Lean Six Sigma and Cost Savings in Surgery

Posted by on Nov 21, 2011 in Methodology | 0 comments

Hospitals and healthcare systems in general are full of areas just begging for process improvements.  The sophisticated nature of the environment, by virtue of personnel and associated education, expertise, and demand – paired with sophisticated equipment and extremely low tolerance for failures, makes solid process and associated process improvement a high priority.

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) sponsors and project leaders have fertile ground here:  There is much room for elimination of waste, for improved process flow, for higher rates of successful outcomes, and even increased revenues for health organizations by virtue of increased patient flow.

At the same time, within process change and improvements, safety must be maintained and there can be no jeopardy to the quality of results.  When we examine surgery, we can use a very simple example for improvement.

The surgery department has a case-cart for every type of surgery, with a set of tools, instruments and supplies.  New physicians joining a group add their own list of instruments and supplies particular to their specialty and needs.  The list of case-cart elements naturally grows.  Often, when physicians leave the hospital’s employment, no one removes their specialized needs and wants.  Thus, there may be an unwieldy stock of these items, and further, there is considerable time in maintaining, ordering, stocking, and sterilizing these items.  This robs the organization of time and manpower.

Here, we can identify areas for elimination of wasted effort and redundancies.  In a specific case, an observer started by gathering the relevant data:  How many surgeries are performed in a given period?  What types and how often?  Who performs them?

This was followed by observation of the person filling the cart.  Timing of the person’s efforts as they fill the cart for various types of surgeries yielded further data.  Then, a spaghetti chart was created that mapped out the full effort of gathering supplies, over the course of a floor plan of the work area.  As supplies were retrieved and gathered, a line was drawn on the chart to show the areas travelled as each employee walked to obtain those supplies.  An examination of  tangled lines, length of lines, and sub-optimal storage of supplies allowed this hospital to begin to re-order locations of supplies in making retrievals more efficient.

Also, an observer was able to dress in surgical scrubs, and followed the cart into the surgery suites.  Here, it was possible to survey all elements used for various surgeries, over time for a complete view, in determining excess and unnecessary items on the cart.

Eventually, the scope of items was reduced, in concert with physician agreement, and cost savings were significant.  Reductions affected many areas and people:  workers who filled the cart; those who washed, sterilized, and packaged instruments; and people who had to inventory, order and supply the stock – as well as maintain the storage space necessary.

Remember:  LSS can bring improvements to any process and associated sub-processes, while at the same time, setting the organization on a path of continuous improvement and sustained success.


Sustainability & Operational Excellence

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in Methodology | 1 comment

All businesses must change, grow and meet challenges in surviving and thriving.  Within dynamic change and challenge arise problems.  Generally, most businesses know what needs to be fixed, but understanding exactly how to effect fixes is another matter.

This is where Lean Six Sigma’s (LSS) QPE methodology can serve.  QPE stands for:  Quantify, Prioritize, and Eliminate.  QPE methods provide the institutionalization of continuous elimination of constraints throughout the value chain.  QPE establishes metrics paired with a disciplined collection and quantification of data.  This in turn prioritizes the work to be done, in matching capacity and eliminating constraints.  This has proven to be the shortest and most cost effective method to ensure sustainable success in the business environment.

In enabling and ensuring sustainability, QPE serves the four foundational process pillars of business:  the Financial Pillar, the Operations/Supply Chain Pillar, the Quality Pillar, and the Launch/Challenge Pillar.

When we Quantify, we define and measure process for the purpose of examination.  Again, we examine with an eye for the continuous elimination of constraints.  Constraints can be any inhibitor on the free flow of process, such as defects, poor process steps, inhibiting transactions, unperformed sign-offs, inefficient inspection checkpoints, etc.  Elimination, limitation, or bringing efficiency or better processes to these sticking points allows a process to move toward faster completion.  Here, as in about any business evaluation, proper collection and interpretation of data is key.

Next is Prioritization.  Here, keep in mind that QPE is a process for the continuous elimination of constraints through the entire value chain.  Ambiguity is unaffordable, and here the team must review and prioritize data.  This prioritization yields containment activity for different areas of inspection, and the implementation of initial corrective action is undertaken.  Recognize that prioritizing the top defects likely yields a disproportionate, favorable yield on total system defects; for example, prioritization of and addressing your top 3 defects may have favorable effect on close to 50% of total system defects.

Eliminate:   We take those corrective actions that have permanent effect.  Here, it is important to confirm that a corrective action did in fact eliminate a constriction or problem.  Again, a review of data and appropriate measures is key, with subsequent communication to employees before moving to the next initiative.

When eliminating constraints through quantifying, prioritizing, and elimination, quality increases and costs go down, and customer satisfaction increases.  Success begets success, and communication of wins begets better morale and further improvement to the organization’s value chains.  Further, QPE allows easy entrée to Lean Six Sigma techniques for elimination of constraints and inhibitors to sound business sustainability as a whole.

About the Author: Matt Stewart is the President, Chief Lean Transformation Implementation Specialist, and Operations/Quality Turnaround Expert for GBWS Limited. Having trained and championed over 140 Lean/Six Sigma events, Matt has led projects in many different industries ranging from implementation of quality improvement systems to Lean manufacturing conversions of plant-wide operations.


Achieving Value & ROI through the Right Projects

Posted by on Nov 2, 2011 in Project Selection | 0 comments

A project means nothing without a delivery – a valid delivery that serves business in a meaningful way.

In achieving value and proper returns, an initial benefits estimation is key.  It must be accurate and show targeted areas of improvement as addressed by the project and its initiatives.  In this regard, the senior executive class is then likely to support and sanction the project, as well as its priority ranking in the hierarchy of other projects and initiatives that compete for the same resources.  Those resources comprise such things as time, personnel, and money – and competition is always keen.

Evaluating areas for improvement is relatively easy vis-à-vis implementing the right projects for best returns.  “Rubs” are not hard to find, while change always represents risk, and projects have some gloomy statistics associated with them.  Nearly half of all projects suffer budget overruns.  Again, nearly half have higher than expected maintainance costs, and that definitely cuts into ROI and business value.  In fact, 41% of projects fail to deliver on business expectations for value and ROI.  In assessing potential projects, keep in mind that “the solution must solve.”  The project’s destination must match the business destination regarding the closing of a gap between present (presumably sub-optimal or lagging) business performance, and that which is desired.

But further, project’s destination must be fully supported by many things other than proper fit to a mere bottom line requirement.  Many organizations have purchased top-of-the-line software applications or production machinery only to find that personnel lacked the training or aptitude to utilize these things.  Be careful to make certain that any project’s elements include all considerations for moving the organization to a better place.  Be certain that a project’s deliveries integrate with the whole of the organization and its other supports and practices.  This can even include satellite offices, vendors, consultants, solutions partners, etc.

Performing a full survey of all considerations is key in selecting, prioritizing, and implementing the right projects for best ROI and sustained value through those deliveries.

Therefore, when determining and showing the project’s value, it really becomes a vetting process:  It shows the project’s proper definition; its access to and alignment of supporting resources; its budget; its timeline as fit to the organization’s other initiatives and obligations, and as importantly, its fit to other elements of the organization and allies.

Thus, a vetting in determining benefits and exposing value yields a project that surfaces as a “right” project, and ROI is a justified and fulfilled expectation.

About the Author: Steven Pfeiffer is an independent consultant for his firm, Melior Partners, LLC. Prior to forming Melior Partners, Steve was Executive Director – Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, for a leading life sciences company, where he led the global rollout of Lean Six Sigma, which generated over $6M in benefits during the first year. Steve spent several years as a Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting where he earned his Master Black Belt in Enterprise Lean & Six Sigma and served as a regional leader.


Financial Impact Analysis of Lean Six Sigma Projects

Posted by on Oct 24, 2011 in Specific Tools | 0 comments

The analysis of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) projects from a financial perspective does some very important things.  First, Financial Impact Analysis (FIA) is a tool that allows executives and managers to examine the financial impacts of proposed projects prior to dedicating valuable resources, helping to make valid justifications and decisions for those projects.  Second, FIA monitors and reports ongoing improvement processes in tracking true, actual, savings and revenue impacts to specific areas.

Further, particularly during lean times, FIA can support the ongoing efforts of an overall LSS presence, and its associated cost, by virtue of exposing benefits and net savings as delivered. In doing this, FIA establishes baselines (references) for costs and revenues prior to any specific course of improvement.  These provide a beginning reference against which the cost of any improved process is compared.  The difference between the two represents the financial impact of the project.  The same is done for revenues:  That initial baseline, or reference, revenue value is recorded and then compared to actual revenues after improvements have been implemented.  Again, this represents a financial impact, but the important thing is it is a known and measurable impact, yielding the LSS influence (and justification) to projects.

Further, LSS serves a diverse body of project stakeholders.  FIA is able to capture impacts and make delivery by tracking the multitude of contributions across the organization.  As an example, for the organization’s finance function, LSS follows the cost accounting model, but then brings a standardized format to all projects.  It then provides an auditable and verifiable model for delivering financial impacts.

For senior leadership, FIA provides assurance that analysis is measured in real dollars, in documenting actual returns on investments for initiatives.  For process owners, there is the exposure of the process’ tether to the company’s bottom line.

There are further benefits, all contributing to known impacts for LSS projects prior to rollout, helping to ensure that highest-impact and most cost-effective projects are undertaken.  The involvement of financial subject matter experts (SME) yields accurate analysis and results in readily understood reports for stakeholders in the improvement process.  It’s possible to track expected project performance against the actual, with effective monitoring of improvement efforts.  For all, FIA provides easy and convenient access to accurate high-level summaries of financial benefits.

Finally, Financial Impact Analysis is a flexible tool that integrates with other Lean Six Sigma metrics in providing a direct link between the project and the organization’s bottom line.

About the Author: Andres Slack is a certified LSS Master Black Belt with an MBA from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida International University. He currently works as a Lean Six Sigma consultant and has extensive experience in logistics, manufacturing, and the financial industries.


Change Management Lessons from a Caveman

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 in Change Management, Methodology | 1 comment

Have you ever wondered what the oldest tool is in your lean six sigma toolbox?   Some argue that Dr. John Snow’s map, which helped end the cholera epidemic of London in the mid-1800’s, was one of the first uses of a concentration diagram.   Karl Pearson gave us the standard deviation around 1893.  Walter Shewhart drew the first control chart in 1924.  In 1977, as John Travolta was strutting about in white polyester, John Tukey was working hard at Bell Labs to bring us the box plot.  So some tools are old, others relatively new.  I posit that the oldest tool by far in your tool box is change management and here’s why:


Stone-age man had very few process improvement tools at his disposal.  Essentially, he had a rock and a stick – it doesn’t get any more basic than that.  If something didn’t work right he had two choices:  a) whack it with the rock or  b) poke it with the stick.   Sadly, that approach has not evolved a great deal inside many companies today.   Smacking something with a rock is about one step down from “kicking the machine” to try to make things better – a tactic frequently employed by those lacking a methodology like DMAIC.  Jabbing something with a stick has been replaced by management prodding workers to perform better with hollow motivations such as “work smarter, not harder” or worse yet – “do this or you’re fired”.


The “rock” has fully blossomed into the methodologies available today such as DMAIC and DMADV.   They contain a wonderful array of amazing techniques to design or fix broken business processes.   Consider this to be the technical side of process   improvement.   The fact that you found your way to this website and are reading this article likely means you are aware of and probably proficient in these methods.


There is also a human side to consider.  Here’s where the stick comes in.  When our earliest ancestors stumbled out of their cave and poked another caveman to move out of their way or follow them, the art and science of change management was born.   That early stick has also developed in a broad and deep set of techniques to address the human side of process change.


What can we learn from our stone-age friends?   A caveman would not be caught dead without both the finest rock and stick he could muster.   We should not be approaching process improvement with a lopsided toolbox spilling over with technical tools and no human-side tools.   Here are four simple and free things you can do immediately to get started:


  • You don’t know what you don’t know – Get curious about change management.  Consider going to the library and grabbing every book on change you can find.   Skim them to start creating awareness – allow yourself only 3-5 minutes per book to blast through them.  You may be surprised at how many things you see that you didn’t know about before.  Take the most interesting 1-2 books home and read those in their entirety.    Don’t worry about just skimming – this is the first step in an ongoing journey.  (BTW – I highly recommend Chapter Eight of our new book “Driving Operational Excellence”).
  • Rock On.” – We said the rock represents the technical side you may already be proficient in.  Use what you know!  List out all of the DMAIC and DMADV tools you know and ask yourself how they could be applied to helping ensure people will follow your new processes.
  • Study Success – Look around your company and ask “what are some of the most successful changes we’ve made in the past?”   Talk to the people involved in driving that change to learn what they did (and didn’t do) to make that change successful in your environment.  Look beyond just the big things and drill down to some of the more mundane, routine things they did as well – it’s all about fundamentals!
  • Lastly, visit my website at to download your free “Change Management Street Smarts” Workbook – a companion to the change lessons in Driving Operational Excellence.


About the Author:


Jeff Cole



Six Foundational Capabilities for Leadership in a Lean Transformation

Posted by on Oct 12, 2011 in Methodology | 0 comments

One of the most important parts of a Lean or Operational Excellence business transformation is the implementation of an aggressive continuous improvement system and culture.  This requires a series of critically important management capabilities that, in theory, may seem obvious and simple, but too few organizations are truly effective at applying these skills in a rigorous and consistent way across the breadth and depth of their management team.

These critical management capabilities form the backbone of management’s responsibility to execute their organization’s Daily Management and continuous process improvement systems.

Lean and Operational Excellence Champions must develop capabilities in coaching and developing management to learn and apply these capabilities effectively with superior results.  Management teams with only moderate knowledge and capability in these areas will deliver only mediocre daily performance and improvement results compared to the potential that exists in their organization.

The following provides a brief description of each capability:

Setting performance expectations and process standards: Management must be capable of setting clear performance expectations with their team members regarding time, quality, output, safety, and other performance targets critical to and aligned with the business.  Setting process standards defines how team members must perform their work to consistently achieve the performance objectives in a safe, effective and efficient manner.

Supporting others in the implementation and execution of processes: This requires managers to provide day-to-day general management support beyond the five other capabilities listed here, to include providing subject matter expertise and rolling up their sleeves to help the team.

Measuring performance and seeing waste: Managers must design a performance measurement system and effectively measure the team’s performance against their targets.  Performance results need to be clear, visual and as real time as possible to enable immediate identification of both good and poor performance.  Effective performance measurement systems help managers quickly identify waste.  However, managers must also learn to see the myriad of waste within processes through careful observation.

Holding people accountable and taking action: As with most any management system, driving clear and consistent accountability is critical.  People need to know and understand that they will be held accountable in a fair and consistent way.  They need to be reminded of their roles, responsibilities, performance expectations and consequences of good or bad performance.  Managers must learn to deliver the message of accountability, as well as take the necessary and sometimes difficult actions to drive and implement it on a daily basis.

Coaching and developing others: It’s critical that managers learn how to effectively transfer knowledge and skills to their team members.  They need to learn how to educate a team member in the use of a process or tool, then ask them to demonstrate their new knowledge by directly applying it.  During that time, coaching continues by asking questions to help the team member realize whether they are doing the task correctly and/or what they must change to correct it.

Solving problems and continuous improvement: Managers must learn how to apply and develop their team in effective problem solving and continuous improvement skills.  Team members should see their managers as a subject matter expert to help them resolve difficult problems.  Managers should also be skilled in leading small to moderate sized continuous improvement projects to resolve larger scale issues.

Managers must develop their knowledge, skill and capabilities in these six areas to ensure the viability and success of daily management and continuous improvement systems.  Without these capabilities, Lean Teams and Champions will struggle to drive and maintain high-impact results across the enterprise.  Ask yourself the challenging question: How does our management team perform relative to these six categories?  If you can’t answer positively, you may want to take a step back and address the gaps in these foundational capabilities.

About the AuthorDavid Dubinsky is the President and Founder of Op-Excellence, a management consulting and coaching firm dedicated to helping clients transform their businesses via Lean and Operational Excellence solutions.


Lean Accounting for a Lean Organization

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in Lean Accounting, Specific Tools | 0 comments

Traditional use of accounting systems has been to… account.  Essentially, accounting tools collect, manage and track financials, assets, inventory, and so on.  But there’s a growing opportunity to mine accounting’s data for areas of improvement, for areas of prioritization, and to expose the resultant success or lack thereof.  In other words, we can leverage accounting as a decision-making tool and as an expository mechanism regarding adjustments and progressions for the organization’s benefit.

This is where Lean accounting comes in.  Typical cost accounting and activity-based methods can fail to glean the true cost of producing goods and services.  A Lean system of accounting helps to avoid the misallocation of resources by showing lack of ROI or inefficient and expensive expenditure of effort.  Too, whole projects and their related exposures can yield areas for tuning or possibly expose those projects as being wholly unproductive.

Consider some dismal statistics:  25% of projects are cancelled before completion; 49% suffer budget overruns; 41% fail to deliver the expected ROI and business value; 47% have higher than expected maintenance costs; and 62% fail to meet their schedules.  A Lean system of accounting can uncover early exposures, leading to early fixes and course corrections. Even more, the entire accounting process provides a learning crucible for future, better planning.

One of Lean accounting’s main principles is that before any section of a system can be assessed (and improved), the system’s “global” goal must be defined.  Therefore, what is forced is the establishment of metrics to measure any piece of the system and its impact (good or bad) to the global goal.  This is counter to many cost models that focus on parsed areas of a system, such as departments or local procedures, with no context for how these practices and measures affect the overall system, and thus, the bottom line.

Lean accounting takes into account the specific areas of Contribution Margin, Inventory, and Operating Expense, helping stakeholders to see the big picture and make “local” decisions that are favorable to the whole (as well as locally).  Lean accounting directly contributes to better decision making, thus better results, yielding ever-better business practices, a better competitive position, and higher profitability.

When one considers that any business’ goal is, primarily, to make money (without profit, business ultimately evaporates), we can easily see the benefits in not just typical accounting, but the use of a Lean manner of accounting in supporting optimal results and progressions.

About the Author: Ron Chandler has over 29 years experience in serving in an executive capacity in Sales, Engineering, Program Management, Product Development and Operations. Since 1988, Ron has been a student and practitioner of Lean Enterprise Principles, first in his own businesses and then as a consultant. He has applied Lean Methodologies to implement significant financial and operational turnarounds since 1994.


The 5S’s: Lean Thinking Applied to Idea Development

Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 in Specific Tools | 0 comments

It happens. You have a thought – an idea for something new. Slowly, it transforms itself into a vision in your mind; something very specific takes shape. It may be a product or service. It may be a delightful tune, a fragrant smell, a loan approval process or a simpler way to do something. It is a product or service that you or your company can provide, sell or market, and hopefully, make a profit or save money doing so. This transformation from idea to a real product, service, improvement, method, or whatever its final form or essence may be, has a systematic development lifecycle to ensure final quality and customer satisfaction.

Your excitement about your idea makes you want to start developing it immediately. You don’t want to “waste time” writing it down. You want to Think Lean. You already know what the final form looks like.

Yes, maybe you do, but you cannot develop it all alone – not if you want to get it to market before someone else does.

To do that, you need people. And they cannot read your mind.  So Thinking Lean means your idea must be written down, as clear and concise as possible. Not everyone will understand it in the same way you do. They will have their own vision of your idea. You may change some words or modify some features or conditions during development. You want to be flexible to get everyone on board quickly, but you don’t want to lose the essence of your idea: namely, its final form.

Originally developed for Lean manufacturing, the 5S’s can be applied to the idea development lifecycle process as well. They help ensure that the final product, service or process sustains the original essence and integrity of the original idea as it goes through the development lifecycle process. Once the idea is initiated, it goes through several stages: 1) concept, 2) design, 3) build, 4) integrate and test, 5) make or implement, 6) verify for approval launch or release into production, and finally, into 7) the production mode. These stages make up your development timeline complete with start and end dates, or key milestones, for each stage with the final stage milestone being, of course, your Start-Of-Production (SOP) date.

Recall the 5S’s are 1) Sort, 2) Set in Order, 3) Scrub and Shine, 4) Standardize, and 5) Sustain.  Now, to apply the 5S’s to develop your idea, first, Sort out your thoughts, scribbles, and notes, and communicate your idea from a high-level, big picture, like the elevator speech. So begins your idea’s specifications document, and your presentations, as you discuss your idea with your team, potential customers and possible suppliers of key components. Then, Set Up and organize your idea into features, functions, and options. Now you are getting into the details of what makes your idea real.

Once written down, then you must Scrub your idea by continuing to review the document, refining the words to ensure that the good features are kept as you remove features and options that are unnecessary – the “waste” in your design. For instance, do you really need to provide it in 24 different colors, when 2 or 3 may do just fine?

Now you are into the home stretch.

The next step is to Standardize your idea’s essence by establishing a baseline, which means stop writing after it has been reviewed and approved. This baseline allows your financial department to cost it, and your marketing department to determine a fair and profitable price, and maybe even put some feelers on its marketability.

Finally, what happens if they return with feedback, namely changes to your product? Then you must Sustain your idea’s essence through a change management process.

Thinking Lean using the 5S’s can be used to plan and estimate the work for a business proposal in response to a customer’s RFQ or to communicate and capture requirements for a new product, service, or process improvement. Thinking Lean involves asking questions to verify requirements: What, When, How Much, Where and Why.

About the AuthorJoann O. Parrinder, MSIE, PMP, CPIM, CSCP, is a dynamic project manager and process leader having managed successful projects to develop radios and satellite tuners for the auto industry, a website infrastructure for technician training, and other complex engineering and IT initiatives.

To learn more about how the Idea Development Lifecycle, please read Driving Operational Excellence – Simple Lean Six Sigma Secrets to Improve the Bottom Line or click on


Voice of the Customer

Posted by on Aug 17, 2011 in Universal Tools | 0 comments

All businesses, no matter their product or service, exist by virtue of satisfied customers.  In best and desired circumstances, those customers represent a base that sustains and grows.

But it doesn’t happen by magic.  Business must satisfy customer expectations by delivery on needs and wants.  Complicating matters, there is a savvy customer class:  The Internet has enabled the ready review of, and reportage on, products and services; the delivery of surveys to e-mail recipients; discussion forums highlighting the good and the bad – all leading to highly educated consumers.   In a constantly changing world, businesses must remain current and even ahead of the curve in bringing new products and services to market that predict and match evolving and wholly new customer expectations.

How does business best manage this?  Businesses must listen to their customers’ voices  – ideally through the “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) process.  VOC fits squarely within other Lean and Six Sigma methodologies and tools in making on-target deliveries to customers, versus the waste of delivering on misunderstood expectations, and closes any gaps between true customer expectations and actual products/service deliveries.

Business strategies that do not accommodate active listening for what customers have to say regarding wants and needs will lose market share, revenue, and any hope of an edge for cutting their way into the streaming future.  Here, competitors will serve and gain what the ignorant, unlistening business loses.

A true “hearing” of VOC involves an accurate collection of data with qualified interpretation.  In gaining the widest and most accurate VOC, a number of tools can be employed, each with their own specific advantages and disadvantages, depending on cost, type of customer, type of business, and allied products and services.  Some of these include:  mail surveys, telephone surveys, internet surveys, focus groups, in-person interviews, intercepts, and customer complaints.

Recognize that a variety of listening tools and measures exist for a reason.  For example, while customer complaints can be very illuminating as regards potential defects in a product, yielding the necessity for a quick course of corrective action, they can also be biased or inaccurate.  People, when in complaint mode, may exaggerate or forget important details.  In establishing VOC for your organization, you’ll want to evaluate various survey methods and establish your own mix as relates to the business, customers, and products/services.

Once you have an active, accurate, and ongoing VOC program in place, you can best maintain and grow saleable products and services, increasing your market share.  Further, a strong VOC process can help to turn inevitable mistakes into successes by turning product failures around through re-tuning and sizing deliveries to customers.

VOC is essential in establishing, securing, and growing a loyal customer base.

About the Author: Lorraine Marzilli Lomas is an innovative, out-of-the-box thinker, communicator, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and marketing professional with an MBA in Information Technology and Knowledge Management. Currently studying for a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree, specializing in Lean Marketing, she has a passion for organizational training and strategic maneuverings.


Daily Management: The Hidden Ingredient for Op Ex Transformation

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in Methodology | 0 comments

Daily Management: The Hidden Ingredient for Op Ex Transformation

Do you face challenges instilling an aggressive continuous process improvement culture?  Are the improvements you make impactful and sustainable?  As we all know, implementing change is not easy, especially when a change involves altering people’s paradigms, actions and behaviors.

People-related issues are often the most challenging issues we encounter when implementing Lean and Operational Excellence.  This is particularly true and most pronounced in organizations that are in the earlier stages of their transformation.  Unfortunately, as business leaders and practitioners, we often devote more focus on technical solutions than on human and cultural solutions, which I refer to as ‘soft engineering’ solutions.  However, it’s the soft engineering solutions that are needed to implement change effectively, truly sustain the gains, and cement the foundation of a continuous improvement culture.

What we need is a socio-technical solution that marries several systems together to include: human behavior development, performance management, change management, fact-based problem solving and leadership coaching and accountability.  When these systems are integrated together as one complete soft engineering solution and then married with the myriad of technical improvement methods of Operational Excellence, it results in a framework called Daily Management.  Implementing the Daily Management framework creates the right culture and mindset, and drives the desired behavior and performance of everyone involved to support the organization’s continuous improvement objectives.

The following questions evaluate your organization’s ability to successfully execute on a select number of soft engineering solutions that are essential to Daily Management.  Many of these are related to management’s effectiveness in designing and executing soft engineering solutions.

  1. Do the leaders and managers in your organization consistently demonstrate your operational excellence guiding principles that define the behaviors and rules you want people to follow?
  2. Do leaders and managers effectively apply a system to instill the guiding principles, coach people in their application, and hold everyone accountable to apply them?
  3. Do managers and their team members work together to clearly define and mutually agree upon each team member’s performance expectations and ways of working?
  4. Do managers proactively work with their team members to close their knowledge, skill, and performance gaps?
  5. Do performance measurement and reward systems drive the desired behavior and business performance results?
  6. Do leaders and managers effectively hold themselves and their team members accountable for performance results, taking action, and continuous improvement?
  7. Do change agents apply an effective change management process to address and resolve impediments to change?
  8. Do Lean Champions dedicate the required time each day to ensure that leaders and managers adopt and effectively execute to the performance expectations listed in the seven questions above?

These and a number of other soft engineering and technically related questions must be answered to have a clear picture of the socio-technical performance gaps that may exist in your overall Lean/Operational Excellence transformation and continuous improvement systems.  However, answering these soft engineering questions critically and taking the appropriate steps to resolve any deficiencies will not only improve the culture, attitude and alignment of your organization, but also improve the foundation and performance of your transformation and continuous improvement efforts.

About the Author: David Dubinsky is the President and Founder of Op-Excellence, a management consulting and coaching firm dedicated to helping clients transform their businesses via Lean and Operational Excellence solutions.