OPERATIONS AND

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

Blending operations, strategy, and continuous improvement leads to increased customer value.

In today’s business environments, your customers expect you to grow and keep up with their expectations.  Your organization is not only compared to your competitors, but you’re also compared to the levels of customer experience from various industries.  Because of this, continuous improvement is more important than ever. 

CONTINUOUS + STRATEGIC IMPROVEMENTS 

While traditionally thought of as complex plans and blueprints to make manufacturing more efficient, Continuous Improvement (CI) is more than just a single operational tool for achieving that desired result. In today’s business environment, CI ranges from creating flexible strategic plans that self-improve over time and refining business architectures to developing state of the art processes through human performance and automation—all guided by the business needs as identified in the corporate strategy.

Modern value creation that incorporates automation, machine learning, predictive analytics, and a variety of AI, robotic, and operational tools are the advances brought by this Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and represent a new level of performance for the industrial value chain.  Every aspect of business, from service to healthcare to sales, have a stake in Industry 4.0.

YOUR DELIVERY VS CUSTOMER NEEDS

Given the pace and pervasiveness of change, continuous improvement is key for an organization seeking to progress and develop advantages today and tomorrow.

performance and automation
Human performance: More than just productivity, the human element of continuous improvement learns from staff experiences, grows the culture, and increases corporate responsibility.
Automation: Where operations can benefit from automation, from robotics to digital workflows, the customer is the main beneficiary. In the best cases, automation increases the number of jobs and process output at the same time. See ‘Process’ below to learn more.
Business: Your organization needs a strategy that supports the goals of continuous improvement. This can be seen as a single endeavor, to create agile and flexible structures that support changing market demands.

Auditing workflows in your organization using CI tools such as Kaizen, a lean tool that promotes continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, productivity, company culture, and safety. A key component of our lean process is interviewing teams to determine the actual ways of working as opposed to what their policies and procedures spell out.

Benchmarking against best practices and proposing improvements that include different levels of Industry 4.0 adjustments gives your business a competitive edge. These modifications could include fine-tuning the running of API workflows so data syncs across systems; improving processes through robotics automation; and building machine learning tools that look for data patterns and continuously offer recommendations for improvement.

The last thing a business needs is a strategic plan that leads it down a path no longer relevant, especially in the face of modern industry and the emerging sources of value creation. Corporate strategies come and go, sometimes in the blink of an eye.  That truism has never been more evident in the extensive disruption brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also witnessed in disruptive technologies such as AI, robotics and IoT.  Every corporate strategic plan should be nimble enough to search for and absorb new information on relevant technologies and continuously improve operations to stay ahead of competition and meet market needs.

Once our proposals are adopted, we create individual change projects that are designed and timed to move the organization from its current state to its proposed state. In our experience, this requires the alignment of corporate strategy at the business unit and functional levels.

Business level improvements support your organization’s corporate strategic plan as well as each business unit’s strategic plan. If your corporate and business unit level plans are to grow and meet the needs of your markets while your operational plans remain static, it’s unlikely that your organization is going to achieve its objectives.

Functional improvements in organizational shared services and departments receive improvements that directly support their work processes. When any area of business receives strategic or operational updates, the supporting functions must be one of the first areas of the organization to be informed. Operational excellence in functions such as finance, purchasing, inventory, payroll, HR, and IT are often necessary to accelerate critical pathways.

IMPROVEMENT AS A STRATEGIC FUNCTION

We facilitate these adjustments by attaching CI plans to your strategic planning processes and doing the nitty-gritty work essential to carrying your corporate strategy forward. While many strategic planning engagements are often smaller in scope and center on one aspect of strategy, the CI process bores into all levels of the organization to identify the factors that help or hinder the organization’s ability to make improvements.

Corporate level: While most strategy is performed on a reactionary basis, our approach to corporate strategy is one of continuous improvement, consistently learning about competitive markets and consumer needs, then adjusting in real time.
Business unit level: Moving the corporate strategy forward in a flexible way that continuously improves on operations, while maintaining a sense of team buy-in during periods of adjustment.
Functional level: The often overlooked technical functions of the business, when paired with continuous improvement platforms, staff experience is heard and incorporated into evergreen processes.

At the Corporate Strategy Level, our CI processes ensure that divisions and brands can support the operational aspects of the corporate strategy by first assessing competitive and market environments. An example of this is our involvement was to confirm their ability to speed to market with its new EV line of vehicles. Our first step was to ensure each launch-point country assess their logistics to ensure they could support a rapid market entry. In a step-by-step manner, our CI process moved them from their ‘today’ to their ‘future’ structure.

Business Unit-Level Strategy involves working with divisions to reach a point of self-diagnosis and improvement. As example, too many vendors initiating marketing projects with manufacturers can force business units to add more time and cost in support of each venture. Our approach is having your workflow structures planned out to ensure project execution with speed and efficiency. Vendors need to align with the company’s planned workflow and managers given dashboards and KPI’s to know when activities are exceeding budget or time parameters.

Functional Level Strategy becomes more technical as CI begins to require more detail work than that applied to other strategy levels. Functional strategy involves workflow improvements in departments that are shared resources at headquarters and across all business units. Those functional areas would include such areas as finance, purchasing, inventory, payroll, HR, and IT.

PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS

Process improvement goes by many names such as business process management (BPM), business process improvement (BPI), business process re-engineering, continual improvement process (CIP), to name a few. Regardless of the nomenclature, they all pursue the same goal: to minimize errors, reduce waste, improve productivity, and streamline efficiency. Our role is to identify, analyze, and recommend improvements of existing business processes to optimize performance, meet best practice standards, or simply improve quality and the customer experience.

REVISITING YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

The supply chain is the linchpin for organizational excellence and all areas of the organization have a stake in the efficiency and effectiveness of its supply chain. Yours should include CI measures that increase value through integration, harmonization, logistics, and fluctuations in supply flow.

To decrease time and waste, modern six sigma process improvement techniques using best practice mathematical approaches are applied to service, product, or manufacturing workflows to decrease process variability.  Some six sigma approaches vary on a scale from fully human processes to fully automated processes, and every combination in between. These improvements are focused on decreasing time and waste, while maximizing productivity and value.

Fully human processes: Your processes are highly variable and require several decisions / skills to produce. Communication and empowerment are some of the key factors to create ongoing success.
Mix of humans and automation: Understanding these mixed processes to create just-in-time outcomes for the customer are key to maintaining success. Your strategic values and vision support ongoing productivity.
Fully automated processes: Continuous testing and understanding user experiences are keys to creating ongoing successful outcomes, in an intentional way. Automated processes run the risk of customer leakage, where most organizations are unaware of loss revenue until it’s too late.

While six sigma is focused on operations-level processes, the techniques used in modern lean six sigma can be applied to all other facets of the business including leadership, capacity building, training, and many other organizational areas.

Visualization & Communication: We ensure you continuously improve across all levels and areas of your organization by mapping out your current processes and create Value Stream Maps, Business Process Maps, and other types of architectures to show your current (intentional vs unintentional) processes.
Testing: We test your process maps to discover how your systems are actually working against the ideal that we have mapped out.
Finding Variances: We determine variances from the ideal workflow, areas of waste, types of waste, and cost of waste and chart these issues on a normal curve.  From there we are able to determine the number of variances from the ideal workflow, called the “sigma”.

AGILE OPERATIONS

Agile operations is where modern six sigma and lean form a foundation for improved excellence in processes that repeat over time. Agile borrows from modern IT concepts to introduce deployable tools that teams can use to accelerate efficiency. Best used in medium- to long-term projects or frequent team interfaces that seek to maximize time, agile can deliver higher quality results in shorter intervals.

Similar to lean management, Agile is based on a Kanban structure that becomes more multifaceted depending on the complexities of the project. Projects are broken into phases and each phase has a number of actions that must move forward to complete the phase. Sometimes these projects and workflows are moving simultaneously and at other times, sequentially.

We work with project teams and team leaders to develop specific roles in project teams, most importantly, the Agile Coach and Scrum Leader. The AC helps to monitor and coach teams and helps them adhere to the Kaban structure.  As example, teams having multiple deadlines on the same day can find it difficult to move activities forward. We create “sprints” by forming mini-teams to move activities through the process in an accelerated manner.
Depending on your organizational goals, we support, act as, or create the role of the Scrum Leader, an individual inside of the project who moves activities around and adjusts actions to keep the sprints moving forward.  This work often involves changes in behavior, such as the frequency, timing, and duration of meetings as well as the agenda items to be reviewed and resolved.

PRODUCTS + R&D

Product and R&D Improvements is a unique, entrepreneurial level of identifying the factors that help or hinder the organization’s ability to make improvements to market needs.  A new world of product improvement systems can create marketplace advantages when product and R&D teams: borrow from the best practices of operations and IT; deliberately seek to incorporate the voices of the customer; and incorporate study to anticipate market demands.  

These meaningful product changes result in new benefits to existing customers and enable the organization to reach and serve new markets. While these initiatives are generally thought to pose risks, data show that using improvement structures actually lower risk while increasing value. 

Our engagement Product and R&D divisions is similar to our work in Agile, but leans heavily toward the Voice of the Customer.  VOC tools such as surveys, market data, and customer understanding are given an elevated role in the process.  What makes our process unique is that our VOC tools include translation aspects that move customer data from scores and inputs to requirements for product features.

Lean management becomes the underpinning of CI when leaders adopt the tenets of continuous improvement and implement them throughout the organization. Teams understand that when projects move uncomfortably fast, improvement is at the end of the tunnel because of the company’s CI orientation. Whether those improvements are investments in current operations or future strategic objectives, when leaders lead with action, teams believe, trust, and are far more likely to buy-in and show commitment.

We help managers communicate and lead in ways that constantly support the organization’s CI efforts. We approach lean management as a behavior change tool, though management focused. Our involvement centers in management training and organizational behavior tools such as internal marketing and train-the-trainer programs.

OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE

Operational Excellence is achieved when continuous improvement creates processes that exceed expectations and 360-degree stakeholder harmony.  Operational excellence is more than just charts and visuals, it is the development of a shared belief in the effectiveness of your operations that both supports and accelerates the strategic vision.

We foster and advance internal belief systems that help leaders champion their CI efforts and help managers discover how best to communicate those efforts. We also formulate incentive structures to support CI initiatives such as encouraging the submission of questions and ideas from all corners of the organization and implementing various tools used to guide and sustain organizational behavior change.

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