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Driving transformational change through Process Excellence and Lean Six Sigma.

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Process Improvement – Is it about the tools?

I had a few interesting debates last week over whether the focus of a deployment should be on tools as opposed to desired outcomes.  While I am a huge believer in both Lean and Six Sigma (or Lean Six Sigma), I struggle with the concept that the focus of an organization should be to secure adoption to a toolkit and not a goal of driving continuous process improvement leveraging the Lean Six Sigma toolkit and approach. 

While the subtlety may seem trivial, it is central to a communication and implementation strategy and has translated itself into challenges for some organizations:

  1. A focus on finding the “right” problem to fix through a designated methodology as opposed to a business process challenge that needs to be addressed
  2. In a few organizations, it has manifested itself into two or more competing deployments focused on different approaches such as Lean or Six Sigma or successive programs due to prior inabilities to deliver meaningful value – contributing to a sense of “flavour of the month”
  3. A  narrow focus on a toolkit distracting from the most appropriate path to the desired outcome

I’m certainly not advocating that any of these tools shouldn’t be shared or communicated but rather would suggest that the primary focus of a deployment should be on outcomes and on driving a culture of continuous process improvement through a holistic process improvement toolkit.  One could argue that the integration of Lean Six Sigma might accomplish the same effect but, in several cases, I’d propose that many deployments haven’t yet leveraged the true opportunity and intended flexibility.

Thoughts, insights and perspectives?

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Building a case for change – The early days of a deployment

So far, the Chicago Process Excellence Leaders’ Meeting has proven to be a great forum for exchanging ideas between deployments whether new in their journey or established.  The themes that were covered will no doubt become topics of future blogs.

One of the first themes that we tackled was around building a case for change in the early stages of a deployment.  With more and more process improvement deployments being developed without the traditional top-down push that was used by GE, this overall theme becomes even more important.

While there are many ways to accomplish this, one approach that was advocated was to facilitate this exercise with each business partner to better articulate the dissatisfaction with the status quo while understanding the linkage between our process improvement approach and the challenge being faced.  While the above seems pretty straight forward, it can be a very important step to ensure proper alignment of the deployment. 

In one case, a colleague highlighted that it took their organizations over 10 iterations to develop as different leaders had very distinct reasons for embracing process improvement ranging from revenue growth, competitive differentiation, quality improvement and cost reduction.  Alignment on the reason for existence will be critical to the approach being pursued, the project selection approach and in securing sustainable buy-in for process improvement. 

In a separate discussion, it became apparent that this validation of the case for change needs to become an internalized process to be reviewed every few years.  In fact, a colleague in the insurance business shared how their deployment had stalled and nearly became obsolete after 6 years as there hadn’t been regular validations of the Voice of the Customer, causing a disconnect between the Leadership and the overall program. 

However we articulate the message, it appears to me that the underlying theme is that deployments need to periodically conduct a Voice of the Customer with their primary internal business customers.


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