Tag: Lean Metrics

The High-Velocity Edge Is Here!

Update:  Steven J. Spear has been awarded the Philip Crosby Medal for his book “The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition” according to a Press release from ASQ—the world’s largest network of quality resources and experts (Milwaukee, WI March 2, 2011).

We have raved about the book “Chasing the Rabbit” written by Steven J. Spear and have just learned that the book has been re-released under a new a title, The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition.  Recognizing that your time is a valuable commodity, we aim to provide information that is relevant to our readers and visitors.  This book provides much more information on certain topics than one could ever hope to achieve through a website or blog – hence our recommendation.

This is perhaps an unprecedented marketing strategy for what was an already very successful book.  In one respect this reflects the wisdom of Peter Drucker who suggested that there is a time to abandon the old (even if it is considered an award winning success) in lieu of the fresh and new.  The following are excerpts from the e-mail we received from Steve that explain the reasons for this change:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The High Velocity Edge shows the particular skills and capabilities that lead to broad-based, high-speed, non-stop improvement and innovation.  Master these and you achieve exceptional, rival-beating performance, even if facing intense competition. If you don’t, you watch as someone else wins

The book (and the website supporting it) are replete with examples of how these capabilities are developed and deployed in high tech and heavy industry, in design and production, in services like health care and in manufacturing.

There is Pratt and Whitney’s compression in time and cost of jet engine design, the Navy’s creation of nuclear propulsion  with breath taking speed, Alcoa’s achieving near perfect workplace safety, and the exceptional improvement of care in medical institutions.

Toyota features prominently as an example, both in showing how  successfully cultivating the capabilities introduced and illustrated in The High Velocity Edgeare the source of  tremendous competitive strength and also in showing how the capacity to develop such capabilities can be overburdened.

With the release of The High Velocity Edge, I’m testing new media approaches, being released on its website, to bring the book’s ideas into broader practice more quickly than traditional means alone allow.

Here’s a closer look at what is new.

New Title and Cover: Why a  new name and cover after three awards, versions in four languages, and flattering reviews?  Well, people do judge a book by its cover, and those who didn’t read the reviews or learn of the awards were too often left  wondering what was inside.  Not so with the new.

New material:  You’ll find a new preface and epilogue, drawing lessons about leadership, innovation, and operational excellence from  Toyota’s recent  struggles.

New media: I’m testing ways to  help  people master more quickly and reliably the skills that allow individuals and organizations to achieve broad-based, high-speed improvement and innovation.

On the way are an interactive web-based case study, an ‘open school’ course for those in health care professions, and a series of short tutorials to help people review what they’ve read and to help them teach what they’ve learned to their own students and colleagues. The results will be introduced on the book’s website.

Of course, there will still be postings, applying the principles of leadership, innovation, and operational excellence to current topics.

I certainly hope you find the new look, content, and format useful in pursuing perfection.

Please share your feedback, and let’s talk about how I can help you put these ideas  to use in your own organization.

Thanks!

Steve Spear

A high velocity organization is, in our opinion, a step above and beyond the traditional lean principles that are typical of most text books and seminars on this topic.  The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition will prove to be a worthwhile read and we highly recommend this to any company seriously seeking to take their organization to the next level.  We have also added this book to our recommended reading list.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Business Analytics
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Lean Breaking Through Paralysis

Welcome to 2010!  We wish all of our visitors the very best of success in 2010.  Now that 2009 is behind is really behind us, we can start looking forward to the opportunities and challenges ahead in 2010.

Page Updates:

As regular users of Excel we are always looking for excellent and trustworthy resources to help us in our day to day operations.  We just added two new links to our Excel Web Sites page that present high quality, user friendly, content.  We encourage you to visit these links to learn more about Excel.  If your interests include VBA, you will find that our selected links serve as an excellent forum to serve your needs.

Lean – Breaking Through Paralysis

Significant initiatives, including lean, can reach a level of stagnation that eventually cause the project to either lose focus or disappear altogether.  Hundreds of books have already been written that reinforce the concept that the company culture will ultimately determine the success or failure of any initiative.  A sustainable culture of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and continual improvement requires effective leadership to cultivate and develop an environment that supports these attributes.

When launching any new initiative, we tend to focus on the many positive aspects that will result.  Failure is seldom placed on the list of possible outputs for a new initiative.  We are all quite familiar with the typical Pro’s and Con’s, advantages versus disadvantages, and other comparative analysis techniques such as SWAT > Strengths, Weakness, Alternatives, Threats)

A well defined initiative should address both the benefits of implementation AND the risks to the operation if it is NOT.

Back on Track

The Vision statement is one starting point to re-energize the team.  Of course, this assumes that the team actually understands and truly embraces the vision.

Overcoming Road Blocks

The Charter:  Challenge the team to create and sign up to a charter that clearly defines the scope and expectations of the project.  The team should have clearly defined goals followed by an effective implementation / integration plan.  The charter should not only describe the “Achievements” but also the consequences of failure.  Be clear with the expectations:  Annual Savings of $xxx,xxx by Eliminating “Task A – B – C”, Reducing Inventory by “xx” days, and by  reducing lead times by “xx” days. 

Defining Consequences:  Competitive pricing compromised and will lead to loss of business.  This could be rephrased using the model expression:  We must do “THIS” or else “THIS”.  It has been said that the pain of change must be less than the pain of remaining the same.  If not, the program will surely fail.

The Plan:  An effective implementation strategy requires a time line that includes reporting gates, key milestones, and the actual events or activities required.  The time line should be such that momentum is sustained.  If progress suggests that the program is ahead of schedule, revise timings for subsequent events where possible.  Extended “voids” or lags in event timing can reduce momentum and cause the team to disengage.

Focus:  Often times, we are presented with multiple options to achieve the desired results.  An effective decision making process is required to reduce choices or to create a hybrid solution that encompasses several options.  The decision process must result in a single final solution.

Consequences:  As mentioned earlier, a list of consequences should become part of the Charter process as well.  Failure suggests that a desired expectation will not be realized.  It is not enough to simply return to “the way it was”.  The indirect implication is that every failure becomes a learning experience for the next attempt.  In other words, we learn from our failures and stay committed to the course of the charter.

Example:

Almost all software programs are challenged to sort data.  We don’t really think about the “method” that is used.  We just wait for the program to do it’s task and wait for the results to appear.  At some time, the software development team must have chosen a certain method, also known as an algorithm, to sort the data. 

We were recently challenged in a similar situation to decide which sort method would be best suited for the application.  You may be surprised to learn that there are many different sorting algorithms available such as:

  1. Bubble Sort
  2. Quick Sort
  3. Heap Sort
  4. Comb Sort
  5. Insertion Sort
  6. Merge Sort
  7. Shaker Sort
  8. Flash Sort
  9. Postman Sort
  10. Radix Sort
  11. Shell Sort

This is certainly quite a selection and more methods are certain to exist.  Each method has it’s advantages and disadvantages.  Some sorting methods require more computer memory, some are stable, others are not.  Our goal was to create a sorted list without duplicates.  We considered adding elements and maintaining a sorted “duplicate free” list in real-time.  We also considered reading all the data first and sorting the data after the fact.

The point is that of the many available options, one solution will eventually be adopted by the team.  Using the “wrong” sorting method could result in extremely slow performance and frustrated users.  In this case the users of the system may abandon a solution that they themselves are not a part of creating.  While a buble sort may produce the intended result, it is usually not the most efficient.

Another aspect of effective development is to document the analysis process that was used to arrive at the final solution.  In our example, we could run comparative timing and computer resource requirements to determine which solution is most suitable to the application.  Some algorithms work better on “nearly sorted” lists versus others that work better with “randomly ordered” data.

Engage the Team:  The team should be represented by multiple disciplines or departments within the organization.  Using the simple example from above, the development team may create a working solution that is later abandoned by the ultimate users of the system due to it’s poor performance.  The charter should be very clear on the desired expectations and performance criteria of the final solution.

Creating a model or prototype to represent the solution is common place.  This minimizes the time and resources expended before arriving at the final  solution for implemention.

Vision:  Leadership must continue to focus beyond the current steps.  A project or program is not the means to an end.  Rather it should be viewed as the foundation for the next step of the journey.  Lean, like any other initiative, is an evolutionary process.  Lean is not defined by a series of prescriptions and formulas.  The pursuit and elimination of waste is a mission that can be achieved in many different ways.

Management / Review

Regular management reviews should be part of the overall strategy to monitor progress and more so to determine whether there are any impediments to a successful outcome.  The role of leadership is to provide direction to eliminate or resolve the road blocks and to keep the team on track.

Breaking Through Paralysis

The objective is clear – we need to keep the initiative moving and also learn to identify when and why the initiative may have stopped.  Running a business is more than just having good intentions.  We must be prudent in our execution to efficiently and effectively achieve the desired results.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

22 Seconds to Burn – Excel VBA Teaches Lean Execution

Cover of "Excel 2003 Power Programming wi...
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Background:

VBA for Excel has once again provided the opportunity to demonstrate some basic lean tenets.  The methods used to produce the required product or solution can yield significant savings in time and ultimately money.  The current practice is not necessarily the best practice in your industry.  In manufacturing, trivial or minute differences in methods deployed become more apparent during mass production or as volume and demand increases.  The same is true for software solutions and both are subject to continual improvement and the relentless pursuit to eliminate waste.

Using Excel to demonstrate certain aspects of Lean is ideal.  Numbers are the raw materials and formulas represent the processes or methods to produce the final solution (or product).  Secondly, most businesses are using Excel to manage many of their daily tasks.  Any extended learning can only help users to better understand the Excel environment.

The Model:

We recently created a perpetual Holiday calendar for one of our applications and needed an algorithm or procedure to calculate the date for Easter Sunday and Good Friday.  We adopted an algorithm found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computus that produces the correct date for Easter Sunday.

In our search for the Easter Algorithm, we found another algorithm that uses a different method of calculation and provides the correct results too.  Pleased to have two working solutions, we initially did not spend too much time thinking about the differences between them.  If both routines produce the same results then we should choose the one with the faster execution time.  We performed a simple time study to determine the most efficient formula.  For a single calculation, or iteration, the time differences are virtually negligible; however, when subjected to 5,000,000 iterations the time differences were significant.

This number of cycles may seem grossly overstated, however, when we consider how many automobiles and components are produced each year then 5,000,000 approaches only a fraction of the total volume.  Taken further, Excel performs thousands of calculations a day and perhaps even as many more times this rate as numbers or data are entered on a spreadsheet.  When we consider the number “calculations” performed at any given moment, the number quickly grows beyond comprehension.

Testing:

As a relatively new student to John Walkenbach’s book, “Excel 2003 Power Programming with VBA“, speed of execution, efficiency, and “Declaring your Variables” have entered into our world of Lean.  We originally created two (2) routines called EasterDay and EasterDate.  We then created a simple procedure to run each function through 5,000,000 cycles.  Again, this may sound like a lot of iterations but computers work at remarkable speeds and we wanted enough resolution to discern any time differences between the routines.

The difference in the time required to execute 5,000,000 cycles by each of the routines was surprising.  We recorded the test times (measured in seconds) for three separate studies as follows:

  • Original EasterDay:  31.34,  32.69,  30.94
  • Original EasterDate:  22.17,  22.28,  22.25

The differences between the two methods ranged from 9.17 seconds to 8.69 seconds.  Expressed in different terms, the duration of the EasterDay routine is 1.39 to 1.46 times longer than EasterDate.  Clearly the original EasterDate function has the better execution speed.  What we perceive as virtually identical systems or processes at low volumes can yield significant differences that are often only revealed or discovered by increased volume or the passage of time.

In the Canadian automotive industry there are at least 5 major OEM manufacturers (Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, and Chrysler), each producing millions of vehicles a year.  All appear to produce similar products and perform similar tasks; however, the performance ratios for each of these companies are starkly different.  We recognize Toyota as the high velocity, lean, front running company.  We contend that Toyota’s success is partly driven by the inherent attention to detail of processes and product lines at all levels of the company.

Improvements

We decided to revisit the Easter Day calculations or procedures to see what could be done to improve the execution speed.  We created a new procedure called “EasterSunday” using the original EasterDay procedure as our base line.  Note that the original Wikipedia code was only slightly modified to work in VBA for Excel.  To adapt the original Wikipedia procedure to Excel, we replaced the FLOOR function with the INT function in VBA.  Otherwise, the procedure is presented without further revision.

To create the final EasterSunday procedure, we made two revisions to the original code without changing the algorithm structure or the essence of the formulas themselves.  The changes resulted in significant performance improvements as summarized as follows:

  1. For integer division, we replaced the INT (n / d) statements with a less commonly used (or known) “\” integer division operator.  In other words, we used “n \ d” in place of “INT( n / d)” wherever an integer result is required.  This change alone resulted in a gain of 11 seconds.  One word of caution if you plan to use the “\” division operator:  The “n” and “d”  are converted to integers before doing the division.
  2. We declared each of the variables used in the subsequent formulas and gained yet another remarkable 11 seconds.  Although John Walkenbach and certainly many other authors stress declaring variables, it is surprising to see very few published VBA procedures that actually put this to practice.

Results:

The results of our Time Tests appear in the table below.  Note that we ran several timed iterations for each change knowing that some variations in process time can occur.

EasterDay = 31.34375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 20.828125 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.28125 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 30.9375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 20.921875 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.25 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 30.90625 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 21.265625 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.25 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 31.078125 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 9.171875 2.  Variables DECLARED!
EasterDate = 22.1875 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 31.109375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 9.171875 2.  Variables DECLARED!
EasterDate = 22.171875 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method

The EasterSunday procedure contains the changes described above.  We achieved a total savings of approximately 22 seconds.  The integer division methods used both yield the same result, however, one is clearly faster than the other.

The gains made by declaring variables were just as significant.  In VBA, undeclared variables default to a “variant” type.  Although variant types are more flexible by definition, performance diminishes significantly. We saved at least an additional 11 seconds simply by declaring variables.  Variable declarations are to VBA as policies are to your company, they define the “size and scope” of the working environment.  Undefined policies or vague specifications create ambiguity and generate waste.

Lessons Learned:

In manufacturing, a 70% improvement is significant; worthy of awards, accolades, and public recognition.  The lessons learned from this example are eight-fold:

  1. For manufacturing, do not assume the current working process is the “best practice”.  There is always room for improvement.  Make time to understand and learn from your existing processes.  Look for solutions outside of your current business or industry.
  2. Benchmarking a current practice against another existing practice is just the incentive required to make changes.  Why is one method better than another?  What can we do to improve?
  3. Policy statements can influence the work environment and execution of procedures or methods.  Ambiguity and lack of clarity create waste by expending resources that are not required.
  4. Improvements to an existing process are possible with results that out perform the nearest known competitor.  We anticipated at least being able to have the two routines run at the similar speeds.  We did not anticipate the final EasterSunday routine to run more than 50% faster than our simulated competitive benchmark (EasterDate).
  5. The greatest opportunities are found where you least expect them.  Learning to see problems is one of the greatest challenges that most companies face.  The example presented in this simple analogy completely shatters the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  6. Current practices are not necessarily best practices and best practices can always be improved.  Focusing on the weaknesses of your current systems or processes can result in a significant competitive edge.
  7. Accelerated modeling can highlight opportunities for improvement that would otherwise not be revealed until full high volume production occurs.  Many companies are already using process simulation software to emulate accelerated production to identify opportunities for improvement.
  8. The most important lesson of all is this:

Speed of Execution is Important >> Thoughtful Speed of Execution is CRITICAL.

We wish you all the best of this holiday season!

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Vergence Analytics

At the onset of the Holiday project, the task seemed relatively simple until we discovered that the rules for Easter Sunday did not follow the simple rules that applied to other holidays throughout the year.  As a result we learned more about history, astronomy, and the tracking of time than we ever would have thought possible.

We also learned that Excel’s spreadsheet MOD formula is subject to precision errors and the VBA version of MOD can yield a different result than the spreadsheet version.

We also rediscovered Excel’s Leap Year bug (29-Feb-1900).   1900 was not a leap year.  The leap year bug resides in the spreadsheet version of the date functions.  The VBA date function recognizes that 29-Feb-1900 is not a valid date.

Seasons Greetings

This year has been filled with many new experiences, hard times, great times, and many opportunities for learning.  While some may prefer to see this year pass sooner than later, 2009 is hopefully a year that presented many new opportunities and even greater challenges.

As lean practitioners, we learn to appreciate failure from a different perspective than most people would enjoy.  The focus is not the failure itself, but rather the causes and events that lead up to the failure that are significant.  To those who reflect on this past year and consider the many successes, we also suggest basking in some of the learning from the failures.  Learning what not to do is often the hardest and most costly lesson of all.

Of course, understanding our successes is of equal importance.  The objective is success by design.  Understanding the reasons for our success serves to confirm the effectiveness of current practices.

We are presently working on new discussion topics for the new year.  Overall Equipment Effectiveness has been one of the core topics over the past year and more recently our focus has shifted to problem seeing and solving.  We are evolving into a culture where AGILITY is quickly becoming one of the defining traits of today’s successful companies and new businesses.

Intelligent metrics demand effective and efficient measurement and analysis to be used in real-time.  By our definition, an Agile company is one that already understands and demonstrates lean practices.  A truly agile company is now looking at metrics to dynamically lead and manage the business, responding to events and developing strategy in real-time.  Their agility is demonstrated by the speed of execution and their continued list of successes as a result.

We have been developing some new spreadsheet templates that we plan to release in the new year.  The free downloads page and sidebar widget have proven to be a great success.  To achieve greater functionality, we will be using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) in some of our future releases.  We have learned that Excel has a few limitations (and the odd bug) that require the use of VBA for our applications to perform as intended.

We are looking forward to 2010 and remain optimistic as the economy begins its slow recovery.  We will likely have a few more posts before the year ends, but knowing that some will soon be traveling or breaking early from work, we would like to wish all of our visitors best wishes for the holiday season.  We look forward to an exciting new year in 2010.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Communication Breakdown – The Language of Lean

Getting people engaged and “on the same page” requires everyone to understand the language used to convey the message.  Even the method of disseminating information can create confusion.  Oral presentations can convey a completely different message than one delivered in writing.

The tone used in an oral presentation cannot be delivered in writing using the same words.  Voice inflections, body language, and atmosphere all add to the message.  How many times have you heard the expression, “When s/he spoke those words, you could almost hear a pin drop”.  It is obviously not just the spoken words but how they are delivered that create an aura of suspense or awe.

How does this apply to lean?  The answer is quite simple.  Don’t assume that people understand – just because you told them either verbally or in writing.  Lean is “hands-on” management.  Go to the process and see what is actually happening (or not happening).

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words would it take to describe the experience of seeing the real process first hand?  “Don’t just tell me – show me” are words that should be uttered most often by leadership, managers, or any lean practitioner.

The first step to implementing lean is going out to SEE what opportunities exist.  Unlike computer programs that have explicit meanings, people are intelligent and capable of interpreting the real message behind the words.  Computers do not have an intuitive sense.

The Language of Lean can be summed up in two words – QUICK ACTION.  Successful lean organizations understand that ACTION is truly LOUDER than WORDS.  See it, Solve it, Share it executed in real-time.

Until Next Time – Stay LEAN!

Agility Through Problem Solving: a Model for Training and Thinking

We tend to use analogies when we are discussing certain topics, introducing new concepts, or simply presenting an abstract idea.  Analogies are intended to serve as a model that people understand, can relate to or identify with, and, more importantly, remember.  Our challenge is to identify a simple model that can be used to teach people to identify and solve problems – a core competency requirement for lean.

We have learned that teaching people to see problems is just as important as teaching them to solve problems.  Our education system taught us how to use the scientific method to solve problems that were already conveniently packaged in the form of a question or modeled in a case study.  Using case studies for teaching is typically more effective than traditional “information only” or “just the facts” methods.  (The government of Ontario is presently considering a complete overhaul of the education system using case studies as a core instruction method.)

The effectiveness of any training people receive is compromised by time – the retention span.  Our school systems are challenged by this at the start of every school year.  Teachers must re-engage students with materials covered in the last semester or topics covered prior to the break.  In business we may be too eager to provide training at a time when current business activities are not aligned for the new skills to be practiced or exercised.  A commitment to training also requires  a commitment to develop and routinely exercise these skills to stay sharp.

One of the fundamental rules of engagement for lean is to eliminate waste, where value added activities are optimized and non-value added activities are reduced or eliminated.  Although it may appear that we have identified the problem to be solved, in reality we have only framed the objective to be achieved.  We understand that the real solution to achieving this objective is by solving many other smaller problems.

The Sudoku Analogy – A Model for Finding and Solving Problems

A favourite past time is solving Sudoku puzzles, the seemingly simple 9 x 9 matrix of numbers just waiting for someone to enter the solution.  The reasons for selecting and recommending Sudoku as an introductory model for training are as follows:

  1. Familiarity:  Sudoku puzzles are published in all daily newspapers and numerous magazines and they have become as popular as cross-word puzzles.  Most people have either attempted to solve a puzzle or know someone who has.
  2. Rules of Engagement:  the rules of the game are simple.  Each standard Sudoku puzzle has 9 rows and 9 columns that form a grid of 81 squares.  This grid is further divided into nine 3 x 3 sub-sections.  The challenge is to enter the digits 1 through 9 into the blank spaces on the grid.  Every row, column, and 3 x 3 sub-section of the grid must contain one and only one of each digit.  We refer to these as “rules of engagement” as opposed to “framing the problem”.
  3. Degrees of Difficulty:   Sudoku puzzles are typically published in sets of 3 puzzles each having varying degrees or levels of difficulty.  Each level typically requires more time to complete and requires the player to use more complex reasoning or logic skills.  The claim is that all puzzles can be solved.
  4. Incremental or Progressive Solutions:  Sudoku solutions are achieved incrementally by solving instances of smaller problems.  In other words, the solution builds as correctly deduced numbers are added to the grid.  New “problems” are discovered as part of the search for the final solution.
  5. Variety:  every Sudoku game is different.  While some of the search and solve techniques may be similar, the problems and challenges presented by each game are uniquely different.  Although the rules of engagement are constant, the player must search for and find the first problem to be solved.
  6. Single Solution:  a multiple number of solutions may appear to satisfy the rules of the game, however, only one solution exists.  Learning to solve Sudoku puzzles may be a challenge for some players, however, even seasoned Sudoku players can be stumped by some of the more advanced level puzzles.  To this end, they are ever and always challenging.
  7. Skill Level:  Sudoku puzzles do not require any math skills.  Numbers are naturally easier to remember and universal.  Letters are language dependent and the game would lose international appeal.
  8. Logical:  deductive reasoning is used to determine potential solutions for each empty square in the grid.  As the game is played, a player may identify a number of potential solutions for a single square.  These final solution will eventually be resolved as the game is played.

In practice

We recommend introducing the team to Sudoku using an example to demonstrate how the game is played.  It is best to discuss some of the strategies that can be used to find solutions that eventually lead to solving the complete puzzle.  The Sudoku model will allow you to demonstrate the following ten objectives:

  1. Look for Options:  The solution for the problem to be solved may consist many other smaller problems of varying degrees of difficulty.
  2. Break down the problem:  There may be more than one problem that needs to be solved.  Every Sudoku puzzle represents many different problem instances that need to be resolved before arriving at the final solution.  Each incremental solution to a problem instance is used to discover new problems to solve that also become part of the overall solution.  This may also be termed as progressive problem solving.
  3. Multiple solutions – One Ideal:  There may be times where more than one solution seems possible.  Continue to solve other problems on the grid that will eventually reveal the ideal single solution.
  4. Prioritizing:  more than one problem instance may be solvable at the same time, however, you can only focus on one at a time.
  5. Focus:  Problem solving involves varying states of focus:
    • Divergence:  Expand the focus and perform a top-level search for a problem from the many to be solved
    • Convergence:  Narrow the focus on the specific problem instance and determine the specific solution.
  6. Test and Validate:  Every problem instance that is solved is immediately verified or validated against the other squares on the grid.  In other words the solution must comply with the rules of engagement.
  7. Incubation:  some puzzles can be quite difficult to solve.  Sometimes you need to take a break and return later with a fresh eyes approach.
  8. Action:  There is no defined or “correct” starting point.  The first problem instance to be resolved will be as unique as the number of players participating.  No matter where you start, the finished solution will be exactly the same.
  9. Tangents:  when entering a solution into a square, you may notice other potential problems or solutions that suddenly seemed to appear.  It is very easy to digress from the original problem / solution.  This is also true in the real world where “side projects” somehow appear to be the main focus.
  10. Method:  There is no pre-defined method or approach to determine what problem to solve first.  The only guiding principles for discovering the problem instance to be solved are the rules of engagement.

Lean companies train their teams to see problems and break them down into smaller problems with solvable steps.  Sudoku demonstrates the process of incremental or progressive problem solving.  Even with this technique it is possible to enjoy major break through events.  There are times when even seasoned Sudoku players will recognize the “break through point” when solving a puzzle.

Solve time is another element of the Sudoku puzzle that may be used to add another level of complexity to the problem solving process.  Our objective was not to create a competitive environment or to single out any individual skill levels whether good or bad.  Lean is a TEAM sport.

In Summary:

Sudoku solvers are able to hone their skills every day.  Perhaps Sudoku Masters even exist.  Imagine someone coming to work with the same simple focus to eliminate waste every day.  Although there is no preset solution, we are able to identify and consider any number of potential problems and solve them as quickly as we can.  The smaller problems solved are a critical part of the overall solution to achieve the goal.

Most professional athletes and musicians understand that skills are developed through consistent practice and exercise.  Repetition develops technique and speed.  Imagine a culture where discovering new opportunities or problems and implementing solutions  is just a normal part of the average working day.  This is one of the defining traits that characterize high velocity companies around the world.

Truly agile companies are experts at seeing and solving problems quickly.  They discover new opportunities in every day events that in turn become opportunities to exercise their problem seeing and solving skills.  Crisis situations are circumvented early and disruptions are managed with relative ease – all in a days work. 

The next time you see a Sudoku puzzle you may:

  • be inclined to pick up a pencil and play or
  • be reminded of the time you were inspired by the game to solve problems and reach new goals or
  • simply reflect on this post and ponder your next break through.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction

Customers are the reason we are in business and customer satisfaction is what keeps them coming back.  It takes a tremendous effort to gain a new customer and only seconds to lose one.  Service must be exemplary if we want to sustain and grow our customer base and ultimately our business.

Mission:  Exceed Customer Expectations

Is it really possible to EXCEED customer expectations?  How can you exceed customer expectations when the expectation is 100% Quality Products at the lowest possible cost, Delivered On Time – In Full?

Consider the fast food industry.  Many popular Fast Food companies offer drive through service.  The expectation is that we will get what we ordered and receive the correct change when we pay.  This is the service rendered and expectations have been met (provided of course that the quality of the food is also upto our expectations).

Every customer expects to be treated like …

… a customer or at least a human being.  It could be argued that employees are expected to be kind, courteous, and cheerful while serving the customer.  These attributes of good customer service may also be clearly defined in the “customer service” clause of their respective employment standards or published in the “Who is OUR Customer” poster.  Instead of doing it because it’s the right thing to do, good customer service is now a condition for continued employment.

Vending machines can provide similar services without the human touch.    When Vending machines fail to deliver what we paid for they are slammed, cursed, tilted, shaken, and kicked.  When people fail to deliver, we write letters, attempt to talk to management, or we simply don’t go back.

Mission:  We Will Enhance Customer Expectations

Some employees are exemplary – courteous, kind (at a minimum they at least say thank you, have a nice day), and are very efficient. Some employees are on the opposite end of the spectrum – almost as though our presence is an inconvenience.

Do you ever feel like you are being served by “the hand”?  For some of us, the first person (or hand) we see in the morning is the one at the drive through window.  Can this person make or break your day?  Likely not, but they can at least enhance the experience with a friendly “Good morning and have a nice day”.

What is the point of this post?  The customer perceives VALUE based on the full service experience.  The people in customer service can make or break the customer’s experience with  your product or service.  VALUE is worth more than simply meeting Cost Objectives and Performance Expectations.  Value and Cost are not equal.

Someone may VALUE your opinion although they wouldn’t necessarily pay you for it.  The expression “let me give you my 2 cents on this” comes to mind.

How do you enhance customer satisfaction?

Major food chains and retailers are constantly looking for customer feedback.  You may even be enticed to complete the “How did we do today” survey by an offer to discount your next purchase.

10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction

  1. Communicate.  Communication with the customer is the key to enhancing customer satisfaction.  Follow Up and Follow Through to assure and confirm expectations have been satisfied.
  2. Be Confident.  Customers like to deal with people who know what they are doing.  We don’t want to hear, “This is my first time doing this so …”
  3. Be Professional.  The customer is always right – even when they are wrong.
  4. Build Customer Confidence.  Your performance and ability to meet the customers’ needs will re-assure them that they have made the right decision.
  5. Build Value (Reputation).  Be effective and perform efficiently:  Everyone  wants the best lawyer or the best doctor.  “We have the best person on it.”
  6. Ask the customer.  Is there anything else we can do for you today?  This suggests that you are able to do more if necessary.  The customer may just say, “Not today, but may be next time.”  At least you know they’ll may be back versus NEVER.
  7. Don’t send out surveys.  There are many ways to measure customer satisfaction without sending surveys.  “Paying” someone to provide an opinion may even change it.  “Will I still get a free lunch if I tell you what I’m really thinking?”  Remember the Vending Machine example from above?  The vending machine knows exactly how poor performance looks and feels.
  8. Be THE Solution.  We coined a phrase some time ago – “Thinking so you don’t have to.”  Take away the problem and be the solution.
  9. Thank You.  Show your customers that you appreciate their business.  It may be as easy as saying “Thank You for Your Business.”
  10. Smile – Whether the customer can see you or not – SMILE.  Studies have suggested that people know or can sense when other people are smiling.  We can’t quote a source for this statement, however, smiling is also good for you.

How does this relate to LEAN?  Poor customer service will kill any business.  At that time it doesn’t matter how efficient or lean your operation is.  Most lean operations “present” very well.  The cleanliness and organization of the operation suggests a degree of sophistication and a real sense of “we know what we’re doing.”  Unfortunately, the customer experience may not include tours of your operation.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!