization and more importantly it is a free resource.
  5. Other downloads.  There are other downloads currently available from Rain University.  Using Measures for Performance Improvement, Transforming Call Center Operations, Process Mapping and Analysis, and Managing by Walking Around are all available for purchase.

So no matter what, there are plenty of resources to help you improve your change management methods.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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