When it comes to business process improvement tools, there’s no silver bullet.
That’s the bad news…
But, there are 3 critical business process improvement tools, which are close to it.
And that’s the good news.
I’m going to describe 3 key tools that should form the backbone of great leadership and continuous improvement.
These 3 process improvement tools are:
They are the foundations of success. Think of it as building the foundation to a continuous improvement house.
They’re not the only tools.
My guide on quality management tools, can highlight a lot of them.
But these are the three things I normally help clients put in first.
Visual management is at the heart of continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.
In essence, if something’s important, it should be measured.
It should be measured clearly…
And pass the stranger test.
What do I mean by the stranger test?
Your measurements and metrics should be so visual that I personally could walk into your work area, and know within 30 seconds what’s working and what’s not.
I should be able to see where the issues are and where actions are being taken.
Stop and think about that for a second.
Your metrics should be so clear that a stranger should know what’s going on.
If not, then you have an immediate improvement opportunity, right there.
How do you implement visual management?
Start with your key processes.
What’s important in your teams?
What are the main outputs?
What deems success?
How can you measure it?
Think of what you want to measure in two ways:
Lagging metrics are those that show you what’s happened. Things like:
They’re any metric that shows you how a process has performed.
In other words they show the output of that process.
Leading metrics show you how the process is performing now. They are the things that if you get right, the lagging metrics will achieve plan. They directly influence the process outcome (or lagging metric).
Here’s an example.
Let’s assume you measure delivery on time and in full from a picking warehouse like Amazon. The lagging metric could be “how many delivered on time and correctly”. The leading metrics could be things like:
Picks per hour to plan
Picking accuracy per hour
Delivery vehicles delivering to plan
Sales processed within 1 hour.
And so on.
These are all things that can affect whether the customer receives their item on time or not.
In an ideal world, you want to measure both leading and lagging metrics of your team’s main processes.
Is there a right answer or silver bullet measurement?
Not really. Start with a few ideas of what to measure in your team.
Think about what the outputs of your key processes are, and look to measure it.
Now think of the leading metrics that may be critical to track, that’ll help you improve on your outputs.
The good thing is, if it doesn’t work, change it. Ass a new metric or a new way of measuring it.
Once you’ve got your first draft of metrics highlighted, it’s time for step 2.
Do not have too many metrics. You don’t want 20-30 KPIs scattered everywhere, as you’ll be reviewing them for ever each day. Try to focus on a handful to 7 at the most. But the best judges are you and your team members.
You’ve agreed the first draft of metrics. Now you need to display them.
And the best way to do this is by using white boards.
They’re easy to display.
They’re easy to update and you can quickly engage in simple but effective dialogue around them.
And with that dialogue, you can solve problems.
The point is this: Team members should update their metrics and boards regularly and they should be easily displayed as to actual performance against plan.
There’s a 30 seconds rule here too.
When updating your team boards, each metric must pass the 30 second test. And that means…
If it’s important and you decide to measure it, you must ensure that it can be updated quickly – in no more than 30 seconds every time.
That means no trawling spreadsheets to update today’s performance records…
No printing out graphs.
No spending hours interrogating a database.
The best boards are updated regularly by team members using marker pens.
Here are some examples of team boards in use, which are updated by their team members.
Example 1. In this Example, you don’t need to know too much about the business. What you do know that in the first day of the month, output was missed.
Example 2. Again, you can see that in the first day of the month, defects were through the roof. It’s a pretty good of why output wasn’t acheived in example 1.
Building on the previous step, these boards need to be visual and show you where you are to plan.
That means, what the expectation is for that metric, and where you are actually.
You’re looking to answer one question: Are we in control?
IF your team’s in control, then you would expect the metrics to be on target. If not, and you’ve uncovered a problem.
By uncovering the problem, you have a great chance of tackling it early, which is where solving problems every day comes in (which we’ll talk about later).
You’ve got your metrics and visual board drafted. And now it’s time to create a forum to discuss daily issues.
The stand up meeting is just that.
It’s a place to get your team together for no more than 10 -15 minutes, every day and discuss the following:
The stand ups are also a forum for each team member to take part in discussing pertinent things that matter. Things that may be stopping them or slowing them down. Actions that need to be taken. Or people they’re waiting on to keep productive.
Stand up meetings should be seen as an investment of your time.
Imagine that your business has a number of small stand up meetings across the business. All going on within the first hour of starting the day.
Each discussing issues and today’s targets.
Each getting their teams organised.
Imagine that as a result, within the first hour of starting your day, everyone in the organisation knows what’s going on and what’s not.
Everyone knows what the biggest issues are and what actions are being taken to improve and get back on track.
Would this help?
Of course it would!
And that’s the power of effective daily stand up meetings.
They’re there to:
They’re also a good tool to open up communication amongst the team, management and across the organisation.
When I’ve implemented them in organisations, people often are pleasantly surprised that staff engagement improves, and so too employee happiness.
Why? People are now having their say. They are also being listened to. And they can see how they impact the business in their own way.
Pretty powerful stuff.
Once we have our metrics and we’re measuring them. And once we bolt on daily stand up reviews, it’s time to fix those problems when they pop up.
This leads us nicely on to…
I’ve mentioned in a few articles. A problem is simply something that popped up which wasn’t to plan.
It could be:
– Picking errors
– A customer return or poor feedback
– A missed delivery
– A missed opportunity to quote
– Cashflow issues
– Poor profitability on a completed project
It’s anything that stopped you from achieving your targets.
And the idea of measuring your metrics, both leading and lagging, is to identify those issues. Where are we about to slip? Or where have we slipped against plan?
And when you identify these issues as early as possible, you give yourself a fighting chance to address the problem and put it to bed effectively.
Solving problems every day follows the Plan Do Check Act framework of improvement.
In this third step of the critical business process improvement tools, highlighting issues should be at the heart of the daily stand up meeting and process measurement.
And when a problem arises, there should ALWAYS be an action to do a number of things:
If your team practices these 3 critical business process improvement tools, every day, you’ll see a marked improvement.
If the entire business practices this, soon it’ll become second nature. And you’ll get an organisation full of problem solvers, who drive continuous improvement every day.