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Showing posts from March, 2013

6 Compelling Reasons why Thinking Digital should be an ‘absolute must’ in your calendar [Guest Post]

Only a few weeks to go to Thinking Digital 2013 and I can’t wait for my annual fix of new ideas and creativity. If you haven’t heard of Thinking Digital you can find out more at www.thinkingdigital.co.uk I am a big fan and I wanted to share with you, from my perspective as a leadership coach, what Thinking Digital offers ‘non techies’ like me.
A Trip into the Future – technology is pretty much central to most of our lives nowadays and Thinking Digital offers an amazing window on the future, a taster of the amazing new stuff that we will all have access to not far into the future. This opportunity to do a bit of time travelling is invaluable for prompting dialogue about the world of unlimited potential we live in – but often don’t notice. It’s also great to spend some time in the company of a bunch of people who live and breathe technology and have embedded it seamlessly into their work and social lives. I’ve learned loads from this and just to share one example – I’ve seen how the Con…

Where does the baton get dropped?

One of the common discussions I end up in is around lead time reduction, reducing the total amount of time it takes for an order (or a project, or an enquiry, or a complaint etc...) to move through a business. Obviously a faster and slicker turnaround can be of significant interest to your customers and can help to reduce the costs associated with that process.

A simple way of looking at this problem is to think of your business process as being similar to a relay race. Can you remember those from your school days? If you do, you will remember that in order to win you had to avoid dropping the baton, have smooth changeovers and run quickly in-between changeovers.

There we go then, a perfect recipe for lead time reduction.

In my experience, for businesses with multiple departments, the fastest way to improve overall lead time is to find out where the baton is being dropped. This might take the form of in trays that hide work, unclear specifications in different departments leading to …

Lead Time Reduction – Stop Changing Your Mind!

There are many ways to approach to the issue of ‘lead time reduction’ in a business.
We can look at the interfaces between departments, we can look at changeover times, we can look at machine vulnerabilities and we can consider production flows and scheduling.
We can also look at how we, as leaders, change our minds and mess up the process with alternating priorities.
I realise that priorities will and do change. But sometimes priorities change because we perceive them to be needed to be changed. Could we find a way to hold off changing a priority and waiting until the current project, proposal or production is completed?
Being more systematic about our priority changes could make a huge difference to your output and also yield shorter lead times.
It has to my clients.


Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Develop Your Own Business Improvement Toolkit

There are many brilliant business improvement techniques that exist today. Some take little prior knowledge of these ways of working in order to produce excellent effects in your business. Imagine selecting an appropriate handful of these tools, making them accessible to your teams and then watching them yield tangible benefits.
Often we get too caught up in trying to do things ‘right’. We don’t have to follow all of the instructions, we don’t have to use every single tool in the tool kit and we don’t have to do things because someone else told us to.
We can take what makes sense to us, we can do what we can right now and we can make a system that is ours. Imperfect action can get good results, and once you get some results you can always go back and improve your system until it is perfect (whatever that means!).


Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

P.S. Business Process Re-Engineering, our guide on Amazon Kindle, can give you a jump start with your business improve…

Workshop Design Notes

To help our prospective clients understand what they want from a performance improvement workshop I have uploaded a two page guide to the main Smartspeed website.

To download a copy (no registration required) please use this link.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

P.S. The long version of the link is: http://www.improvingbusinesses.co.uk/files/1407165/uploaded/Workshop%20Design%20Notes.pdf

Why Continuous Improvement Loves Persistence

Improvement projects don’t always pan out the way you might expect. Improvements often require an iterative approach, we need to try something several times before we realise the benefits of our actions. This article is a reminder of the need to be persistent when undertaking continuous improvement activities.

Persistence is vital when we know the direction but we don’t know the specific actions. If we only know the next couple of steps in our improvement journey then all we can do is take the steps. After we have taken those steps we will have new insights and ideas that we can develop into the next steps, but we must be willing to persist in that direction for long enough to achieve our goal.

When we undertake improvement projects some things will not go well, we will hit bumps in the road (so to speak). Our ability to move past these and strive towards our objectives is essential. If you upset people because of the way your improvement has manifested itself then say sorry, fix the…

Where Do Our Improvement Projects Take Us?

Our continuous improvement projects will take us in a direction. Is the direction away from our problems, or is it toward our vision for a business that works simply, delivers its results and does so in a way that astonishes the customer?

Most improvement projects move us away from disaster. Away from the complaining customer. Away from the legal issues. Away from the defects.

We could move toward our vision. Toward lower unit costs. Toward lightening fast lead times. Toward guaranteed on time delivery. Toward new products that wow. Toward customer partnerships.

If only we took the time out from our daily busy workloads to decide where we should go to, and not leave it to chance.


Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

There is Rarely Just One Solution

During a business improvement project there comes a point where we need to choose what solutions we will implement to achieve the desired results that we are seeking. In many cases the solution is pre-determined before we start an improvement project. Whether this is a decree from a higher authority within the business, or an expectation of the people involved, there is usually a benefit in generating and selecting other options prior to making the improvement a reality.

I have been involved in many projects where there is only one course of action laid out. After some probing I can often find that this course of action is not the definitive course of action, but the first course of action that was thought up. This article looks at generating and selecting solutions for your improvement projects.

As you embark upon an area of your business that needs to be improved there is likely to be a number of factors that you could include in your potential solutions. Factors could include physi…

Do You Know What You Are Meant to Be Improving?

Many years ago when I was on a summer placement from university I was fortunate enough to gain experience in a prestigious manufacturing business. The most interesting part of that experience was that I spent over seventy percent of my time working on the ‘wrong’ project. This article is going to re-live part of that placement and share with you my thoughts on how to make sure that your improvement project has the best chance of generating the results you are looking to achieve.

When I started the project it was not something new that I was dealing with. According to the engineers on the team the problem had existed in some shape or form for the past fifteen years. This time period had allowed for a number of theories to become agreed within the team as to why the problem was occurring, but still the elusive goal had not been attained. The downside for me, upon reflection, was that a distinct direction had been set and I was about to follow it.

I used a range of approaches to try and…

Realising the real value of business improvement

Sometimes a business improvement project gives a business a direct benefit, one that is obvious and immediate. This is especially true when considering complaints from customers about delivery performance. It is also the case that sometimes the improvement is, or should be, a means to an end.
For example, if your business is running excessive overtime then saving that overtime expense would be a direct benefit. The lead time reduction project, or whatever you did to save the need for overtime, is the intermediary. It enabled you to make the real saving. Another example would be a project that saves the senior managers of a business time, this would only be really useful if the time could then be invested to grow the business or do something similar that would provide a tangible benefit to the business.
The idea of the tangible benefit is therefore the point I am getting to. When we are planning our improvements out we need to be conscious of our ability to ‘cash in’ on the projects w…

The A in PDCA - Making Improvement Projects Count

PDCA has been around for a long time, it is central to business improvement philosophies and rightly so. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is also commonly known as the Deming cycle after the hugely influential Dr W. Edwards Deming. The purpose of this article is to focus on the A, the Act, portion of the cycle as I feel this is one of the most neglected elements of this wonderful approach.
Whilst most businesses are good at the Plan stage and fairly good at the Do activity many fail at both the Check and the Act elements. Failure to take advantage of these other two parts of the cycle steals the victory of improvement away from us and reduces our motivation to attempt other improvement projects in the future. The Check stage is straightforward; did our intended plan of action yield the correct results? The answer you give will be either a yes or a no, but the important thing to do after this is to clarify to what degree we are away from our desired goal.
This understanding of…

Choose one improvement project to complete

When we are generating ideas for improving our businesses one of the traps we need to avoid is getting caught up with the chasing of ideas at the expense of implementation. Are you one of those businesses who are great at identifying improvement opportunities but not so great at closing down an improvement and making part of your normal business life? If so, the rest of this article will hopefully give you some ideas on how to change this situation around.

Firstly, well done for generating so many ideas for your business! Many businesses find themselves in a position where they can see the immediate problems that their business is facing, but lack the vision on where their business could go to. What I am getting to here is that going from bad to OK is a different premise from going to OK to amazing (or excellent, or any other word you choose to use).
Generating ideas is vital to business improvement, but so is implementation. One of the simplest ways I have found to make getting the …

Why is the 8th waste one of the most important in Lean?

One of the central pillars of the lean movement is the idea of waste in a business. Not the rubbish that we find in bins kind of wastes, but the types of activity that we undertake as part of our jobs that doesn't really benefit the end customer. You probably recall these types of waste from posters in your business, or from courses that you have been on, they are:

DefectsOverproductionTransportationWaitingInventoryMotions Processes

The ‘7 wastes’ is a simple way to communicate the idea of removing the waste within a business and it helps you to identify specific areas for improvement. However, as Lean is a people centric approach to business improvement, there is another waste not on the above list. The 8th waste is known as ‘untapped human potential’ and means that the people who work in your business know all kinds of things that could improve the business, but aren't telling you. They will see things differently to you. They will see things that you won’t. You need to take…