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Monday, January 13, 2014

Workspace and Productivity

In my book "The Manager's Guide for Effective Leadership" I stress the importance of giving people control over the processes they are responsible for in order to increase productivity. Of course it’s necessary to train people in the management of processes and to establish boundaries for what they can control before they are set free to control their own processes. There is another parameter that management controls that can increase or stifle productivity. That is the work space of the workers. The December 2013/January 2014 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an excellent article by Joshua Brustein on the modern workplace that is worth reading. This post borrows from that article and from my own personal experience as a worker. Brustein’s article is questions posed by Burstein and answered by several experts on work place issues. I will quote some of the material in the answers without reference to the questions that stimulated the answers.

Jim Harter, Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well-being at Gallup provides data cited in the article that establishes the importance of paying attention to the work space of workers. Harter says that data his organization has collected shows that only 30% of people are engaged at work, 52% do only the minimum required and 18% are actually working against the objectives of their organization. Harter cites a number of things managers must do to increase the percentage of workers that are engaged; most of which I covered in my book. One that I did not cover is the importance of personal workspace and the feelings of ownership in the tools associated with people’s work and workspace. Reviewing how I felt about workplace tools and space during my career may help guide aspiring managers in addressing this important issue that is often neglected.

In my earliest jobs as a lab technician I was assigned a set of tools and a tool box to contain them. They were “mine” as long as I had the job but I was responsible for returning every tool and the tool box when I left the job. These tools were used every day in doing the work I was assigned and it’s easy to see why I considered these tools “mine” even though they belong to the organization. If I loaned one of my tools to a co-worker I made sure I got it back. If other workers had felt free to use my tools without my permission I would have become upset and less engaged due to the perceived outrage against me.

Later in my career as an executive I had a private office with desk, chairs, phone, my personal secretary and the freedom to decorate the office as I saw fit within the bounds of decency. Sometimes I did add things to my office to make it more personal and sometimes I did not. However, in all cases I felt that the office was “mine”, to be used only by me or with my permission. If these implied rules had been violated I would have diverted my energies from my work to correcting the violation of my implied rules just as I would have hunted down anyone who borrowed one of my tools without permission when I was a lab technician.

After retirement I worked part time as a consultant for a number of years. In many of these jobs I would be given a workplace and a computer or access to a shared computer. In some jobs I would have a workspace with a computer that was “mine” and access to shared computers for email that could not be accessed with my workspace computer due to security concerns. I mention this arrangement because of the comments by Tom Eich, Partner at IDEO. Eich says private offices are no longer economically viable so that either open-plan offices or shared workspaces are the new norm. Also the growing practice of working much of the time at home makes it desirable to have shared workspace and tools such as computers and phones for use when workers are in the organization’s facility. He says people accept these arrangements as long as they have personal storage and have access to a dedicated desk or workspace when they need it.

The message for managers is that attention must be paid to the relationship of workers to their workspace in order to maximize the engagement and thereby the productivity of the workers.  It is important to assign each worker personal storage space at the least and to allow workers to treat desk space and other associated work tools as their own even if these are only assigned temporarily to the worker. In principle workers like to have control of their workspace and tools as well as their processes. The more the workers feel in control of their processes, workspace and tools the more likely they are to be fully engaged in their work. If they feel management or co-workers are not respecting their “ownership” of their processes, workspace and tools then energies are diverted from the objectives of the organization toward fixing the perceived ownership issues.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

30 Finish and Implement Your Action Plan

We last addressed your leadership action plan at the end of the review of lectures 11-16. If you are a diligent student you have been very busy working on the actions you defined for yourself up to that point. That is why you have not been asked to update your plan as you studied lectures 17 – 29. Now it is time to go back to your plan.
First, conduct an assessment of how well you are doing implementing your action plan. Are you making reasonable progress on every item? If so, you deserve a pat on the back. Are there planed actions that you have found difficult to implement? If there are, go back to the lecture that gave rise to the difficult actions and review the lecture to see if you are missing anything in your implementation efforts. Are there any actions you have dropped? Reevaluate your reasons for dropping these actions. It may be that you just deferred some actions to put more effort on others. It may be time to pick such actions up again. It may be that you decided you didn’t really need to work on some actions. Think again about these actions and see if you made wise decisions. After asking and answering these questions assess whether you are ready to implement more actions or if you need to continue on your current plan for a while. If you conclude you need to work on your current plan longer before adding more actions then schedule a time when you believe you will be ready to add more actions and put it on your calendar.
Now you are ready to continue to build your plan. Finish your plan now even if you aren’t going to work on new actions for some time. Finishing your plan now helps ingrain what you have recently studied. It is also easier to do when the material in the final lectures is fresh in your mind. A list of 21 questions relating to the material in lectures 17-29 follows to guide you in finishing your plan:
1.     Does your organization compete on a national or global basis?
2.     If so, have you committed to developing an organization with the skills and experience to prevail in competition at this level?
3.     Are your recruiting and training processes robust enough to build the quality of organization you need?
4.     Do you know if your worker’s strengths are well matched to their jobs and if you do, are they?
5.     Are you developing your successor?
6.     Are you managing your time effectively with time allocated for the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of your life?
7.     Are you scheduling your time by the week and following your schedules?
8.     Are you dictating instead of typing where it makes sense?
9.     Are you being effective with people and efficient with other work processes?
10.  Have you learned to listen empathically to your workers, your boss, your family?
11.  Have you structured your organization’s meetings so that you have effective communications with your workers without wasting their time?
12.  Have you organized the work in your organization so that you do not have highly paid workers doing work that could be done just as well by lower skilled and lower paid workers?
13.  Are you managing risks effectively using sound risk management methods in all your organization’s work?
14.  Have you read Goldratt’s books on Theory of Constraints and reviewed your organization’s major processes to ensure the theory isn’t being violated?
15.  Have you committed to self-study of statistical process control or to attending a training course?
16.  Have you committed to training all of your workers in process improvement techniques? (If you are already doing Six Sigma only selected employees need to be fully trained.)
17.  Have you committed to yourself to empower your workers to control and improve their own processes once they have been properly trained? (Be careful with this if your process improvement strategy is Six Sigma and you are training only part of your workers.)
18.  Have you begun continuous process improvement in your organization?
19.  Are you practicing how to think statistically?
20.  Have you stopped asking for explanations of common cause variation in processes in your organization?
21.  Have you stopped inventing explanations for common cause variation in required reporting to your superiors?
By the time you have finished reviewing these questions and adding to your leadership action plan as indicated by your answers you should have a comprehensive plan. It is likely to take several years to fully implement your plan, depending on the state of your management maturity and your organization’s maturity. This is a lot of work but it is well worth it. If you are working in a stable environment and in a culture that allows you to implement your plan you will achieve an organization that is 20 to 30% more effective than when you started. You will be better able to prevail in today’s highly competitive and stressful work environment. You and your workers will be spending less time on crisis management and more time doing high quality work. You will have the time to effectively lead your organization in achieving strategic objectives rather than having to divert time to resolve daily crises. Nearly all will be enjoying their jobs more.
Get busy on your plan and make it work.
If you have completed the study of each posted lecture you may wish to have a hard or electronic copy of this material close at hand. You can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” in hard copy or for Kindle at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review of Lectures 23-29

The first 22 lectures deal with the management functions of staffing, communicating and motivating. The remainder of the lectures deals with selected aspects of control. It is assumed that the student understands methods of cost and schedule control appropriate to the student’s organization. If not, references for self-study are provided in lecture 23. It is critical to understand how to apply the principles of control to different organization types because these principles must be tailored to the organization type and applying them inappropriately results in significant inefficiencies. It is also necessary to understand management accounting, which differs from standard financial accounting, in order to make sound decisions relating to costs of products or services. The three aspects of control discussed in lectures 23-28 relate to processes involved in the day to day work of any organization. These three are risk management, theory of constraints and process improvement.
Risk is the consequence of undesirable events on the work of an organization. Risk is inherent in every type of activity. The objective of risk management is to proactively identify risks and take actions that reduce the probability that an undesirable event occurs and/or reduce the consequence of the event should it occur. Lecture 24 describes a ten-step process for effective risk management and provides templates used in risk management. The primary templates are the risk summary grid, which is useful in the early stages of an activity for communicating risks to managers, customers and the team working the activity and the risk register, which is more useful in day to day management of risks once an activity is underway.
Lecture 25 is a brief overview of the theory of constraints. Understanding the theory of constraints is easier if we think of a process as the combination of supplier, input, process, output and customer, or what is termed SIPOC for the initials of each word. The inputs are transformed to outputs by the process. The activities or processes that any organization performs are a series of SIPOC steps with the outputs of one step being the inputs to the following step. Actual processes are usually complex networks of SIPOC steps but we can understand the theory by examining a simple series of steps. Then it is clear that the output of the overall process cannot occur at a rate any faster than the rate of the slowest step in the process. Applying the theory of constraints should be the first step in process improvement.
Often managers try to keep every worker busy all of the time thinking that is the most efficient way to manage an activity. This can violate the theory of constraints and lead to costly excess work in process and sometimes extra workers to facilitate work in process. It doesn’t matter if the process is a service process dealing with paperwork or a manufacturing process. Applying the theory of constraints minimizes work in process, cycle time and staff size. Some workers may not be busy at all times but this doesn’t lead to extra costs. Rather it creates time for workers to conduct process improvement and opportunities for cross training workers to do more than one step. The student is encouraged to read the referenced books by Eliyahu Goldratt.
Lecture 26 explains that statistical variation is present in the actual values of all parameters relating to an organization’s processes. Measuring this variation and understanding the resulting information is essential to effective management. Managers and workers must know the difference between common cause variation (the manager’s responsibility) and special cause variation (the worker’s responsibility). An activity, the “system” in process improvement language, must be stable, i.e. exhibit only common cause variation, before attempting to improve the process by reducing the variation and/or changing the mean value of a parameter. A system is brought into stability by fixing the special cause variation revealed by data measuring the variation. Control charts are a visual means of evaluating variation to determine common cause and special cause.
Effective process improvement is achieved via several different approaches. Total Quality Management and Six Sigma are two popular approaches proven to be effective. Implementing any effective process improvement approach requires that all or a subset of workers and managers receive comprehensive training in statistical process control. Only after such training should workers, or specially trained facilitators, be empowered to execute process improvement.
Lecture 27 provides guidelines for learning and using statistical methods. Learning to think statistically is discussed and approaches to learning this useful skill are outlined. This lecture also describes two of W. Edwards Deming’s famous experiments and one that I developed that help managers understand variation and how to manage in the presence of variation. The funnel experiment demonstrates dramatically the things that go wrong when inappropriate actions are taken in the presence of variation. The red bead experiment demonstrates how hard workers try to carry out manager’s directions, even when the goals a manager sets are obviously impossible due to the effects of variation. Watching a video of this experiment is an experience beneficial for all managers. It provides vivid demonstration of the “goodness of intent” of most workers and of the damage managers cause via arbitrary, and often unrealistic, slogans and exhortations. The productivity experiment teaches the value of reducing variation.
Lecture 28 concludes the discussion of variation and process improvement by giving some simple examples that illustrate the typical steps in a process improvement activity. Visual tools, including fish bone diagrams, flow charts, work flow diagrams, deployment charts and control charts are described. These examples teach enough of the methodology of statistical process control to enable the student to begin improving simple work processes. It is important for the student to undergo more thorough training before applying statistical methods to complex work processes. Complex processes can have subtleties that are not covered in the simple examples discussed in lecture 28.
Lecture 29 deals with leading the team, which is the main function of an organization’s manager. Developing an effective organization, as described in the first 28 lectures, can be viewed as necessary to free the manager from being so bogged down with problem solving related to personnel or processes that there is no time to lead the organization in achieving its strategic objectives. Key to leading the team is effective planning. Lecture 29 summarizes a planning process called Process Quality Management (PQM) that focuses on the fundamentals of planning. I and many others have found this process effective in helping the manager lead his organization in achieving strategic objectives. PQM facilitates the planning for achieving strategic objectives in a one or two day concentrated session.
There are no exercises for this review session as the last lecture is your most important exercise.
If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” in hard copy or for Kindle at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

29 Leading the Team

Everything discussed up to this point is supportive of the manager’s main function, which is leading the organization in accomplishing its strategic objectives. I have discussed several times how implementing the methods discussed eventually frees the manager from daily firefighting activities thereby making time for more strategic work. An organization of highly motivated workers that are trained and empowered to control their processes will conduct the organization’s normal activities with little oversight from the manager. However, accomplishing an organization’s strategic objectives almost always involves doing some things differently or some new things. The success of the organization depends on accomplishing these different or new things successfully. Ensuring that the organization has the highest probability of success in achieving strategic objectives is the responsibility of the leader. In this lecture I describe a process that helps both the leader and the team achieve an objective involving change from normal practices.
The process was developed and widely used by IBM and others in the 1980s. (See the paper by Maurice Hardaker, and Bryan K. Ward, titled How to Make a Team Work in the journal Harvard Business Review, November 1987, page 112) IBM called the methodology Process Quality Management or PQM. It is fundamentally a planning process in which goals, business processes necessary to achieve the goals and measures to track progress toward goals are identified. What sets it apart and contributes to its usefulness is the focus on fundamentals of planning. Recall the Super Bowl metaphor I used earlier to guide you in developing your action plan. PQM follows a similar pattern.
PQM starts with the leader gathering all of his or her direct reports that are involved in achieving the intended goal in a one or two day planning session. If possible hold this session off site and forbid cell phones and PDAs during the session. The team is typically made up of up to a dozen people that are involved in the business processes associated with the goal. Hardaker and Ward advise not including more than a dozen as a larger team gets unwieldy to manage. It is essential to have all involved people in the planning session and allow no observers or hangers on. It is also preferable that someone other than the organization’s leader facilitate the process so that the team is not constrained by the leader’s preconceived beliefs. The following steps are carried out during the planning session:
  1. The leader introduces the goal and explains why the organization must achieve the goal. The objectives are for the team to understand the goal, to convince the team that the goal is necessary and that they all are required to help achieve the goal. Then the facilitator takes over leadership of the process and the organization’s leader becomes a team member.
  2. Brainstorm to identify possible measures of success. Then narrow the identified measures to six to eight that are both necessary and sufficient. These measures are called the critical success factors. One method for narrowing the list is to post the whole list and ask the team to privately rank them in importance. Comparing and discussing the team’s rankings allows the list to be thinned. Work on the list until all team members agree that the remaining measures are the necessary and sufficient measures. That is, if all measures are achieved then the goal will have been achieved and if any measure is not achieved then the goal will not be achieved.  Consensus is required before proceeding to the next step.
  3. Brainstorm to define the business processes that must be carried out to achieve the measures of success. To avoid getting vague and useless descriptions of business processes follow these rules:
    1. A business process is defined as a verb plus object, e.g. design products.
    2. Each process should have an owner who is responsible for managing or carrying out the process.
    3. The owner should be a member of the team.
    4. No owner should have more than four processes to manage or carryout.
    5. Following a similar process used to define the critical success factors develop a list of business processes that are necessary and sufficient to achieve all of the critical success factors. Again consensus is required from the entire team. Expect to have anywhere from 10 to 20 processes. The preferred approach to developing this list is to prepare a relationship matrix as described next.
  4. Prepare a relationship matrix of critical success factors vs. business processes. An example matrix is shown in figure 30. The example has truncated the number of business processes and critical success factors but it illustrates the approach. Start with the first critical success factor and identify every business process that is necessary and sufficient to achieving this success factor. Work through each critical success factor in turn. Now the list of necessary and sufficient business processes is complete. Typically processes are added and deleted during the preparation of the relationship matrix.
  5. Fill out the last two columns in the relationship matrix. These rank the organization’s capability for each process in the column labeled business process quality and count the number of business processes that apply to each critical success factor. The business process quality ranking are made subjectively as A = excellent, B = good, C = fair, D = poor and E is for processes that don’t currently exist or are embryonic and not enough experience is available to rank them.
  6. The counts and business process quality columns assist in allocating resources for changes to business processes. There are rarely available resources to fully fund every desired change in business processes so some prioritization must be made. These columns are used to guide the assignment of resources to each process. Processes that have a high number of counts and rankings of D or E must have adequate resources. Processes that have counts of only two or three and rankings of B or C can be assigned fewer resources. Processes with A rankings and counts of only one or two may need little or no additional resources.
  7. Affirm responsibility for each business process to its owner. The objective is to have every team member agree that they are responsible for one or more business processes and, most important, any necessary changes to the processes. Make sure team members understand their responsibility and know how they are going to approach any necessary changes.
  8. Define and get agreement on a plan to monitor the status of work on the activities and progress on the critical success factors. Depending on how the new work relates to normal work monitoring may occur automatically via existing information systems or it may require special meetings or it may be done as part of normal staff meetings.
  9. If it is not possible to get all team members comfortable with their next steps during the one or two day session then schedule follow up meetings with individual team members that might be needed to clarify details of their new assignment.

Figure 30 A simplified example relationship matrix of business processes vs. critical success factors.
Having a well-developed plan is only the beginning. Carrying out the plan is the real work and success is usually dependent on persistence in this work. It typically takes a year or more to achieve significant goals. If your plan is expected to take more than a year it is wise to review your plan after a year. Conditions may change and any pertinent changes need to be integrated into your plan. If achieving the goal is essential to the success of the organization then it is essential that the organization’s manager lead the team during work on achieving the goal. Don’t delegate this responsibility. Delegate other work to make time for this more important work. Recall the research of Gary Lynn and Richard Reilly cited in lecture 9. Successful developments are three and one-half times as likely to have senior management intensely involved as failed developments.
1.     Review the planning you did for your current efforts toward achieving the strategic objectives for your organization. Did you follow planning fundamentals similar to those outlined in the PQM process?
2.     Do you have a strategic objective or goal for your organization that would benefit from using the PQM process to achieve organizational alignment?
3.     Is your organization in the process of striving toward a major goal and having difficulties making progress? If so consider carrying out a PQM planning session.
4.     Are there barriers that prevent you and your reports from holding a PQM planning session for critical strategic objectives?
5.     What can you do to remove these barriers?

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” in hard copy or for Kindle at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

28 B Example: Improving the library process

In most cases the largest cause in a Pareto chart is the first target for improving a process. However, in this example the students aren’t complaining about the time they spend in the stacks. The students’ primary complaint is about the second shortest step in the overall process. Based on these observations the process improvement team decides to divide the problem into two pieces. First they will determine if they can reduce the amount of data required for the checkout process, thereby addressing the main complain of the students, and second they will analyze the process in more detail to see if the overall time can be shortened without major investments in new equipment or facilities.
Examining the rational for requiring the student’s local and home addresses for checking out books determined that this policy traces to the era before the college established computer databases of student information and the use of student ID numbers. It was incorporated into the checkout software just because it was part of the process at the time the software was introduced. Therefore the team checked to ensure they could get access to a student’s addresses if they had a student’s name and ID number. Confirming that they could they dropped this requirement from the checkout process and modified the library’s policy documentation to reflect this change. All librarians and assistant librarians were notified that student address data is no longer to be collected.
The team examined the raw data collected on the individuals using the library to see if any additional insight might be gained on the process. This led to discussions with the assistant librarian that collected the data.  The discussions revealed that if a student returned to the catalog after being in the stacks then each of the times the student spent waiting for the catalog computer, using the computer or searching the stacks were added together. For example, if a student returned to the catalog computer three times then the total time using the catalog computer is the sum of the three independent times. Examining the raw data indicates that about 50% of the students return to the catalog more than once and about 25% return three or more times. Discussions with students returning to the catalog computer more than once showed that these students were noting only one book at a time when doing a catalog search. They then go to the stacks, examine the book and if it doesn’t have the information they need they return to the catalog computer, repeat the search and examine the next most likely book.
Based on this new information the team concluded that the instructions for using the catalog are inadequate, possibly explaining why 81% of those surveyed found the instructions of little or no use. The team modified the instructions to include recommending that the students note several books from each search that might contain what they need before going to the stacks and examining any of the books. The modified instructions were posted beside the catalog computers and notices were posted reminding the library users that the instructions had changed.
Next the team prepared a work flow diagram and a deployment chart to see if any additional insight into improving the process is provided by either of these tools. Work flow diagrams and deployment charts are items that I have found useful that are not in my 1987 copy of the Memory Jogger. These are based on process flow charts and add information not usually associated with flow charts that helps identify process improvements. For our purposes the definitions of these items are:
        Flowchart- A schematic step by step description of a process. It can be top level or very detailed.
        Work flow diagram- A floor plan of the workspace that includes the movements of people and items involved with the process.
        Deployment Chart- A matrix of process steps and workers showing who is responsible for each step.
Simple examples better explain why these diagrams and charts are useful. Important information for process improvement efforts not included on flow charts is the spatial relationships of steps in the process and who the primary and secondary workers are that are responsible for each step.  This information is provided in work flow diagrams and deployment charts. Examples of these are shown in figures 26 and 27 for the book checkout process.
Figure 26 Work flow diagram for checking out a book.
The work flow in figure 26 shows that this work space can be improved to make the student’s job easier by moving the card catalog closer to the stacks so that students that have to make a second and third trip to card catalog need to take fewer steps. The work space can be improved to make the librarian’s job easier by moving the librarian’s computer closer to where the students bring their books at the checkout station so the librarian doesn’t have to move back and forth to access the computer and work with the student. These improvements are not apparent from just the process flow chart illustrated in figure 21.

Figure 27 Deployment chart for finding and checking out a book. (The rectangles indicate a primary responsibility and the ovals a secondary responsibility for a given task)
The deployment chart shown in figure 27 adds new information to the process description, although in this simple case it doesn’t suggest any improvements to the process. An alternate version of the deployment chart lists process steps under columns labeled with the titles of individual workers involved in the process. In general it is good practice for process improvement teams to start by developing the process flow chart, the work flow diagram and the deployment chart as a first step and to try various forms of these charts and diagrams rather than just preparing a single flow chart before beginning analysis.
Often just putting charts and diagrams on paper suggests simple improvements, as the work flow diagram did for the book check out process. The observant student will have noticed that the description of the library processes is much simpler than what actually happens. For example, the flow chart, work flow diagram and deployment charts lack the loop back to the catalog if the student doesn’t find the information needed in the books examined from the first search of the catalog. If all three charts are developed at the beginning of a process improvement activity it is more likely that missing steps are identified.
Checking the effectiveness of candidate improvements
The process improvement team moved the catalog computer and the checkout computer as suggested by the work flow diagram. They then collected new data for a week to see if these changes and the changes they had made to the checkout process had any impact on the number of complaints received or on the time to find and check out books. The post improvement data is shown in figures 28 and 29.

Figure 28 Post improvement complaint check sheet.

Figure 29 Post improvement times for finding and checking out books.
The post improvement data shown in figures 28 and 29 indicate that the objective of reducing the number of complaints was met and some reduction in the average time to find and checkout books was achieved. Although only a small reduction in time the students spend in the stacks was achieved there is a significant reduction in all other times. The students spend less time in queues and less time providing data to the librarians. Note that the time the librarians spend in processing books is also cut in half. This is attributed to the reduction in time listening to students complaining. The time listening to complaints was also increasing the time students had to wait in the queue for checking out books. The librarians found that they had more time for other work and they were enjoying their jobs more without having to listen to so many complaints.
This example of process improvement contains several lessons learned that are worth listing. These include:
·       Processes are often much more complex in actuality than workers first perceive. This is usually because they think of how the process ought to work rather than how it actually does.
·       First attempts at collecting data often miss key data because of incomplete descriptions of processes.
·       Fixing a problem in one step can often have unexpected benefits in other steps in a process. In the library example eliminating the need for providing unnecessary data to the librarians not only reduced complaints it reduced the times librarians spent in listening to the complaints and the time students spent in queues waiting for free librarians.
·       Processes often contain unnecessary steps due to some past rational that no longer applies.
·       Improving processes almost always makes workers jobs easier and if continued over time can reduce the number of workers required to carry out processes.
Process improvement should be an ongoing effort and if it is the improvement teams build on past work so that their flow charts and data collection become refined with time. The fact that first efforts are not as complete as they might be isn’t important as long as improvement activities continue.
I hope that this example shows how continuous process improvement with trained and empowered workers contributes to higher quality work, more motivated and happier workers and a more effective organization. This is the type of organization that survives and thrives in today’s competitive global environment.
I also hope this example has convinced you to learn statistical process control in more depth. This example is only an introduction to statistical methods. There are different types of control charts that are used for different analyses. These include p charts, np charts, c charts and u charts in addition to the x-bar – R chart used in the library example. In addition to control charts you need to know about run charts and scatter diagrams. The Memory Jogger book recommend in an earlier lecture defines all of these methods.
You may try statistical methods on simple work processes based on what you have learned in this lecture. I must caution you that although that may work well you could cause more problems by trying to apply these simple methods to a process that demands more complex treatment or different analysis than described here. If you have access to someone versed in statistical techniques then go ahead and begin using these techniques but be sure to ask the expert to review your work to ensure the methods apply to the processes you intend to improve.
Since some books and training courses on statistical process control do not discuss work flow diagrams and deployment charts you can learn to prepare these tools by practicing on processes around your home. Develop a flow chart, a work flow diagram and a deployment chart for the activities you engage in from the time you get up in the morning to the time you leave for work. If you are married I don’t recommend trying to get your spouse to change the morning routine based on any process improvement you identify from your charts. You may be judged as having gone a bit overboard.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” in hard copy or for Kindle at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

28A Example Process Improvement Methods

It is the intent of this course to teach the student the value of learning and applying methods of statistical process control for process improvement and encourage the student either to learn these methods via self-study or from a training course. Although it is not the intent to teach these methods in this course giving examples may help the student understand the value of learning and applying them. Therefore this lecture provides simple examples of process improvement methods and tools to enable the student to get a feel for what is involved in process improvement and begin using these methods on simple processes. The lecture is a bit long and requires careful reading because there are a number of important concepts involved and simpler examples would not adequately present these concepts. Read this lecture when you are fresh and can devote time for a tedious but important read.
The example presented here is a college library’s book search and checkout process. Let’s assume that the librarians are receiving complaints that it takes too long to find and check out books. Process improvement shouldn’t have to wait until customers make complaints but complaints can help direct the improvement process. When the librarians first decided that they were getting so many complaints that they should try to fix the problems the head librarian wasn’t convinced that the complaints reflected any real problems. She felt that there might be just a few disgruntled students complaining. Therefore they decided to collect some data over the next week. They used a check sheet to collect the data. Check sheets are used to collect numerical data over a period of time. A check is made on a form or any sheet of paper each time an event of interest is observed. The check sheet resulting from the librarians monitoring of the fraction of library users complaining about any of the library's processes is shown in figure 20.

Figure 20 Check sheet recording the complaints about library service for one week.
Seeing that complaints were being received from an average of 17% of the library’s users the head librarian authorized the librarians to form a process improvement team to try to improve the library’s processes so that complaints would be reduced.
Flowcharting to define the process
The first step for the process improvement team is to conduct a brainstorming meeting to discuss the complaints and plan how to react to the complaints. To help guide the brainstorming meeting the team prepared a flow chart of the library’s process for finding and checking out books. The team’s flow chart is shown in figure 21.

Figure 21 The process improvement team’s flow chart for the process of finding and checking a book out of a library.
A flow chart diagrammatically lists each step in a process in a time ordered sequence. Flow charts establish ownership of process steps, establish boundaries, define key interfaces and define the overall process and thereby ensure that the team has a common understanding of the process in question. Flow charts are most helpful for complex processes where there a lot of decision points, inspection points and loop backs. The charts help clarify what is really happening in a process vs. what might have been planned and the charts are an excellent tool for helping a process improvement team focus its discussion and brainstorming sessions.
There are useful variations on flow charts including listing items under columns labeled Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer in the sequence of the processes forming an overall process. Examining a process several times using different format charts often reveals new insights into the process. Perhaps you can think of even more ways to define the flow of processes in your organization.
Analyzing the process
The team discussed each step in the flow chart to get ideas for what might be the source of the students' complaints. At a brainstorming meeting each attendee is allowed to offer any ideas for the cause of the problems and any ideas for developing solutions. All ideas are recorded first, and then they are discussed to select those that are most promising. Constructing a cause and effect diagram, often called a fishbone diagram, is a good tool for collecting and discussing ideas for the causes of the complaints. A final fishbone diagram for the library’s slow process might look like that shown in figure 22. It helps guide the brainstorming if the possible causes of problem are grouped in four categories. Use the four P’s of Procedures (including Processes), People, Policies and Plant (i.e. buildings and equipment) for four categories of problems in service organizations. Similarly, the four M’s of Material, Methods, Machines, and Man are helpful categories of problems in manufacturing or project organizations that deal with things rather than services. Over time your organization may find other categories that are more useful for your specific organization. A category that is often added is Environment.

Figure 22  Fishbone diagram of potential causes for slow library process.
The next step is to gather data to determine which of the potential causes are the biggest contributors to the students’ complaints. Two approaches are to gather data from the students that are complaining and to gather data on the process itself. Data can be gathered from the students by querying them during checkout and/or by asking them to participate in a survey. Let’s assume the librarians decide to use a survey. They design the survey based on the data in the fishbone diagram. The result is the following list of questions:
1. Do you think finding and checking out a book is?
Fast ____
Ok _____
Too slow ____
 2. Do you think the process is?
Easy ____
Too complex ____
If too complex, what part of the process do you find the most complex?__________________________________________
1.     Are the library’s instructions helpful?___ , Little help?____, No help?_____
2.     Are the librarians helpful?____, Little help?_____, No help_____?
3.     Which step takes you the most time?
a.      Finding desired books in the catalog______
b.     Finding books in the stacks_______
c.      Checking out the books you have found_______
4.     What changes would improve the process for you? __________________________________________________________________________________________________
5.     When you need help from a librarian is there usually one available?  Yes__,No__
6.     Is the library open when you need to get books? Yes____, No_____
Let’s assume that 100 surveys are collected and analyzed. The finding might look like the following: (Note numbers won’t add up as some students won’t answer all questions.)
1. Do you think finding and checking out a book is?
Fast __5
Ok __10
Too slow __85
 2. Do you think the process is?
Easy ____12
Too complex ____84
If too complex, what part of the process do you find the most complex? 65 said the having to give too much data to the librarians; 10 said finding books in the catalog and 4 said finding books in the stacks.
3. Are the library’s instructions helpful? __11, Little help? _73, No help? _8
4. Are the librarians helpful?__92, Little help?___6, No help___1?
5. Which step takes you the most time?
a. Finding desired books in the catalog___25
b. Finding books in the stacks_____40
c. Checking out the books you have found___32
6.What changes would improve the process for you?___74 said having to provide just student name or name and ID number to the checkout librarian, 10 said adding more catalog computers, 5 gave miscellaneous answers and 6 gave no answers.
 7. When you need help from a librarian is there usually one available? Yes_87, No_10
 8. Is the library open when you need to get books? Yes__86, No___12
It is clear from the results of the survey that the biggest source of complaints is having to give the student’s name, local address and home address each time a book is checked out, as required by the library’s policy and the checkout software. The students recommend having to provide only their name or their name and student ID number. The library is open when most students need it open and the librarians are available and helpful for most students. Similarly, finding books in the catalog and in the stacks take time but are not problems for most students.
The survey provides useful information but the librarians must analyze the process, implement candidate improvements and check the effectiveness of the candidate improvements. Analyzing the process means establishing measurement points, collecting data and checking the collected data to see if the actual time data correlates with the students’ complaints.
During the time the surveys were being collected an assistant librarian timed students as they performed the different tasks involved. These times were collected for 85 students. The total times were analyzed in 15 samples of 5 students each and the average total times of each sample of 5 were plotted in a control chart called an “X bar- R” chart. (There are mathematical reasons for working with averages of subgroups, which you will learn in your more comprehensive studies of statistical methods.) X-bar stands for the average of each sample group and R stands for the range in value of the sample. The resulting chart is shown in figure 23.

Figure 23 X bar-R chart for total process times for 15 sample groups of 5 students each.
The upper control limit is calculated from the equation UCL= X bar + 0.577R bar and the lower control limit from LCL= X bar- 0.577R bar. (The parameter 0.577 is specific to sample averages of 5 items per sample group and would be different if more or less than 5 items are in the sample group. Books on statistical process control, like the Memory Jogger, list the equations and parameters needed to develop control charts.)
The control chart in figure 23 tells the librarians that the overall process is stable, i.e. it exhibits only common cause variation. Therefore they can make changes to the process and be assured that changes in the average times are due to their changes and not something else going wrong. Had there been points above the UCL and/or below the LCL the process would have special cause variation and the effect of any changes couldn’t be reliably attributed to the change.
Knowing they have a stable overall process the process improvement team examined the average times of the various steps in the overall process. The results are shown in table provided in figure 24. Note that before making any changes to any step in the process it is necessary to examine the control chart for that step to ensure the step is stable as well as the overall process. For this example we assume each step is stable.

Figure 24 Table of average times for each step in finding and checking out a book
The timed process data provides further insight into the students’ complaints. They complain that the process is too slow and complex and they identify having to provide too much data to the checkout librarian as their biggest contributor to their complaints. The data suggests that having to supply the personal data is irritating rather than taking too much time. The largest contributor to the total average time is the time spent in the stacks and the students did not complain about this time.
A Pareto chart is a bar graph with the data ordered from left to right so that the largest is on the left, the second largest next, etc. This chart helps a process improvement team focus on the problem to solve first. Using the data table in figure 24 prepare a Pareto chart of the data. Your result should look like figure 25.

Figure 25 A Pareto chart for the times of each step in the overall process.
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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

27 B The Productivity Experiment

There is another experiment that I developed that helps managers in charge of processes for which a high throughput is important to the effectiveness of the organization.  This experiment is a game that teaches the impacts of variation and work in process on effectiveness and profitability.
The game is for two teams each with an equal number of players and a team leader. It is adaptable to two to about 20 trainees, it can be generic or specific to a process and there can be multiple levels of sophistication, although only one level is described here. This level treats variation and work in process inventory but ignores inventories of raw materials and finished goods and ignores the effects of lot size. Students can modify the game to include these effects if the effects are important to training in their organization. This description assumes ten or fewer trainees with two as team leaders and the others as workers. Workers role dice and move items representing work from process to process. Leaders verify workers results, record data, calculate throughput and work in process inventory. If there are more than ten trainees they are given assignments as production control, inspectors, supervisors or finance workers and take over the leader’s roles in the game appropriate to these titles.
 One leader gets to choose between two processes with the same average throughput. One process has high capacity, but relatively high variation, and the other process has lower capacity but also lower variation. The other gets the left over process. The game is played by rolling dice that determine the throughput of each step in a process that has a step for each worker on a team. The game is played in cycles with a cycle being one turn at rolling the die for each worker on the team. Three cycles are usually sufficient to demonstrate the principles.
The high capacity team gets a die with numbers 1 to 6 so that its average throughput is 3.5 but the variation can be from 1 to 6. If the game is played for three cycles this team’s overall process has a capacity equal to the number of cycles times the largest die number, or 18. Capacity is defined as the maximum possible through put if each worker rolls the largest number on each turn.
The low capacity team gets a die with only the numbers 3 and 4 so that its average through put is also 3.5 but the variation is only from 3 to 4. (Equivalently, use a regular die but rolling 1, 2, or 3 is counted as a 3 and rolling a 4, 5, or 6 is counted as a 4.) The capacity of this team’s overall process for three cycles is 12 compared to 18 for the high capacity team’s overall process. Each team starts with a pile of chips that represent items of work. The objective is to move as many items from the first step through the entire process for delivery at the end and to have as few chips as possible left stranded as work in process (WIP) inventory.
Each team gets the same amount of input items for its process and gets “paid” according to its total production, i.e. sum over the number of cycles of the number of output items at the end of each cycle. However, each team is charged with the cost of WIP inventory, i.e. the sum over the cycles of the number of items that are still in the intermediate steps of its process when each cycle is over.
When a player rolls a die a number of items equal to the die result are moved through that player’s step in the process. E.g. if the first player rolls a three then three items are moved through the first step to the second step. If the second player rolls a two then two items are moved to the third step but if the second player rolls a four only three items are available to be moved. After each team has completed the same number of cycles the game is stopped and the financial results are calculated.
I have found that the typical manager that is oriented toward high productivity chooses the high capacity process in spite of its higher variation and is then amazed when his team gets soundly beaten because of both low production and all the work in process the high variation produces. It is easy to see how this happens. The production is equal to the number of cycles times the throughput of the last worker in the process. The low capacity team has a throughput of at least three per cycle whereas the high capacity can easily be limited to a throughput of only one or two if any of the workers rolls a one or two during a cycle. Thus the lower variation of the lower capacity team overcomes the lower capacity and usually results in higher total production. The lower capacity team’s lower variation results in WIP for each cycle being one, if the first worker rolls a four or zero if the first worker rolls a three. The higher capacity team can have WIP for each cycle of as much as five if the first worker rolls a six and any subsequent player rolls a one.
This game is a good introduction to teaching process improvement, just in time inventory and theory of constraints to managers responsible for processes in which throughput is important. Although the game was designed for a manufacturing process it doesn’t matter whether the items moving from step to step are manufactured items or paper products in a service organization. In both organizations processes with high variation result in both reduced throughput (efficiency) and excess work in progress. Therefore reducing variation has a high payoff even without changing the mean throughput capability of any step in the process, including the constraining step. This is not obvious to many workers or managers until they experience the results of the game described above.
Exercise 3
Try the productivity experiment yourself. You can play the roles of each of the workers on each of the teams. For example use a spreadsheet with a column for each worker plus a column for throughput per cycle and a column for WIP inventory per cycle. Each cycle is assigned three rows, one for the result of rolling the die, one for the throughput and one for the WIP inventory. Try four workers per team and carryout three cycles as described. You will find that the process with a capacity of 12 and variation of 3 or 4 typically achieves production of 9 and WIP of 3 or less for three cycles. The process with capacity of 18 and variation of 1 to 6 typically achieves production of less than 9 and WIP of 6 to 8 for three cycles.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” in hard copy or for Kindle at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at: