Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

Because of my experience and credentials as a Six Sigma Black Belt, I’m often called into companies to help them improve a process that shouldn’t be improved. I was recently on a Six Sigma effort where the process was so broken we couldn’t even establish a baseline. That’s a good clue that you’re heading down the wrong path. You cannot improve a defective process—you need to replace it.

Most people identify Six Sigma with process improvement (i.e., DMAIC[1]); however, there is another part of Six Sigma that deals with process development (i.e., DMADV[2]) called Design for Six Sigma, or DFSS[3] for short. Although the two look similar side-by-side, the execution is very different. For instance, both have a measure phase following their design phase; however, with DMAIC a key goal of the measure phase is a baseline; however, with DMADV that goal doesn’t exist. Instead, you’ll focus more on obtaining a crisper understanding of how the new process will be measured.

To decide which path to pursue, ask yourself whether you have an efficiency problem or an effectiveness problem. For instance, if the process works okay; however, the results are coming out too slow, you have an efficiency problem that requires DMAIC. If however, the process doesn’t work at all, you have an effectiveness problem that requires DMADV, which is more along the lines of process innovation.

Trying to improve a dysfunctional process is like changing the oil in a blown engine. It doesn’t make any sense. Before you start a process improvement effort, make sure you first have a process to improve. If you don’t, it’s best to just start over with a new process.

  1. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control; and represents the major phases of a Six Sigma process improvement effort.  ↩

  2. DMADV stands for Define Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify; and represents the major phases of a Six Sigma process development effort.  ↩

  3. For most intents and purposes DMADV and DFSS can be used interchangeably to represent process development using Six Sigma techniques. For those who care, DFSS is more of objective-based characterization and DMADV is more of a process-based characterization.  ↩

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

I very rarely run out of shaving cream, because I think small. Here’s a good tip for making sure you don’t run out of necessary materials at the wrong time.

I was inspired by lean management principles when I came up with this idea. Time wasted waiting for materials is a common target with lean practitioners, and before long it really becomes an unconscious competence to watch for these things. I picked up on something when I ran out of shaving cream a while back—I didn’t have any notice. The can doesn’t tell you you’re about to run out, like the red markings on the side of receipt tape signals to the cashier that the tape needs to be changed. Instead, one day you press the button, and it just splatters—no shaving cream.

I order everything like this on Amazon, since I think it’s a horrible waste of time to drive down to a store when I can conveniently have it delivered to my house. The problem is, I need some lead time. Amazon’s usually fast, but we haven’t reached same-hour service yet, and me with a beard is not a good look.

Then it dawned on me—I have a spare in my travel kit! Problem solved. Another thing dawned on me—this is a great reserve technique that eliminates any downtime waiting for my shaving cream order to arrive from Amazon.

Now, whenever I order shaving cream, I order a normal size and a travel size. Once the normal size runs out, I start using the travel size and order another set. The travel size keeps me going until the new set arrives. Then I throw away the travel size, so they don’t keep accumulating. You may think it’s a waste to throw away perfectly good shaving cream, but you’d be falling into a common trap. The point of lean thinking is maximize efficiency, not reduce costs. You should feel comfortable throwing away the little amount of shaving cream left in the travel-sized canister. The insurance policy served its purpose.

So if your process always requires certain materials to function—think small. It’s better than walking around with a 5pm shadow.

Tagged in: inventory lean process
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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

The best way to avoid the process management trap is to impress yourself—with self-assessments. You can tell an organization that’s slipping into this trap when they start attaching undue value to process steps, and forget about why they’re executing the process in the first place. Use self-assessments to undo this.

Of course this idea has a direct implication on compliance, but a more general and appropriate application is in becoming excellent at executing—operational excellence if you will. In compliance, they’re abused and over-used—we’ll fix that here. In operational excellence, they’re not used enough.

The reason why you don’t see many self-assessments with operational excellence efforts, is the very reason people fall into the bureaucracy that cripples their efforts. In their zeal to create and document processes, the focus becomes the means, and not the ends. This is the why I emphasize process leadership over process management.

A good operational excellence effort will deliver a control chart which is a structured tool for monitoring how the (ostensibly) critical process is doing. That’s better than nothing, but their complex nature is intimidating, and the tool itself needs to be maintained—another process!

Self-assessments are a simple and effective way to make sure you’re focused on process outcomes, and not just following steps. You shouldn’t over-complicate this. Just create a checklist of outcomes. Ask yourself this simple question: “At the end of this process, what should the outcomes be?” Remember to include all the parties that have a stake, and all the supporting constraints. For instance, if I’m going through the process of throwing a party, the primary objective is for the guests to have a good time; however, a supporting constraint is for me to have a good time as well. And, my neighbors have a supporting constraint that involves the collective level of “disturbance.”

Make sure everything on your checklist is an outcome, not just another step in disguise. For instance, don’t put on your checklist, “Was the garbage taken out?” This is just a task with an outcome’s costume on. The real outcome is “Is the place clean?” Also, self-assessments don’t have to be based on the final outcomes of the process. Try to put together some self-assessment checklists to gauge your success along the way. This will give you a structured way to adjust mid-stream if necessary. To build a progress self-assessment, just ask yourself, “What will it look like at point x if everything is going well?” The answer again, should just be a simple list of outcomes.

In most cases, you are your own toughest judge. If you comply with your own self-assessments, you’ll probably stay out of trouble with others as well. More importantly, it will keep you focused on the real purpose of the process, and not just the motions. Take some time to impress yourself once in a while—you deserve it.

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