As a believer in taking the medicine I prescribe I’m always on the look out for opportunities to develop and improve my skills. Hence I recently attended an event at Midlands Excellence where Julian Beaney led a very informative morning discussing the various business efficiency tools in common use.

I admit to being a bit of a cynic about putting all my eggs in one basket when it comes to delivering improvements. I’ve seen too many people try and blind their customers with science by slavishly following a set route rather than remembering what the aim of the task is. Hence I was also very interested to see what other practitioners would say about the various tools.

We participated in a number of very telling exercises, one of which was to write down in groups what we knew or had heard about a number of tools – Lean, Six Sigma, Process Mapping and Kiazen.  There were some predictable views on the tools – Six Sigma being seen as hard and mathematical, Lean as only really working in manufacturing.

What was very interesting was the list we developed when Julian asked for what we would look for in an efficiency tool. Among our requirements were that it must eliminate waste, inefficiency and stop people feeling like they are banging their heads against a brick wall. Also that the tool must involve the whole organisation and that buy-in must be obtained to make real changes. This also meant that the tool must be easy to communicate throughout an organisation.

We were also asked to draw up a list of problems we saw with using an efficiency tool. One fundamental problem we identified was that the organisation has to admit that it has a problem and then have the will to do something about it. Making changes can be hampered by IT systems and processes and by failing to make sure that KPIs are included in the measurement of the changes. The old saying involving horses and water came to mind.

Julian and some of their delegates then shared some of their experiences in real life efficiency improvements, the key points of which were

  • Make sure everyone involved understands what you are trying to achieve and that they will support the work that is being undertaken.
  • It’s vital to involve the right people and to spend time explaining what you are doing. They will be your best advocates for any changes that you make
  • Make sure that documents you develop are shared and updated as necessary, not put on a shelf and forgotten. Displaying process maps on the wall was given as a simple way of doing this
  • Everyone in the organisation should understand the purpose of the work being undertaken, even though they are not involved. Secrecy breeds distracting rumours and fears which increase resistance to change
  • The tools you use can vary as long as they all work towards the same objective. You’ll have succeeded when you’ve cured the headaches!

I was glad to see that others agreed with a more pragmatic, pick and mix approach!

What efficiency tools do you find to be successful?

Are there any powerful combinations you’d recommend or avoid?

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