Archive for the ‘The organization is the system’ Category

How to define a problem

February 3, 2014

Problems tend to be defined in terms of the pain felt by the organization. Consequently the solutions may relieve the pain or embarrassment only to increase the hidden costs of nonconformity. For example, in order to reduce production costs we must have longer production runs thereby generating expensive inventory.

But system thinking and customer focus can change this for the benefit of customers and the organization’s other stakeholders.

Customer-focused-system-thinking organizations define their problems by describing how they as systems will fail or did fail to fulfill customer needs.

Their problem definitions comprise three parts:

A. The customers’ requirements;
B. The evidence of the system not being able to fulfill customers’ timeliness, affordability and performance requirements (perhaps including the PONC*); and
C. The nature of the problem to be solved.

Example:

A. Customers’ requirements fluctuate at short notice;
B. System resists changing its processes resulting in loss of business and customer loyalty (PONC approx $100k pm); and
C. Unable to fulfill frequent changes in customer requirements due to long lead times.

Note that it is better to blame the system than a person.

And, of course, the problem may be an opportunity.

In this case the system’s problem solving, or problem dissolving, processes result in the actions necessary to change their system. The changes may include mistake-proofed short-run processes that respond fast enough to satisfy customer demand for different products while continuing to deliver quality and value.

You can also define your problems in terms of how your system fails to fulfill customer needs. Not only your customers will benefit, you’ll also create more successful stakeholders.

Risks and innovation

January 19, 2014

In 1979, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky won the Nobel Prize for Economics for their “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”.

This theory shows that we prefer certainty to taking a risk. We see this on auction sites where the “Buy It Now” price is often much higher than the price of similar items sold by auctions. The BIN price may influence the bidding but it is for those of us who are willing to pay more for certainty.

Stable, well-established organizations tend to be risk averse. They place great value on their stability and choose continual improvement instead of innovating. Indeed, most organizations with process-based management systems continually improve their goods, services and processes. Some also go beyond development to design something entirely new.

Sustainable organizations do both; they continually improve and they innovate to find new ways of fulfilling their missions.

Successfully managing risk implies formal largely predicable processes. Being innovative tells us that selected team members interact in an informal free-thinking “sandbox” of collaborative effort. How do process-based organizational management systems help their leaders to manage innovation and the risks inherent to innovation?

First, let us never forget that effective process-based management systems deliver a valuable resource: time. By preventing problems, the management system substantially reduces time wasted on firefighting. The organization has time to innovate. Secondly, remember the leaders who serve to lead. Such leaders remove causes of fear from their systems. Their words and actions earn trust by selflessly taking responsibility for helping employees to understand and fulfill stakeholder needs. In this supportive environment, noble causes can stimulate innovation to find new ways of creating successful stakeholders.

The leader challenges and authorizes the special innovation team that comprises accomplished problem solvers. Unlike capable processes, innovating requires the leader’s patience and to expect to “fail” many times. Of course, knowing what does not work is not really a failure. And so-called failures may be successful in completely unexpected ways. Think Post It Note®.

Innovative teams comprise a mixture of different types of people with a wide variety of talents. Instead of endlessly talking, the team creates prototypes as soon as possible. Prototyping a new service may require a focus group. The team allows for the fact that focus groups usually comprise people who favor certainty. The prototype must impart value by solving a costly problem.

A shared understanding of the costly problem is a vital input to innovating. In bringing the innovation to market (internally or externally), successful organizations decide which innovations yield the greatest benefit to stakeholders. They determine which innovations have the greatest chance of success. The latter stages of innovating show that innovating is a process that really is design rather than development. It is a process that includes such risk assessment techniques as SMEA (Success Modes and Effects Analysis) and FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) before verifying and then validating the design.

Of course, risk has an upside. Nevertheless, risk managers tend to manage risk to avoid loss instead of managing risk to add value. Prospect Theory can help them to understand this. By fully appreciating risk, we recognize and manage both the downside and the upside of our decisions including our decisions to innovate.

In responding to a recognized adverse risk or threat, we use our management system to avoid, accept, transfer and mitigate aspects of the threat. Similarly, we respond to a recognized positive risk or opportunity by using our management system to share, enhance, accept and realize the opportunity.

Knowing Kahneman and Tversky’s Prospect Theory, we can dissolve the fear that would otherwise stop us from making difficult investment decisions. Organizations can enjoy the thrill and rewards of innovation by recognizing the value of taking positive risks that are essential for sustainable organizations to create even more successful stakeholders.

Effectiveness, value then efficiency

December 10, 2013

All of us have a responsibility for achieving more with less. To be more efficient, we experiment to see what works for customers, what nearly works and what does not work.

Organizations should start by studying themselves as systems. Once their leaders understand how their system helps employees to fulfill their mission or not, they think and work differently. They start their efficiency improvement cycles by developing their management system to drive their processes through the walls of silos to focus on customers. Then they can focus on improving the system to deliver what customers value.

Given an environment that supports such thinking, together with our colleagues, we start the experiment by studying customer demand, what customers’ value and waste. We may then set ourselves a hypothesis to test the best way to satisfy value demand and reduce failure demand. We carefully work to our new or updated procedure to see if it is effective. We try again until successful. We institutionalize the successful new process so others in the system can depend on it. This also enables us to improve efficiency further with another cycle of improvement.

Improvement often starts by eliminating the local causes of problems from a process. Perhaps by mistake-proofing the riskiest processes too. But, after several improvement cycles, we find the wider system has the greatest impact, both adverse and beneficial, on our process. System-wide impacts come from other processes in the system. These impacts include the shared organizational beliefs (or culture) that leaders reinforce or weaken with their processes.

When the continual improvement cycle is effective it continues to make the system and its processes more efficient. The speed of this investment should be a result of the calculation of risk and reward on behalf of investors who share the mission for customer value. The management system should deliver the information needed for these risk-reward decisions from the data collected on what customers’ value.

Conformity is necessary for effectiveness and predictable effectiveness is necessary for delivering value and improving efficiency. Predictable outcomes are a mark of effective processes and systems. “Luck” best describes an organization happening to fulfill a requirement with an unknown process or system.

Start by understanding your organization as a system. How does it help your organization to fulfill your mission? What are the leadership processes? Be prepared to think and work differently. Start your efficiency improvement cycles by developing your management system so it is process-based leaving no silos. Then focus on improving your system and its processes to deliver what your current and future customers value.

Is quality the cheapest option?

November 1, 2013

Some of us instinctively think quality products should cost more. But by removing the costs of nonconformity, quality products actually cost less to produce. Nonconformity, by the way, is a failure to meet the requirements including the requirements of customers. Some managers pay the price of nonconformity instead of making quality a reality for employees and customers.

At the normal 2 or 3 sigma, the price of nonconformity is 40% of turnover. Many times the level of profit for most organizations. Leaders may not need to measure these avoidable costs to eliminate the causes of failures to meet requirements from their systems. They may even help their suppliers to remove these avoidable costs too.

But more product verification will not help because it is too late. Inspection or testing merely sorts bad product from good product. Therefore, verification of the product is part of the price paid for failing to design capable processes. Capable processes are validated to result in products that need no inspection or testing.

Accordingly, we work to make sure our organizational management systems help employees and suppliers to add value for each customer. Adding value faster while preventing loss sooner. Having prevented nonconformity in our goods, we should also design the service part of our products so we avoid paying the price of service nonconformity too.

Leaders, who choose to avoid paying the price of nonconformity, invest in their process-based organizational management systems so more work is right the first time. They discover that buying and delivering quality costs a lot less than the alternatives. What’s more, in markets, where quality rarely is delivered, customers may be willing to pay a little more to have their requirements fulfilled exactly.

Even so, “quality is free” because it is cheaper to buy and deliver quality than not. Here we see the cost of quality at its lowest when the product exactly meets the requirements of the customer:

Earlier versions of these cost of quality curves mistakenly showed costs tending to infinity with perfection. The old curves showed perfection is not quality. Thankfully, in 1999, these curves were corrected to accord with reality and Crosby’s 1979 definition of quality. Of course, by then Taguchi had also showed that any deviation from the requirement increases costs to society.

In summary, managers of quality prevent nonconforming products to assure quality and satisfy customers. They govern their organizational management systems for creating more successful customers by making and keeping more competitive promises. Tomorrow’s managers of quality will also be focused on sustainability for all by creating more successful stakeholders.

As we can see, designing and producing quality remains the cheapest sustainable option.

Sustainable Efficiency

October 8, 2013

“Designed in California and Made in China” or “Designed in Cambridge and Made in China”.

What do these source declarations reveal? Do they show the companies optimized their inputs for sustainable outcomes to create stakeholder success?

Efficiency can be shortsighted and remorseless. Since the 1980s, developed economies have exported jobs to take advantage of much lower wages. Outsourcing to factories based thousands of miles from customers in the name of efficiency. Considering only the wage costs and the transportation costs can result in half-baked decisions to offshore manufacturing.

What could go wrong? Chasing efficiency with incomplete reasoning is not true efficiency. Sustainable efficiency is much more complicated. Sustainable organizations work to ensure their business networks to address the needs of all stakeholders.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation soon found their costs were higher than they had hoped. Their shoestring venture had to make and sell 10,000 computers at $50 each before ordering another 10,000 units. So many units had failed to meet requirements that the Foundation had to pay for quality control oversight in China to get computers as designed. Nonconformity costs had threatened to sink the fledgling venture.

The Cambridge-based Foundation went back to the drawing board to continue their reasoning and costing including the nonconformity costs. They then opened a Raspberry Pi factory in Britain. Run by Sony, British workers are expertly baking these tiny educational computers in Wales.

The Foundation has now sold 1.75 million basic little computers but it cannot stop improving. The educational computer outstrips the computing and programming skills of their teachers. Many of whom have not ventured far beyond their tablets or packaged software programs.

By engaging more stakeholders to understand their needs, we may see a sustainable future for the Raspberry Pi enthusing future engineers of computers, software and the web. Moreover, failing to recognize and meet stakeholder requirements the first time will probably decrease overall efficiency.

How do I develop my organization’s management system?

August 5, 2013

As Quality Manager recognize that your organization already operates according to its management system. Recognize that quality is primarily the responsibility of the people doing the value adding work. Also recognize that an individual’s performance is largely determined by the system in which that individual works.

Understand the organization as a system. Define the scope of the system. Assess its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Determine system objectives. Analyze what the organization does with its suppliers and customers to turn customer needs into cash in the bank. Determine the cross-functional key processes from the core process and as necessary to sustain and direct the core process. Assign and brief the process owners.

Analyze or design the key processes and their interactions. Obtain feedback (reality check or feasibility check) from the process teams. Incorporate feedback in the process descriptions (procedures). Correct minor nonconformities within two weeks (and issue corrective action requests for any remaining nonconformity). Train process teams in their new processes and in any new controls for existing processes.

Train leaders to run the management system awareness sessions so employees can see they are committed to requirements coming from customers, regulators and their management system. Have them promise management system performance reports.

Facilitate improvements of the system, its processes and products. Audit the management system for how well it helps employees to determine and meet requirements. Facilitate reviews of management system performance with top management so they initiate the changes necessary for their management system to improve the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Monitor top management’s engagement of employees in the use and improvement of their process-based management system to fulfill the organization’s purpose or mission.

Thriving instead of just surviving

July 4, 2013

Thriving companies make effective use of resources to create successful customers. Zombie companies earn just enough to pay the interest on their debts. Low interest rates allow zombie companies to exist without investing in new products, processes and their management systems. As interest rates rise, the zombie companies will disappear unless they act now.

How do companies stop surviving and start thriving in this economy?

Refocus on your mission:

Your company’s mission is the reason your company exists. It is the system’s purpose. Cutting everything by 20% or more may be instinctive but without regard for the mission, it will put the system, your company, into a death spiral.

Instead, be creative. Your core process (from customer needs to cash in the bank) is mission critical. Determine the vital few changes that will yield most of the efficiency improvements.

Study your marketing and selling process. Perhaps you can go viral via social networks to explain clearly how your company creates successful customers. Study your innovation process. Do you fully understand, from the customer’s point of view, each of their objectives? Then design creative solutions with superlative service (see below) to help each customer to fulfill their objectives. Sell the value as seen by each customer but do not cut prices. Use your management system to improve efficiency and reduce costs but do not offer discounts.

Superlative customer service:

Companies often focus their management systems on tangible goods. Indeed, for nearly three decades, accredited registrars have encouraged their system certification clients to ignore their service design processes!

Leaders know that superlative customer service can influence each customer to buy on value instead of price.

Study your product design process. Ensure it designs the whole experience the customer has with your company. Engage your employees in the redesign of their interactions with customers by analyzing the customer’s experiences as they are. Agree upon the service changes so they are as they should be from the customer’s perspective. Make this new process part of your management system by changing the affected processes such as training, selling and maintaining the computer network. Continually improve the customer experience with your management system.

By engaging your employees in the redesign of their interactions with customers, you inspire them so they help your company to thrive again.

Serving the People to Lead the Organization

May 26, 2013

Live and work to serve the people. This is the vital but rarely mentioned part of any effective management system. Servant leaders live and work this way. They foster a community that shares commitment to the needs of others. Indeed, servant leaders are selfless. They put themselves last. They put first the interests of the community, so their organization can make a positive difference. Next, they put the well-being and interests of the people who rely on them. Last, and last all the time, they consider their own interests.

What are the other attributes of the leaders who serve to lead?

Servant leaders understand the power of their organization as a system. They take responsibility for their system. They ensure their organizational management system is responsive to the needs of stakeholders. They consider the needs of employees, customers, suppliers, owners and others affected by the organization. A servant leader does not blame others for the poor performance of their system. They make followers less fearful of speaking up; however unpopular the truth may be.

Servant leaders ensure departments collaborate effectively. Their management system is cross-functional or process-based. Such systems enable organizational learning of future opportunities. Such systems also reduce the associated adverse risks. Servant leaders persuade, monitor and coach users to show respect for the requirements. They also show their respect for the organizational management system. They ensure it is improved and changed as necessary to enable the organization to improve its performance for stakeholders.

Servant leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. They understand that their team members have innate strengths and weaknesses too. They ensure process teams blend the different strengths of individuals for shared success. They nurture the personal, professional and spiritual growth of individual team members so individuals can make the best use of their talents.

Servant leaders are able communicators. Their systems gather data. After data analysis, information helps with effective decisions. Servant leaders actively listen and encourage active listening by decision-makers. Servant leaders also observe and seek to understand the needs of any silent stakeholders.

Servant leaders see beyond the limits of their organization with respect for customer needs and the needs of other stakeholders. Servant leaders focus on long-term organizational change. They develop future leaders so their organization continues to enable success for the stakeholders.

Servant leaders exemplify, align and share the behaviors, ethics and values of their organization. Their inspirational organizational culture creates and sustains a healthy work environment. It is integral to the holistic management system that is conducive to quality in everything the organization does.

How do I measure the effectiveness of training?

February 19, 2013

Why do we feel a need to measure the benefits of doing the right thing? We find this in quality costing too. Most quality costing is about the cost benefits of keeping promises instead of the cost benefits of making the promises valued by customers. Likewise, we need to do enough of the right thing the right way with our organization as a system to fulfill our collective objectives of creating (and keeping) more successful customers.

People, of diverse innate abilities, benefit in different ways from education and training. Some employees benefit immediately from the formal education and training. Others benefit more from workplace experiences following the education or training. Moreover, we all benefit from a process-based management system that helps us to determine requirements and coordinate our work to fulfill requirements.

Taking the individual out of the system, one could measure the abilities, skills and knowledge of each individual before and after the training session. However, we cannot change the innate abilities of anyone and the slower learners from workplace experiences may be marked down. This is not to mention the contributions or impediments of the leaders and the rest of the system.

Diverse process and project teams comprising individuals of different strengths and weaknesses help each other to fulfill objectives. Managers wisely play to the strengths of their people and avoid exposing their weaknesses. We cannot make everyone the same like robots.

What counts is competence of the individual, the process, leadership and the system of which all three are part. Therefore, we have to optimize the system (parts that work together) so it adds value faster and prevents loss sooner. $ per millisecond may be the ultimate metric appearing on the dashboard for all to see as a smoothed moving average.

Justifiably Confident Leaders

July 27, 2012

Quality, it can be said, is about making and keeping competitive promises that result in more successful stakeholders. Indeed, this is the basis for quality coming from individuals, processes and organizations that meet requirements.

Never question the commitment of senior managers; only their ability to show their commitment to requirements by what they say and do. Recognize that they can feel uncertain, embarrassed or powerless talking about quality leading to actions that may send the opposite message to that intended.

Leaders tend to avoid talking about quality, or showing their commitment to requirements, unless:

A. They agree on what exactly quality means to them and those who rely on them;
B. They have the means to manage quality proactively with their process-based organizational management system; and
C. They know how their organization works as a system to deliver quality.

Once you have A, B and C in place then run an awareness leaders workshop for them. Do not proceed with the workshop unless all three aspects are in place. For example, take action to deliver B if the management system attempts to deliver quality by overreliance on product inspection.

This workshop enables the leaders to develop their message and prepare to explain how their management system brings obligations and benefits as it helps employees and suppliers to determine and meet requirements.

Once suitably equipped and prepared as recommended above, the leaders should feel confident enough to visibly demonstrate their commitment to quality and remove causes of doubt and fear every day of the week.

Before this the leaders will remain unsure about quality and their organization’s ability to keep its promises.