Technology and process improvement

six sigma

Technology and process improvement – Six Sigma

Tightening organisational flow to improve productivity and minimise costs is a growing concern for many businesses post the Global Financial Crisis. Businesses can no longer afford to waste time and personnel on inefficient processes. Organisations using either Six Sigma or Lean techniques better manage their existing resources to maximise product out-put. Both of these techniques involve considerable evaluation of current processes.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is an organisational management strategy that evaluates processes for variation. In the Six Sigma model, variation equates waste. Eliminating variation for customer fulfilment allows a business to better serve the end-user. In this thought model, the only way to streamline processes is to use statistical data. Each part of a process must be carefully recorded and analysed for variation and potential improvements. The heart of the strategy embodied by Six Sigma is mathematical. Every process is subject to mathematical analysis and this allows for the most effective problem solving.

What is a Lean Model?

Lean businesses do not rely on mathematical models for improvement. Instead, the focus is on reducing steps in the customer delivery cycle, which do not add value to the final deliverable. For example, maintaining excess inventory or dealing with shortages would both be examples of waste behaviour. Businesses that operate using Lean strategies have strong cash flow cycles. One of the best and most famous examples of Lean in action is the Toyota Production System (TPS). In this system, not only is inventory minimised, but physical movement for employees also remains sharply controlled. Employees are able to reach everything needed to accomplish their tasks, without leaving the immediate area. By reducing the amount of movement needed to work, companies also remove wasted employee time.

Industry Applications for Lean and Six Sigma

Lean businesses reduce the number of steps between order and delivery. The less inventory on hand, the less it costs a business to operate. In industries where it is possible to create to order, Lean thinking offers significant advantages. Lean is best utilised in mature businesses. New companies, operating on a youthful model, may not be able to identify wasteful processes. Six Sigma has shown its value across industries through several evolution’s. Its focus on quality of process makes it a good choice for even brand new businesses. The best use is the combination of the two strategies. With the Lean focus on speed and the Six Sigma focus on quality combined, the two organisational processes create synergy. By itself, Lean does not help create stable, repeating success. Six Sigma does not help increase speed and reduce non value-added behaviours. Combined, these two strategies offer incredible value to every business in cost savings.

Using Technology to Implement Lean Six Sigma

Automation processes represent an opportunity for businesses to implement a combination of both Lean and Six Sigma strategies. Any technology that replaces the need for direct human oversight reduces costs and increases productivity. A few examples of potentially cost saving IT solutions include document scanning, the Internet, and automated workflow systems.

* Document Scanning – Reducing dependency on paper copies follows both Lean and Six Sigma strategies. It is a Lean addition in that it allows employees to access documents instantly from any physical location. It is Six Sigma compliant in that it allows a reduction on process variation, since there is no bottleneck on the flow of information.

* The Internet – The automation potential offered by the Internet is limitless. Now, businesses can enter orders, manage logistics and perform customer service activities from anywhere, through a hosted portal. With instant access to corporate processes from anywhere, businesses can manage workflow globally, allowing them to realise cost savings from decentralisation.

* Automated Work Systems – One of the identified areas of waste in any business is processing time. The faster orders are processed and delivered, the greater the profits for the company and the less the expense per order. When orders sit waiting for attention, they represent lost productivity and waste. Automated work systems monitor workflow and alert users when an item sits longer than normal. These systems can also reroute work to an available employee when the original worker is tied up.

Each of these IT solutions provides a method for businesses to either reduce the number of steps in a process or improve the quality of the process for improved customer service.

Identifying Areas for Lean Six Sigma Implementation

Knowing that improved processes result in improved profits, identifying areas for improvement is the next step. There are several techniques for creating tighter processes with less waste and higher quality. Value Stream Mapping helps business owners and managers identify areas of waste by providing a visual representation of the total process stream. Instead of improving single areas for minimal increases in productivity, VSM shows the entire business structure and flow, allowing management to target each area of slow down for maximum improvement in all areas.

Seeing the areas of waste helps management better determine how processes should work to best obtain the desired outcomes. Adding in automated processes helps with improved process management, when put in place with a complete understanding of current systems and their weaknesses. Start with mapping and gain a bird’s-eye view of the situation, in order to make the changes needed for improvement.

The Connection Between Six Sigma and CRM

Six Sigma is an industrial business strategy directed at improving the quality of process outputs by eliminating errors and system variables. The end objective is to achieve a state where 99.99966% of events are likely to be defect free. This would yield a statistical rating of Sigma 6 hence the name.

The process itself is thankfully more user-friendly. It presents a model for evaluating and improving customer relationships based on data provided by an automated customer relations management (CRM) system. However in the nature of human interaction we doubt the 99.99966% is practically achievable.

Six Sigma Fundamentals

The basic tenets of the business doctrine and the features that set off are generally accepted to be the following:

  1. Continuous improvement is essential for success
  1. Business processes can be measured and improved
  1. Top down commitment is fundamental to sustained improvement
  1. Claims of progress must be quantifiable and yield financial benefits
  1. Management must lead with enthusiasm and passion
  1. Verifiable data is a non-negotiable (no guessing)

Steps Towards the Goal

The five basic steps in Six Sigma are define the system, measure key aspects, analyse the relevant data, improve the method, and control the process to sustain improvements. There are a number of variations to this DMAIC model, however it serves the purpose of this article. To create a bridge across to customer relationships management let us assume our CRM data has thrown out a report that average service times in our fast food chicken outlets are as follows.

<2 Minutes3 to 8 Minutes9 to 10 Minutes>10 Minutes
45%30%20%5%
Table: Servicing Tickets in Chippy’s Chicken Cafés

Using DMAIC to unravel the reasons behind this might proceed as follows

  • Define the system in order to understand the process. How are customers prioritized up front, and does the back of store follow suit?
  • Break the system up into manageable process chunks. How long should each take on average? Where are bottlenecks most likely to occur?
  • Analyse the ticket servicing data by store, by time of day, by time of week and by season. Does the type of food ordered have a bearing?
  • Examine all these variables carefully. Should there for example be separate queues for fast and slower orders, are there some recipes needing rejigging
  • Set a goal of 90% of tickets serviced within 8 minutes. Monitor progress carefully. Relate this to individual store profitability. Provide recognition.

Conclusion

A symbiotic relation between CRM and a process improvement system can provide a powerful vehicle for evidencing customer care and providing feedback through measurable results. Denizon has contributed to many strategically important systems. Our consultants are highly trained and waiting for your call.

What Heijunka Is & How it Smooths Call Centre Production

The Japanese word Heijunka, pronounced hi-JUNE-kuh means ‘levelling’ in the sense of balancing workflows. It helps lean organizations shift priorities in the face of fluctuating customer demand. The goal is to have the entire operation working at the same pace throughout, by continuously adjusting the balance between predictability, flexibility, and stability to level out demand.

Henry Ford turned the American motor manufacturing industry upside down by mass-producing his iconic black motor cars on two separate production lines. In this photograph, body shells manufactured upstairs come down a ramp and drop onto a procession of cars almost ready to roll in 1913.

Ford 'Model A' Line in 1913

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Smoothing Production in the Call Centre Industry

Call Centres work best in small teams, each with a supervisor to take over complex conversations. In the past, these tended to operate in silos with each group in semi-isolation representing a different set of clients. Calls came through to operators the instant the previous ones concluded. By the law of averages, inevitably one had more workload than the rest at a particular point in time as per this example.

 

 

 

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Modern telecoms technology makes it possible to switch incoming lines to different call centre teams, provided these are multi-skilled. A central operator controls this manually by observing imbalanced workflows on a visual system called a Heijunka Box. The following example comes from a different industry, and highlights how eight teams share uneven demand for six products.

This departure from building handmade automobiles allowed Henry to move his workforce around to eliminate bottlenecks. For example, if rolls of seat leather arrived late he could send extra hands upstairs to speed up the work there, while simultaneously slowing chassis production. Ford had the further advantage of a virtual monopoly in the affordable car market. He made his cars at the rate that suited him best, with waiting lists extending for months.

A Modern, More Flexible Approach

Forces of open competition and the Six Sigma drive for as-close-to-zero defects dictates a more flexible approach, as embodied in this image published by the Six Sigma organisation. This represents an ideal state. In reality, one force usually has greater influence, for example decreasing stability enforces a more flexible approach.

Balancing Predictability, Flexibility, and Stability to Level out Demand

Years ago, Japanese car manufacturer Toyota moved away from batching in favour of a more customer-centric approach, whereby buyers could customise orders from options held in stock for different variations of the same basic model. The most effective approach lies somewhere between Henry Ford’s inflexibility and Toyota’s openness, subject to the circumstances at the moment.

A Worked Factory Example

The following diagram suggests a practical Heijunka application in a factory producing three colours of identical hats. There are two machines for each option, one or both of which may be running. In the event of a large order for say blue hats, the company has the option of shifting some blue raw material to the red and green lines so to have the entire operation working at a similar rate.

Diagram of a Heijunka

Predictability, Flexibility, and Stability at Call Centre Service

The rate of incoming calls is a moving average characterised by spikes in demand. Since the caller has no knowledge whether high activity advisories are genuine, it is important to service them as quickly as possible. Lean process engineering provides technology to facilitate flexibility. Depending on individual circumstances, each call centre may have its own definition of what constitutes an acceptably stable situation.