Could continuous improvement (CI) be simpler than you thought?

Continous Improvement HD

Imagine if you could build continuous improvement (CI) into your business simply and easily? Since I’ve been seriously involved in performance improvement I have seen so many organisations get themselves all “Lean, Business Process Re-engineered, or Six Sigma’d up, then the teams who are now qualified go out and get little or no results. I have seen plenty of organisations who have so much potential but for many different reasons just never get the results.

Continuous Improvement vs Top Sports People

As an ex sports person (I’m now a has been!) I remember jumping in the pool at 18 and not being able to swim two lengths. At the time my aim was to be a decent triathlete, I asked my squad coach how long it would take to get my 1500 meter time down under 23 minutes in the pool. The coach was a nice guy and also trained the commonwealth games swimmers, bizarre I asked given at that point I couldn’t even swim two lengths. Anyway, the coach told me probably 3-5 years, so I set a goal to break the initial time asap, and nine months later I had broken it then within two years had my time down under 20 minutes.

Follow a proven process…

So how does this relate to CI, well like sport what’s crucial is you have a process you are going to follow that’s a proven process. This can be incredibly simple though, for example in a business it might just be that from this point on we are going to run a whiteboard system that tracks production performance week on week. We will have meetings with the key leads, on a monthly basis set specific stretch goals and do a lessons learned on the prior month. In the pool knew I needed to swim better and that it was going to take some time, once I had a process, action was really all that was needed. In the pool there was actually very little I knew about what would speed me up, I just needed to trust the process effectively following the rules on the whiteboard our coach put up each morning. Most other starters actually never did this, they made up their own rules and or often varied from the process as they felt they “Knew better” etc.

Jack Welch (ex) CEO of GE and the man that really put his money where his mouth was around CI, shares 2 mins and some simple thoughts about CI -and keeping it real…

How about just starting?

Don’t wait until you have qualified people, don’t wait until you have all the answers, start a CI process now ASAP. The number of organisations I see trying to build the perfect CI model, and or a strategy for CI that will at some point (once the function is fully built) bring massive results. Just Start!

DMAIC

One example simple 5 step model for continuous improvement is the DMAIC process, its simple, the steps include:

Define – identify, prioritize and select a specific area / project to work on
Measure – key process characteristics, the scope of area you want to enhance
Analyse – identify the key causes and process determinants of the current state
Improve– change the process in order to optimise performance
Control – if/once it works lock in the changes by creating a new process

Okay, sure there are books 1700 pages and longer on DMAIC and related process improvement methodologies. However, like swimming if you follow a simple version and, use it consistently it will actually still work. You already have your subject matter experts SME’s – (Like the swim coach) and they already have the answers. Most people that came to the swim squad were not consistent, they were lazy or focused on too many different things. When one guy came and was worse than anyone he’d seen in ages, but coming back his performance improved much faster than most others.

We all need to improve our game…

Major benefits of a process like DMAIC include the fact that improving key process & or business issues is something every team member is faced with sooner or later. DMAIC’s logical approach can make it a simple backbone of effective process improvement initiatives. Having a simple structure like this is good for high-risk areas, without structured implementation, issues will likely return when people decide to do it their way either because it suits their project or it is the ‘way we have always done it’.

A process like this helps find root causes, so effective countermeasures can be formulated and it is designed for creating sustainable results. (See future article on finding root causes) It also makes improvements part of how we do our business as usual work.

In conclusion like the Triathlete who couldn’t swim but wanted to, often it’s just about about getting on with it not necessarily waiting until you have all the answers. Serious improvement and results are possible in many areas in most organisations and on major projects. I’m continually surprised by what people in organisations put up with. It would be great to hear your stories about teams that took action, and saw change occurring fast through the use of a process that was proven and with consistent effort.

  • What successes have your teams had?
  • Why have you had CI failures and what lessons did you learn?

Author: Hunter Dean

Succession with performers

There are almost certainly some people in your business who if you were to loose them you are just not going to cry about it. There will however be others who are the life blood of your business perhaps in Project or Executive roles and when they go, it will be a big problem!

In many businesses, succession planning for high performers and talent management is done through a process like making sure you have where possible, at least one off site a ¼ then having drinks with those people you’re a little worried about, to find out what the true story is around their ambitions

The problem with this kind of process and it may not look exactly like this, as it might be a six monthly thing, or you might get one of your team a person you know really well to find out things for you.

Consider four ways of ensuring you know exactly where people are up to on your team, so you don’t get nasty surprises.

  1. Setup agreements with your people so that you’ll let them know if you were ever going to make a move somewhere else with some decent notice and be specific. Ensure in this moment that they also commit to letting you know if they were getting itchy feet or wanted new opportunities, and make sure they commit to giving you the same notice period.
  2. When new people start after 4-12 weeks consider having an up front “Performance Management” style type meeting, this is not to tell them they need to pull their socks up, but more to set the scene for the future, and yes you might even address some tiny niggles early.
  3. Keep the dialogue open between all your team members and understand where your market is at. Are there many opportunities and head hunters calling daily in order to try and snap up your best people. Or is the market really quiet in your neck of the woods.
  4. Find out what your best people value most and make sure you are delivering them what they value. In Sales environments part of this might be about money, but ironically often it may be more about recognition, and often people miss this, until it’s too late.

Have a look at what Jack Welch from GE says about the treatment of people, and just have a think about whether

1) You Agree
2) If you do, is your business treating its people like this? If you don’t, do you have a process that’s really working?

If you are in a business where you often have your people leaving and whether they are good or bad start to look more carefully at what you are and are not doing to mentor your people. The true cost of most team member losses is hidden in many monthly financial reports, why is this?

Well in the past financial reporting has not been smart enough and even today is not able to track the “True cost” of losing a person. Below are some things to consider, the numbers are rough but start to have a think, if you are losing people its probably costing you far more than you imagined! Below the salary is only $70K and being conservative true costs might look like.

If we were to track the true cost to the business of people leaving you would need to consider things like:

Person Leaving Average Salary $70K = $6K per month

  • Recruitment Costs
    – Cost $8K
  • The time it took to get them to full competency (4 months)
    – Cost $24K
  • Time other people “Internal Trainers” spent to get them confident
    – Cost $15K
  • The time peers in the business spent with them (2 months)
    – Cost $12K
  • All the Managers time $120K Salary spent (2 weeks across a year)
    – Cost $5K
  • Loss of productivity from down time while you the role filled
    – Cost $10K
  • HR Team member costs
    – Cost $10K

Total Cost $84K

Now that’s only on the outgoing person who may have only stayed 12 month’s to two years, you will now need to incur all these same costs on retraining the new recruit and if you get it wrong again…