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Showing posts from February, 2013

Continuous Improvement: The Need for Better Questions

One of the discussions I find myself in on a regular basis is around the quality of questions. Depending on what kind of question you ask can affect the type of answer you will receive.
Intuitively this makes sense but, from the conversations I have, does not appear to be a common practise.
An area where this type of situation often arises is during meetings about continuous improvement projects. When there is a lack of clarity around a subject we often accept the answers we receive and act upon them accordingly, as if they were the gospel. By reflecting upon both the question and the answer and how you feel about both elements will help you to determine whether a better question needs to be asked.
We can tighten the focus of our questions, or we can relax them.
We can ask open ended questions, or clarify specifics with closed questions.
We can shorten or lengthen the time period the question refers to.
We can include or exclude factors from our questions to alter the perspectives of…

What’s Your System Discipline Like?

In last month’s update we discussed having a healthy business information system, and how we need to ensure that the information in the system is correct, either through a better understanding of why the system needs to operate in a certain manner, or through better training. Following on from this is the need to establish specific disciplines, or habits, that make keeping a healthy business information system in place easier.
There are number of methods to help you put in place the habits needed to operate you business systems. Most of these ideas (whether visual, team based or electronic) require some form of defined routine to give them direction. If you think back to your school time table you will recall that people knew where they needed to be at what time, and what the subject was. I’m not suggesting that your team needs to endure the absolute rigidity of a timetable like this, but some form of structure about what tasks / processes need to happen and when can do a lot to help…

Don't Deliver on the 37th of the Month!

One of my clients used to joke about their business delivering on the 37th of the month, meaning that they missed their end of month delivery dates by several days.
I still smile when I think of this phrase, especially when I am helping new clients overcome their scheduling issues.
A lumpy order book that isn't managed properly is one of the main causes I have found to affect on time delivery performance. The fix isn't too difficult either, spend some time to reschedule the order book so that you can give your customers a realistic delivery plan going forwards.
Slightly more tricky is ensuring your business doesn't get back into the same position by changing how you accept work into your order books in the first place.
This is something we discuss in 'Business Process Re-Engineering', available on Amazon, and a great place to start if your on time delivery performance isn't where it should be.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Time Management Idea - Flipping In Trays

I had an interesting chat with a friend of mine, David Hicks, about working in office environments the other
day.
We were discussing how in trays can hide all manner of work and I was saying how they needed to be flushed on a regular basis.
David however offered a nice and simple solution to the problem. When certain members of his team weren't progressing with their work as expected he would periodically go to their in tray and invert the stack of work in the pile. This was done with the person present, so that it wasn't an underhand trick. So, the work that was tucked away at the bottom of the in tray would now be at the top and have an increased chance of being worked upon.
Unmanaged in trays were the inspiration for the front cover of the 'Office Productivity' book (see image to the right) and if you have any ideas on this specific theme then please let me know!


Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Visual SOPs - now available on Amazon Kindle

Standard Operating Procedures (or SOPs for short) are a great tool for managing processes and actually
improving a business' productivity.

From the many questions I have been asked over the years, and via this blog, I thought it was time to put pen to paper.

Just released on the Amazon Kindle platform, 'Visual SOPs' looks at these instructional documents from a slightly different perspective - how do I integrate my SOPs with my team's day to day working so that they actually become useful?

The book also comes with five downloadable files / templates to use in your own business.

For more information, visit the 'Visual SOPs' page on Amazon (opens www.amazon.com).



Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Do You Know How Much Effort is Required

When we have a range of business improvement ideas available to us we need to be able to discriminate between them so that we can optimise our time and maximise our results.
When I speak to many businesses about this a good number of them treat all improvements as being equal, but:
They won't all produce the same level of benefits,They won't all require the same amount of resources.They won't all need the same degree of problem solving.

In summary, some ideas will be impactful, cheap and easy. Other ideas will be marginal, expensive and hard.
Discriminating between improvement opportunities in some sort of (semi) formal manner can really help a business to improve both the rate of change and the level of success endured.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Don't Let Your Continuous Improvement Ideas Get Lost

When we manage to hit upon a vein of enthusiasm with our teams we always run the risk of having a deluge of ideas come our way.

What a great problem to have.

The only trouble here is when you end up with more than you can process / evaluate then you need to be conscious of the need to manage the team's expectations.

Let people know where you are with the improvements, let them know if you are not going to be able to spend any time on them, let them know if their improvement is next up.

Don't lose the ideas, work them out of your system by all means, but just don't lose them in the process.

Even a simple list will do!



Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

P.S. For a simple method to generate Continuous Improvement ideas with your team check our out short guide on Amazon, available for the Kindle reading app.

The Importance of Project Capacity Planning

I've been involved recently with an organisation that is struggling to balance out all of its commitments and project requirements so that the projects can be delivered on time whilst maintaining the existing levels of service it has already agreed to.
The reason for writing this post is that businesses who have a strong physical element (for example construction or manufacturing) in their business usually have some kind of capacity planning tool, to help them them put their resource in the right department at the right time, but often this approach does not extend itself to the office environment. This is even more important when you work in a business where project management isn't the sole purpose of that business. For example if you have to incorporate two projects to your already crammed schedule then the question that needs to be answered is 'when is the best time for us to deliver these projects at the same time as everything else we currently do?'

Unfortunatel…

Streamlining Your Office

I got a follow up question from last week's lean manufacturing event about how this applies into the administrative area of a business and I thought that I would share this on my blog too.
The principles of lean (value, value stream, flow, pull and perfection) all apply, it's about being a little creative in how you apply these ideas to your business that counts. By looking at what your business needs to achieve then you can find ways to apply the ideas, ultimately cutting out unnecessary work and streamlining the remaining work.
Take the flow stage for example. In administrative functions the quality of the work being passed between one department and another can make a huge difference to the overall lead time if the work is incomplete or unclear. Whereas in a manufacturing environment you can see the physical work happening and there are sometimes more rigid constraints this does not always happen in an office. There can be many ways to produce the work and standards aren&#…

Understanding Your Change Management Journey

When we are attempting to bring about a change within our business, whether this is reducing lead times, improving product quality, or changing the culture towards continuous improvement it can sometimes be hard to know where people are on this journey.
For those of us planning the changes it can be simple, we can see and understand the whole journey. We know all the pieces of the puzzle and how we expect them to fit together. Other people don't.
To become more effective at guiding people through the changes we need to take the time to find out where they are on the journey, in terms of understanding and enthusiasm. By doing this we can undertake the right kind of education and explain how the change will benefit them longer term (hopefully to provide a good enough reason to make the change).
If we keep going at our own pace (and neglecting the team's need for understanding and support) it can become very frustrating and ultimately lead to the change process falling over.
Do …

Keep Lean Manufacturing Simple

Today I delivered a Lean Manufacturing development session with Alan Whittaker from the Manufacturing Advisory Service (on behalf of the South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum). It was a great session and a lot of ground was covered.
One of the interesting points, and the reason for this post, was that it was agreed that simplicity needs to be at the heart of the lean approach to business improvement. Finding the right tools for the job is essential when we aim to improve our business' processes, we need to choose a small selection of appropriate approaches and really make them work.

We could spend all of our time testing and trialling new approaches on our business but the basic tool kits can  help us get a long way along the improvement road before we have to consider more sophisticated options.
In the session we reviewed approaches such as takt time, line balancing, waste reduction, continuous improvement, 5S, SOPs, skills matrices and single piece flow. These approaches may be we…

Sheep Spas International [Guest Post]

I’ve recently joined an entrepreneurs support network. There are five of us; Graeme  Pegman (Vital Wealth Management), Giles Johnston (Smartspeed Consulting), Simon Heal (Simon CGI) and Colin Bell (Paramount Associates) and we get together every month to share ideas and suggestions on how we can each develop our businesses. We cram a lot into the sessions and I always come away from them with lots of great new initiatives to work on.

Yesterday when I was giving the guys an update on Sogno I used the phrase ‘we don’t do ‘sheepdip’ training’ and Simon asked what I meant by that. I explained that it is a term used in organisational development to describe the one size fits all, mandatory training programmes that we will have experienced if we have spent any significant time working in a large organisation.
Simon shared with us the little movie that ran in his head when he heard the term – sheep being forced into a pen, no choice in the matter; feeling anxious and fearful about what they …

Get More Done: Using Meeting Agenda's for Faster Meetings

Do you get stuck in meetings that take too long, don't get to the point and don't stimulate the appropriate actions?
I've been in loads of those too. When I told my boss (in a job I had a long time ago) that I wouldn't attend any more meetings if there wasn't an agenda I was told that I was 'a troublemaker'. How I laugh looking back!
Having an agenda for a meeting implies a degree of preparation by the organiser.
Circulation of an agenda prior to a meeting allows for appropriate preparation by the attendees.
Swift sharing of information based on an agenda, preparation in advance and having a clear focus of what the meeting is designed to achieve can make meetings speed up (and be a whole lot more effective).
If you have a regular meeting then 'standard' agendas can work really well, as long as the meetings are punchy and people prepare properly for them.
If you can get your meetings out of the way quicker then your team has more time undertake the …

Keep Your Processes Up To Scratch

One we implement a new way of working, or a new process, that is not the end of the story. Just like the commissioning of a new piece of equipment there needs to be the follow up, whether this is training, ongoing maintenance or the creation of a de-commissioning plan.
As a minimum for new ways of working we need to make sure that we have some form of auditing in place to verify two things:
1 - what we said we would do is being done.
2 - the process delivers what it was designed to do, and that this meets the current needs of the process.
This needn't be too onerous either, the occasional conversation, attendance at a meeting once in a while, or reviewing of the associated Key Performance Indicators are all examples of how it can be done. There doesn't have to be formal paperwork either, just engagement with the change / method / process.
The important issue is that this approach makes its way into the diary of the person who is responsible for the new way of working and the …

There's Never a Good Time To Improve - So Do It Now!

When embarking on new projects with clients one of the first barriers I experience is about timing.
Everyone is so busy, and with multiple different pressures on them, that starting a process of change just seems to be at the wrong time.
In my experience there never really is a good time to engage with improvement projects, you are either struggling to cope (when things are going wrong) or struggling to cope (when things are going incredibly well)!
So, two things come to mind. 
Firstly, carve out some time regardless. There appears to never be a good time, and if you take some time out and improve the situation then you will get a benefit in some shape or form that you can build upon.
Secondly, improvement doesn't have to be onerous, it can be short, sweet and effective, just like the method we share in our guide about Continuous Improvement
If it doesn't feel like the right time to improve your business then you are probably right, but it might be worth nibbling away at so…

What is a real delivery 'priority'?

Many businesses have some kind of priority system for identifying orders that need to be given special attention. I realise that having this 'turbo boost' capability for your business is a good thing to have, if it is used sparingly.
Sometimes businesses can come unstuck when they fail to agree on 'what is a priority' and fall into the trap of labelling everything as a priority. If you are in a backlog situation then everything looks like a priority, but the system then no longer serves its purpose.
If you are in a backlog situation and use a priority system but aren't getting anywhere then it might be time to rebalance your order books, provide new dates to your customers, and agree on a formal method of identifying and managing priorities within your business.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer