Doing More with Less

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Today’s challenge to increase productivity with fewer resources has lead to numerous methodologies and toolkits to help organizations meet their objectives and become more profitable and effective. This certainly makes the case for applying two well known and proven methodologies Business Process Management (BPM) and Six Sigma.

One principle consistent with these methodologies, and makes sense, is to leverage what you already know. This means harnessing the single greatest resource in any organization - the knowledge of its own people. The people who do the work are the ones that know what happens on a day to day basis.

Many organizations have undertaken efforts to better manage this knowledge resource. Systematic best-practice transfer is the one strategy that all successful businesses pursue with their BPM programs. These organizations want to answer the question, “How do we leverage the things that we already know and turn them into value?” Unfortunately, in many organizations, knowledge management and continuous improvement are still completely separate functions with little interaction and even less collaboration. Process mapping for knowledge transfer is a practical first step in demonstrating the use of continuous improvement tools with traditional BPM.

The Common Thread

Having a method and the tools to document, assess, improve, and manage the value chain processes provide the knowledge transfer. The critical factors to success are the ability to map the value chain where the day to day practices exist (document), from map, measure the process where a practice occurs (assess), and provide a process for improvement. The ability to visualize a process on paper - or in software - is a common thread in that success. Consider the following specifics:

  • We perform value-stream mapping and high-level analysis of suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers (SIPOC) to discover best-demonstrated practices. The SIPOC is a fundamental tool of Six Sigma.
  • We perform an assessment of these processes and find that we need to improve the productivity. The logical approach would be to apply Lean Six Sigma methodology.

Make it happen

The good news is that process of mapping and assessment increases the speed at which productivity improvement can occur. The entire exercise demonstrates the principle of collaboration by blending the elements of two successful strategic tools - Six Sigma and Business Process Management. With the right tools, distilling a process down to its essential ingredients can be accomplished in a relatively short time, as opposed to many months using traditional methods of visits, conference calls, and reports.

Using the right tools and having a clear method for the process compounds the benefits of mapping and analysis in three ways:

  1. You transfer a view of the process as it is executed daily.
  2. A fact-based approach helps the organization buy into the learning process. Stakeholders understand the why and how of the process steps and by sharing the analysis and prioritization of the mapped process the organization can identify where potential productivity improvements can be found.
  3. The process maps can provide for a short learning curve and the Six Sigma methodology provides a road map that gives recipients the tools and methods for maximum and quick productivity improvement.

Successful Productivity Improvement

The first step in successfully productivity improvement is finding the best potential candidates. Although many techniques for finding best candidates exist, only one or two techniques will systematically find good candidate projects: value-stream mapping and SIPOC. The ability to visualize organizational processes as a big picture through value-stream mapping or a high-level SIPOC analysis are the tools that we can use for our productivity improvement mission, as seen in the table in figure 1, below.

Figure 1 Comparing Value Stream Maps and SIPOC Diagrams
  Value Stream Maps SIPOC Diagrams
Process Process Map focused on identifying value added and non value added work High level process map 7 to 9 Steps - focused on Suppliers, Inputs, Outputs, Customers
Performance Assess performance by walking the process, validating the flow and actual work performed Work with stakeholders to insure the accuracy of the Suppliers, Inputs, Process Steps, Outputs, Customers
People Skills needed, conform to the process steps, understand the need for the activities. Conformance to process steps but at a higher level, not as detailed as VSM.

What are we trying to do?

Business Process Management practices can utilize value stream or high-level SIPOC analysis. Their position and contribution to the big picture allow us to quantify the effect that they have in the overall process. More important, they allow us to quantify the cost of doing nothing differently. We do this by comparing the actual performance with the performance we would like to attain. Without the context of the value-stream map or SIPOC analysis, comparing processes, finding potential productivity improvements, and quantifying benefits are all but impossible.

Mapping your way to the Improvement

Continuous improvement methods, such as, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma have long established the principle that finding the root cause and focusing our continuous improvement attention on that will produce the quickest and most effective outcome. This basic principle is commonly overlooked when transferring knowledge. The common wisdom is to document processes or even replicating processes is “more is better,” i.e., the more project and process data and exposure provided, the better the transfer of knowledge. In practice we know that this is rarely effective in continuous improvement. Therefore, as business professionals, we must practice what we preach.

The paradigm of process problem solving starts with scope and measures - transitions to understanding the context of the problem. Then we must identify the root causes of the issue through data collection, testing, and analysis. The first step is to understand measures and scope. To accomplish this we create a SIPOC or high-level process map. This scoping and organizational tool will provide the infrastructure necessary to identify the root causes of why the process we’re studying needs improvement. Creating the map establishes the scope of the process that contributes to the result. We want to find the start and end of the process steps that create the value, dividing them into no more than nine steps. Inputs, outputs, suppliers, and customers in order to help us when we start to search for the root cause. This establishes a foundation for stakeholder analysis, metrics, and potential categories of inputs of root-cause influence.

Next, process-mapping the detail map as a “swim lane” of the process category in a SIPOC analysis is an easy transition technique to ensure that the scope and organization stay intact as we dive deeper into the process. Mapping no more than seven or nine additional steps per swim lane prevents disproportionate detail and allows us to map down into detail in a controlled manner. A majority of the process maps created for this purpose stay at this first-pass level, providing sufficient detail for mapping and factor identification.

The third step is identifying factors and finding those that influence success. A fishbone diagram is the workhorse of problem solving, but here we use it to plow a different field. We want to discover the cause-and-effect relationships that cause defects or failures resulting in lost productivity. Using SIPOC, our scoping and structure tool, we can create a fishbone per swim lane to uncover many factors that may be influencing the overall success of each lane. This will provide us with a list of candidate causes for prioritizing and analyzing.

The final step in process mapping to find the root causes of involves using a prioritization tool(s). As a Six Sigma practitioner, the failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) proves to be a powerful and efficient way to prioritize the potential root causes of failure. Coupled with decision tree tools for analyzing the potential outcomes of decisions or choices made in the process, a thorough analysis and prioritization of the process is accomplished.

Making Decisions

The individual decisions made in a FMEA are moments of truth in determining the direction and the degree of success in process execution. Selecting the most effective root causes requires technique and some data. A tool that’s particularly useful in complex, experience-emphasized processes is the decision tree. The ability to draw out a process map of choices and determine the frequency of occurrence by using probability analysis to follow each “leg” and, ultimately, the frequency of critical “legs” adds credibility and quality to our analysis.

Turn Knowledge into Productivity Improvement

To ensure that our efforts to identify productivity improvements and distill the root causes of their waste, we must make this information usable. To do this requires a road map that points the user in the direction of how to implement and use the root causes we identified. The essential ingredient of productivity improvement is effective process mapping tools and techniques. Perhaps one of the oldest or most easily overlooked tools in our toolbox, process mapping is an old dog, yet given a fresh new purpose, we can teach it new tricks and do more with less.


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