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Lean in an Office is different from lean in Manufacturing

Lean in an Office is different from lean in Manufacturing

By | 5S, Continuous Improvement, Lean Six Sigma, Lean Techniques | 2 Comments

Lean in an Office is different from lean in Manufacturing

Lean has its roots in Manufacturing, so it follows that many consulting firms also have their roots in consulting for Manufacturing.

Most of these consulting firms have embraced lean in office and white collar areas – I have no beef with that at all.

However, when talking about Lean in an office environment, some of the tools and techniques change in terms of their application and benefit. But some consulting firms apply the tools and techniques the same way they would in a manufacturing environment – and that is a problem.

I’ll give you an example – the 5S principles.

5S is simply 5 Japanese (or English) words beginning with ‘S’ that are guiding principles for creating order and control in the organisation of your workspace, and reducing waste like excessive motion.

Original JapaneseEnglish versionHigh Level Description
SeiriSortSort out all your equipment so you only have what you need
SeitonSet in orderArrange everything so you can get something quickly and easily
SeisoShineKeep your workstation clean and safe
SeiketsuStandardiseStandardise workstations so people are familiar with layout
SitsukeSustainAudit workstations and keep it the way it should be


These principles, when applied correctly are transformative in a manufacturing environment (or similar).

Poorly set up and maintained manufacturing environments can be potentially life threatening. Time spent looking for a particular tool can cause huge delays to the production line etc. It’s a big deal – and therefore, it’s one of the first things that often gets done when ‘lean’ comes to a plant.

But now we’re in an office and in walks your ‘lean consultant’ with heavy manufacturing experience but no understanding of how it differs in an office.

“Let’s 5S this workplace”.

And they set about red-tagging stuff not needed, cleaning away things, tidying desks, sorting out your paperclips and staplers, making every shiny.

And that’s nice – but it’s not transformational.

Of course, clean and tidy desks are beneficial, but the impact isn’t anything like it is on the manufacturing floor. An office worker with an untidy desk can still be highly productive (I can certainly relate to this!) but a manufacturing worker will not be productive with an untidy, cluttered and chaotic workstation.

So should we just bin the whole 5S technique in an office..?

Well, no.

The key thing here is to think about what it is that you make. What is the medium you work with?

In a manufacturing environment, this is perhaps metal, or wood or plastics etc. You’ll need machinery and tools to do your job.

In an office, the medium you work with is information or data. In this day and age it’s still some paper, but mostly it’s little 1s and 0s – electronic data.

And that’s where 5S comes into its own in an office.

“Let’s 5S our data”.

How much time have you lost searching for a file? Or looking for the right template? Or finding that report from last month? Or looking up that policy? Or searching for your complaints procedure?

Even if it’s only minutes lost each day – multiply that by everyone who works for your company.

Trawling through your email folders or your file share system or just windows explorer to find the tools (information) you need to do your job.

It can be a huge waste of time – fixing this problem can be transformational.

So you see, 5S in an office is really a virtual activity. It’s mostly online, sorting, straightening, shining, standardising and sustaining your stored data it the point.

There are other Lean tools and techniques that change their application in an office environment too such as SMED and 8 wastes – but perhaps that’s another blog post/rant.

If you’re thinking of hiring consultants to help with your Lean transformation – make sure they are using the right tools for the job.

Here are the results of every Customer Satisfaction survey ever

Here are the results of every Customer Satisfaction survey ever.

By | Customer experience, Customer Satisfaction, Lean Six Sigma, Lean Techniques | No Comments

Here are the results of every Customer Satisfaction survey ever.

If you’re thinking of implementing some Customer Surveys, I’m going to save you some time…

Here are the results of every single Customer Satisfaction survey ever completed:

  1. Be easy to deal with you.
  2. Don’t make mistakes.
  3. Take ownership and fix my problem if you do make a mistake.
  4. Make it easy to understand your products.
  5. Make it easy to understand the value you provide me.

Done! Heaps cheaper than an actual survey too 🙂

Ok – so I’m being glib. Of course there is huge value in measuring customer satisfaction and gathering customer feedback. But you’re probably going to get some version of the above in your responses.

The really important bit is then acting on that information. But more and more – what I see from organisations is that the scores are the most important output from a survey.

“Our Customer Satisfaction scores are 54% for March! We’ve gone up 1% – well done everyone for their efforts. Let’s see if we can get to 60% by the end of the next quarter!”

But of course – who really cares? And then there are the excuses for when it goes down.

“Well, it’s a seasonal peak for us – we’re always going to struggle to maintain high scores this time of year. I’m sure it will bounce back next month”

If your Customer Satisfaction programme is all about the numbers, you’re missing the point. The point is to understand what your customers like (and do more of that) and what they don’t like (and do much less of that). One of the most insightful parts of the process is the customer verbatims that are provided. You know – where the customer is telling you exactly why they view you the way they do.

I know of organisations that don’t even bother to read these (takes too long). Much easier to aggregate the scores and report on that.

Taking time to read, understand, sort and categorise the verbatim is such a time consuming and boring activity. Who’s got time for that?

Then there’s the organisations that know exactly why their customers are frustrated but make the conscious decision to do nothing about it. For instance:

A bank might be told over and over that their overdrawn fee policy is unfair – customers are even leaving because of it but we’ve decided that the small amount of money it contributes to the overall profit is more important than a fair and balanced approach. Besides, changing it is too much work.

Or an insurance company might be told over and over that their Liability Policy is too difficult to understand – but do you know how much effort it would be to re-write these things?! Not to mention expensive….

But – did our CSAT scores go up this month? Awesome! High fives everyone.

It’s not limited to Customer Satisfaction either – Employee Satisfaction suffers from the same problem.

If you’re not going to do anything about the underlying reasons for dissatisfaction, for customers or employees, stop wasting their time and your money asking them.

Could a woman play in a mens football league?

Could a woman play in a men’s football league?

By | High Performance, Leadership, Lean Six Sigma | No Comments

Blackburn Rovers play in the Championship League here in England – and they’re not having a great season. There’s a good chance they’ll be relegated to League One next season.

Their keeper is currently one Jason Steele:

jason steele

This is Hope Solo – widely regarded as the best female goalie in the world:

Hope solo

Would Blackburn Rovers have had a better season if Hope was guarding the goal? Or another top female goalie…?

The answer is of course – I have no idea.

But it raises an interesting question around having the best person in a job, doesn’t it?

Last year, only 21 out of the top 500 companies in the US have woman CEOs. That’s 4.2%. So… 93.8% of the time, a man was the best person for the job?

Regardless of what your thoughts are on my football example above, I think we can all agree that more women would have been the best person for the job for a far greater percentage of fortune 500 companies.

I’m not going to go into a lengthy diatribe about gender inequality and pay inequality (but it’s something we all should care greatly about) but instead, I’d like to make the point that in many cases, we simply don’t choose the best person for the job.

And it happens in all companies at all levels.

When I look at improvement projects, we often find that the person chosen to deliver a project is someone who has the time or bandwidth available to do the work. Often, it has nothing to do with them being the right person for the job.

So next time you’re looking for someone to take on a process improvement project – don’t look at who’s available to do the work – look for who is the most suited to deliver the work.

You’ll get better results.

5 reasons you don’t have a culture of continuous improvement

By | Change Management, Lean Six Sigma, Lean Thinking, Lean Training, Management | No Comments

Almost all companies want a culture of continuous improvement (CI) – yet so few have it. Why is that then?

Here are our top 5 reasons that prevent you from creating a culture of CI:

1.You don’t invest in training people

Improvement is a skill like any other. Some people have a bit of a natural gift for it – most of us need to be trained. It doesn’t have to be expensive in this day and age and the return on investment you’ll get will far exceed the training cost. It’s also far cheaper to have a Lean Six Sigma training provider deliver the training at your workplace.

There’s a lot of good Lean Six Sigma training out there – we offer a whole suite of courses (check them out here).

There are a lot of bad Lean Six Sigma training providers out there too. Look out for companies that only offer Lean Six Sigma training and don’t advertise anything about their employees either.

Look for companies that do more than just train – look for companies that actually deliver Improvements for organisations. They have more experience in delivery and the courses are more practical and relatable.

2.You don’t give people the time to work on improvements

If you’re an organisation that has invested in some Lean Six Sigma training (that’s great!) but where it often falls apart is after the training – your staff aren’t given any time to do the work. And it will take them longer than an experienced professional, because they’ve only just been trained.

Too often, Managers or Support Staff are trained in improvements, but then they return to their full time job. They’re expected to somehow create enough time to work on a project out of thin air – whilst managing all their ‘business as usual’ work.

Lean Six Sigma training doesn’t make you magic. You still need time to do the work.

3. You don’t give them opportunity to do the work

So you’ve given them the Lean Training and made the time available for them to work on some improvement projects – but have you given them the opportunity to make changes?

I’m talking about the autonomy to make decisions. Or if you can’t give them that – a rapid approval/decision making process so they can move their improvements forward at pace.

Too many organisations require far too much effort to navigate your way through the various governance and approvals boards.

“I’m sorry, that will need to go to the Risk Steering board – they only meet once and month and they just met yesterday. Then it will need to go through the Change & Transformation forum, the IT board, the People Board, the Cost Board, the ExCo, the CapEx review board, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and 3 dancing Leprechauns before you can continue.”

I’ve watched so many good projects die a death through a war of attrition getting through internal approvals.

4. You don’t give them a budget for improvements

It costs money to make money – isn’t that what they say? If you want improvement work to happen, it will usually cost something. Employee resources, maybe some Lean Consultants, perhaps some IT spend, other 3rd party suppliers etc. And 99% of the time, it will cost money up front – before you get your return on investment from the improvement.

Many organisations want people to prove the benefits before the work has even started.

That’s kind of like asking for proof a share price is going to rise, before investing your money.

A good Lean Six Sigma project will set out what their expectations are for the improvement, but usually, there is no real way of proving this will occur as it’s only a well-formed hypothesis until you actually start operating a process differently.

5. You don’t make it safe for people to fail

This is perhaps the most important on the list. So much decision making in business now is done by committee – so if it goes wrong we can all share in the blame. Perhaps that’s why Steering Groups and Boards are so attractive.

When it comes to blame, we could all take the tremendous advice of Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstor:

“Blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help or ask for help.”

Growth requires risk – look at any investment portfolio. The same goes with people – growth requires risk. The same goes for business.

The Leaders of an organisation need to work hard to instill an attitude where failure is accepted. We need to create an environment where people are not afraid to take measured risks.

Would you add any other reasons to this list?

Statistical tools What should I use

Statistical tools: What should I use?

By | Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Lean Training, Minitab | No Comments

I’d just started a new assignment and was given the task of understanding what was driving lead time in an IT service centre. DMAIC was the chosen method and there was an expectation that data would be the basis for identifying root cause. There was only one thing for it……I must have Minitab!

What ensued was a battle for funding to acquire the statistical capability that Minitab offers, bringing in tactics such as obtaining a free trial version, showing some measure activity and then pleading with management for a full version to crack on with the analysis.

I never got a copy of Minitab. I did however manage to deliver on the goals of the project without this critical tool that I tried my best to acquire. Would it have changed the outcome? I very much doubt it!

This was several years ago now and experiences such as this have now changed my opinion of the need for this level of statistical wizardry. I have now shed the view that was ingrained in me from previous training at Green Belt and Black Belt level that what I need is Minitab. As a by-product its rendered large parts of my training obsolete as I have walkthrough guides for how to do things in Minitab when I never use Minitab to deliver a project.

So how have I solved this problem?

I’ve learned that for the things I need to be able to do in the environment I work in I can easily use a tool such as Excel. That’s great as it’s everywhere! (I’ve yet to find a workplace that didn’t install it as standard kit).

Minitab and other similar statistical analysis tools are great and I would argue essential in certain situations e.g. working with diameters of wire where the tolerance must be within spec. But in my world, the world of service, it’s not essential, as many a good consultant has proven time and time again.

If you happen to have access to tools such as Minitab then great, you should use them when it’s appropriate. But if you don’t and you’re asking yourself the question “Do I need a heavy duty statistics tool?” you may first want to think about the following:

  1. Will using Minitab change the outcome?
  2. Can I do this with the tools already at my disposal?

As ever I’ve tried my best to use my experience to help others and since built an Excel-based toolkit that can be used to help solve service related problems. This is just one of the elements developed for our Black Belt for Service training course.

And everyone who comes on our course gets a USB packed full of awesome tools and techniques – especially our statistical analysis tools and templates in Excel.

Human behavior is fascinating!

By | Behaviour, LinkedIn, Math Problems, Social Networks | No Comments

On my LinkedIn feed recently was a blog article by Phillip Neho (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/solve-u-r-genius-i-think-would-have-better-spelling-phillip-neho) where he was writing about all those silly math problems that people comment like or share on social media.

The article was a pretty decent attempt at explaining the different reactions people have to this latest fad.

But the really interesting thing was that he used a picture of a math problem as his banner image for his blog post…. As of writing this, he’d had 1,087 likes and 4,602 comments.

Guess what all the comments were? I’ll give you a hint – they weren’t comments discussing his viewpoint on why people feel the need to share or react to math problems…

That’s right – all the comments were people ‘solving’ the math puzzle shown in the image. People are so desperate to answer the math puzzle and seek validation for their intelligence that they don’t even read the post.

Phillip hilariously suggests that “if people would like to show their mathematical prowess, maybe they should join a group and share it quietly”

But 4,602 people ignored the post that was gently criticizing them for commenting on Maths problems and went straight to solving the Maths problem.

People are fascinating.

Does high performance equal great customer experiences

Does high performance equal great customer experiences?

By | Customer experience, Lean Thinking, Lean Training | No Comments

We have worked with some great teams. Teams who are experts in their field; truly committed to the cause and proud of the knowledge that they hold.

These teams hit their SLA’s, their visual management is awash with green and they have fantastic people retention. This sounds perfect doesn’t it?

What about their customer’s experience though? Are their customers delighted about the service they receive? Are they leaving awesome reviews? Unfortunately, not always…

The performance of a team is one thing, but the experience a customer has with an organisation can be totally different. We’ve worked with high performing teams but when we get under the skin and gather the voice of the customer and map the end to end customer journey, it can be found that the customer has endured a complex, clunky experience, which has generated dissatisfaction.

So, how can a customer be dissatisfied with the service of a high performing team?

Let’s take a quick moment and look at a customer journey for changing your personal details with your bank:

You phone the bank, key in your account details into the automated service, and then you are presented to an advisor.  You inform the advisor that you need to change your address and your bank details. The advisor asks you to confirm your account details, as well as other Data Protection being carried out. The advisor proceeds to make the necessary changes to your address. Once done, you are informed that another team has to update your bank details. You are then transferred through to the payment team. They ask you Data Protection questions again, and once satisfied, they update your payment details. The total duration of the call was over 14 minutes.

Although both teams met their own call time targets and carried out their Data Protection questions, the customer still left frustrated. Frustrated that they had to provide their account details verbally as well as electronically, frustrated that they had to speak to two different teams, and frustrated that they had to provide Data Protection answers twice.

If this bank put themselves in to the shoes of the customer and walked the process themselves, and documented the process end to end, they would quickly understand why their customers are dissatisfied and work out how to make improvements to the process. So, let’s not ask non value added questions, let’s design a process that delivers first time call resolution and therefore reduce hand offs, and whilst meeting Data Protection requirements, let’s not over process.

Attending a training course with Lean Consulting will provide you with a detailed overview of the tools and techniques required to document and analyse the end to end process and customer journey. The courses shall talk you through the challenges organisations face as a result of their silo approach to meeting customer demand, and the benefits of adopting collaboration and how much more productive and effective companies are if their teams are all rowing in the same direction.

Our training courses aren’t just about learning the tools and techniques of lean sigma either; you will also get so much value from collaborating with others in the room that will maximise your experience and learning.

We’d love to work with you and support you on your Continuous Improvement journey.

Do you even use minitab

Do you even use Minitab..?

By | Black Belt, Lean Six Sigma, Minitab, Tools | 2 Comments

We recently redesigned our Black Belt course and we’re pretty pleased with the results and are getting some great feedback from delegates.

One of the major drivers for this work though was to weave MS Excel throughout the course.

If you’ve ever completed a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt course then you were probably taught some statistical analysis using a software system called Minitab.

And chances are – especially if you work in service industries – that you’ve never ever used Minitab ever again.

Every time I ask a Black Belt if they use Minitab – the answer is always no. I think there are 2 main reasons for this:

  1. It’s expensive. It currently costs £1,030 for a license.
  2. It’s technically excessive for what you need.

I have run 100’s of improvement projects, most with some sort of statistical analysis involved. All of which was more than easily handled by MS Excel. Control charts, paretos, histograms, normal distributions, Design of Experiments – all handled perfectly well by MS Excel.

Granted, Minitab is a superior product. But superior isn’t always better. Kinda like how an articulated lorry is a better transport system than a van, but completely excessive if all you need to transport is a dozen bricks, right?

So what’s the point of learning about a good software package that you’ll never really need and never get the opportunity to use again?

I can’t think of a good answer to that.

Especially since MS Excel has made giant strides in terms of its capability. (Did you know in the 2016 version you can quickly and easily do histograms & box plots?)

So we took the decision to teach all the statistical elements of great Lean Six Sigma Black Belts and illustrated them with MS Excel. Better still, we’ve built templates for everything. You should see our Hypothesis Tester that Jason built – it’s pretty amazing.

What do you think? Are you a devotee of Minitab or do you use MS excel for all your analytical needs?

Service The right tools for the job

Service: The right tools for the job!

By | Black Belt, Lean for Service, Lean Training | No Comments

In recent times, I’ve found myself spending increased time training service sector individuals in Lean Six Sigma methods as opposed to on the job coaching. This presents a great opportunity to really underpin some of the methods and tools with knowledge and understanding but it did start me thinking….

Are we teaching them the right tools for the problems they will encounter?

To try and answer this question I found myself thinking back to my Yellow, Green and Black belt training and the tools and methods I had being shown. I decided it would be a good idea to re-acquaint myself with all the material, if only to validate the knowledge was still there lodged in my brain awaiting recall (It’s worth noting that for large parts of this I had a very large folder with lots of notes in front of me).

I failed miserably! I was able to recall around 70% of the knowledge but the other 30% was gone. How could I have forgotten that section about DoE response surface designs or that Box-Cox method for transforming data to a normal distribution…?!

The conclusion I reached was interesting….

The reason the 30% isn’t in there is because I’m not using it!

Wow. Could it be possible that nearly a third of what I have learned has been of so little use to me that I erased it from memory? Or should I be applying more of this in the work I do?

Reflecting on my improvement performance, I can honestly say that much of my training was of little use to me.

So why am I not using this 30%?

Simple. I’ve been working in service all this time but the training I’ve undertaken has been Lean Six Sigma training. Let me elaborate.

Lean and Six Sigma both have their roots in manufacturing. Over the years these methods have been brought into service and along with it the training of these methods. However, the training has struggled to evolve away from its roots to the extent that around a third of what I was shown is simply not required in Service-based improvements.

And so, what does this mean….back to our original question

Are we teaching them the right tools for the problems they will encounter?

Answer: No, not in a service context

The great thing about arriving at this space is that I’m not on my own. At Lean Consulting, we’ve recognised this and looked to do something about it, to the extent that we have designed what we believe to be the first real Lean Six Sigma Black Belt that focuses exclusively on Service.

Hopefully we can start to better equip individuals with the right tools for the job when solving problems in services.

Email is not the problem

Email is not the problem

By | 5 Whys, Communication, Email, Lean Thinking, Productivity | 5 Comments

Look at how many products are out there now all claiming to kill the horrible, nasty, useless, time-consuming, email.

Slack, Chatter, Yammer, Hipchat – and dozens more. All claiming to ‘solve’ the problem of email.

There is even a product called Shortmail which limits all email users to 500 characters (because apparently, the issue with emails is they are too long).

But all these systems miss the point and are trying to solve the symptom not the cause. The root cause of issues with email is poor communication skills not email itself.

You don’t solve the problem of poor communication skills by giving people a different platform to communicate on – you just transfer the problem to the new system

Email is awesome if you think about it. I can write a message and send that to anyone around the world in seconds. And it’s platform agnostic. You could be on Lotus Notes, Outlook or any number of web-based services and they all work with each other! Wonderful. In an age increasingly dominated by eco-system exclusivity, what a breath of fresh air.

But we’re all drowning in it. I get people want a way of ‘reclaiming’ their work day and getting out from underneath email.

So let’s practice some Lean skills and think about WHY we’re drowning in emails.

  • We receive too many emails. Why?
  • We include people on a message who don’t need to read it. Why?
  • We are including them just in case it becomes important later on. Why?
  • We are worried about doing the wrong thing. Why?
  • We lack the appropriate delegated authority or have micro-managers.

We could run this exercise over a few times and find different root causes of course – there isn’t just one.

There are all sorts of ideas and tricks on the web about how to better manager you email, but it seems to me that the real issue why you’re getting so much in the first place.

It takes seconds for someone to add your email to the address bar but in doing that – they’ve guaranteed to take up 5 minutes or more of your time in reading, filing and maybe replying to that email.

So that’s the behaviour that needs to change. And that’s why these alternatives to email become appealing – not because they offer any real solution to the problem, but because they represent change. It’s far simpler to change a system than it is to change people behaviour. Especially in larger organisations.

But that’s what really needs to happen. We need people’s behaviour to change. And it starts with thinking differently:

  • Does the person I’m including on this email need to read the content?
  • Would I physically write this email out 10 times to mail it to all these people?
  • Why am I copying in these people?
  • Would a catch up on the phone, face to face or even a quick meeting be a better use of everyone’s time?

I know one executive who’s trying to do this. They rarely respond to emails anymore, making it an unreliable medium for contacting them. The upshot of this? If it’s not important, people don’t bother emailing them (as they know they won’t read it). If it is important? They call, text or pop round to see him in person.

This works because adding someone to the CC field of an email is something we don’t even really think twice about. It’s so easy. But if you had to call that person – you wouldn’t bother them unless they really needed to know something.

Perhaps that should be the litmus test of whether someone is included on an email. Would I pick up the phone and speak to this person about this discussion? No – then don’t cc them.

It’s time we all took a little ownership about how to improve our communication skills – especially email.