Monday, December 3, 2012

Designing the Perfect Process

In all the work places we have been, do you remember ever asking how someone came up with this insane method to respond to a customer order?  Taking the order is easy, we receive an email from our website catalog system.  But everything else we do after that resembles a group of 5 year old Americans playing futbol (ok fine, soccer).

We would like to think the process was designed using the smartest people, using the best tools, and the most responsive and fair management techniques taught in the best MBA schools.  No such luck my friend.  Your current process was haphazardly put together using years of bad results from battling against lawyers, the least amount of communication possible, and it's certainly not documented or repeatable.  The last thing we also want is someone able to measure the process only to beat us up with the charts.

Does any of this sound familiar?

When do we start creating the new process?  The best situation would be during New Product Development or when you start to go after new customers.  Sometimes your current process does not meet the customer needs and small step improvement is not enough.

Let's start by defining a few characteristics of the perfect process and what it looks like:

1)  It has no review cycles, quality comes from the process
2)  There is no guessing
3)  There is no hunting and gathering
4)  The time from order to fulfillment is as short as possible
5)  The customer receives the order defect free and exactly when they want it

With this in mind, let's start....

You will need to collect any regulations that may impact your process or product, voice of the customer using surveys or direct interviews, and any business concerns that may exist.  We will put this on a House of Quality or Quality Function Deployment (QFD) (same thing... mostly, just don't say that to one of the Six Sigma guys).  Rate, prioritize, and score these to help determine the level of focus to be applied during the actual design of the flow.

Benchmark other organizations or companies dealing with the same type of product.  Be open and honest, those organizations getting good results will be very proud of their process and will happily show you their stuff.  There may be more information published on the internet, in trade magazines, or state/federal government survey data.

More time is used defining requirements so when it is time to document the new flow it almost creates itself.  Ok it's not that easy, you will need the smart people to help lay out the steps.  Lock everyone in a room, tape a long piece of butcher paper on the wall, break out the sharpies and sticky notes, and tell everyone to put their shoes on 'cause they're going to go do some work.

Start with the first signaling step and have the rest of the team fill out the remaining steps of the flow.  Keep a large copy of the QFD taped to the wall next to the flow so they don't forget about the customer's and other process stakeholder's needs.  Add the inputs and outputs to each step step to help the team focus on the thing going through the system.  Complete your Value Analysis and look for any of the 8-Wastes that can be eliminated before the process goes live.

When you have this completed and the team reaches consensus on the flow, put it in your SOP or Deskguide format.  Create the training to deploy the new process to the other team members who have not seen it and any new team members that come on board later.  Determine the measure points for Quality, Cost, Delivery, and any other Customer measure to finish the process.

If you have some sort of process automation, make sure you have separated the steps in the process to show which are performed by people and those performed by the computers.  Don't mix these as computers can't think critically and make decisions and people should not be creating information that no one will see.

Does the perfect process really exist?  Probably not, but can get very close.  All processes need to have learning steps so when quality or cycle time issues are identified they can be quickly eliminated from the process.  Update the Deskguide and document in an A3.

Everyone raise your right hand and repeat after me.  Go ahead, get that hand in the air.

1)  I will not accept poor quality from my external or internal suppliers.
2)  I will not pass on poor quality to my external or internal customers.

OK, put you hand down and share cool things your have seen in your processes!

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