Hardwiring Quality, Loyalty, and Sustaining Results

I haven’t posted in a while for three really good reasons.  The first and most exciting reason comes as the result of the work going into a series of process improvement talks and training on the topic of Hardwiring Quality.  I am working closely with Dave Bell to use our combined experiences to help service industry leaders shape employee behavior in a way that creates lasting value for their organization.  

Secondly, I am doing research on what drives consumer loyalty in different industries.   I work in the healthcare industry and we know, for example, that how we treat our patients, both physically and emotionally, drives our business more than price and convenience.  Yet, in the home remodeling industry, word-of-mouth referrals (based on quality and timeliness of work) and salesperson likability tend to drive sales.  Not surprisingly, but not necessarily obvious, consumers judge hotels based on the cleanliness of the rooms more so than the courtesy of the staff.

Finally, I am in the midst of writing piece on the elusive nature of sustainability.  Most often, business leaders ask why it is so tough to sustain process improvement gains.  Teams work hard to create, develop, and improve processes.  Yet, looking back, leaders often wonder why the gains were not sustained over the long term.  I think I have a unique spin on the answer.  (I think through these questions while riding my bike.  I have about 50 or 60 more miles to ride before the answer shines fully on my brain, but the clouds are beginning to part.  I wrote my book in my head while riding my bike, then put it on paper three months later.)

During the spring and summer months, I will likely not post as often as I have during the winter.  While my mental focus is on the topics above, I will also be spending time working in the yard and doing my P90X in between the injuries caused by my P90X.  However, all my posts will made available through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

-Jason Kilgore

Lean and Six Sigma in 5 Minutes or Less

Lean and Six Sigma (sometimes combined to into the term Lean Six Sigma) are two methodologies for identifying and resolving process related inefficiencies.  In this blog post, I would like share with my readers an overview of each and how my book, The Elegant Process ties in.

First, What is Lean? Lean is a series of process flow principles based on the Toyota Production System.  Lean, depending on the application is sometimes referred to generically as Lean Thinking  (in the non-manufacturing environment) or Lean Manufacturing.  Its claim to fame is that by following the [Lean] process principles, the producer can greatly reduce the time it takes to deliver value to the customer.  A by-product of this just-in-time delivery is the elimination of waste — waste which adds significant cost to produce the product or service.   By reducing delivery time and waste, and thus maximizing value, both the consumer and the producer benefit through lower costs (producer wins) and higher quality (consumer wins).

Second, What’s up with the book? I often describe The Elegant Process as a prequel to Lean.  Before we can become fully enlightened in the ways of Lean, we must begin to think in terms of process.  I call it box-and-arrows thinking (ability to see what’s happening and draw a flow chart in your head to describe it).  In order to take full advantage of the Lean concepts, we must be able to describe or map our business as a series of processes, known as the Value Stream.  Lean principles can then be used to make judgments on the value of the individual actions that comprise those processes.  The book explains all of this using real-life examples and practical applications.

Third, Six Sigma – Never heard of it. Six Sigma is a statistics-based, problem-solving methodology.  This disciplined approach traditionally has five phases: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.  Those certified in Six Sigma generally fall into three categories of increasing skill level:  Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt.  There are other “belts” that many training companies sell, but, I, personally think much of the belt terminology should be reserved for the Six Sigma elites to debate in online forums.  (Full disclosure: I am a Black Belt, maybe a Master by some definitions.  However, Dave Bell calls me a Six Sigma Ninja and that sounds much cooler!)  Six Sigma’s usefulness is in its ability to reduce the variation in a process.  Example:  The Wendy’s in Hidenwood should use Six Sigma to figure out how to get my drive through order right, even just once.

Lean and Six Sigma contain a ton of useful and nifty tricks for evaluating and troubleshooting business, operational, or manufacturing processes.  Both sets of tools can be leveraged to lower costs and increase the quality of goods and services.  The down side of both Lean and Six Sigma is that they are full of nuanced terminology, flow charting, and, worst of all, mathematical analysis.  Many savvy and intelligent business people get turned off by all the geekdom and either dump the idea of Lean Six Sigma or hire a Ninja.  As I work with groups to solve their process problems, I take great care not to go Star Trek on them. Ultimately, my goal, both in the book and in life, is to help businesses succeed, not impress them with Minitab.

Cowboys vs Eagles – a lesson in process elegance

An excerpt from, The Elegant Process by Jason Kilgore

Ensuring an elegant process requires an understanding of and appreciation for process rhythm. Process rhythm is the flow and cadence at which the process moves in time. We tend to think of rhythm as it relates to music or a beating heart or your favorite poem. Processes also have rhythms. Process rhythm defines how each step in the process works together to create a continuous, synchronous process flow. I remember going to Philadelphia one year to watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Philadelphia Eagles back in the Troy Aikman / Emmett Smith / Michael Irvin era. It was the first professional football game I had ever attended in person. As I watched the Dallas offense, I was amazed by the precision and timing of all eleven players. One play in particular sticks in my mind. The ball was snapped, the offensive line battled the defenders, and the wide receivers took off down the field, running their routes. Aikman let the ball fly. I was not sure who he was throwing it to! Just after he released the ball, Michael Irvin cut back inside toward the middle of the field. Michael reached out and caught the ball without breaking stride. Immediately, he was surrounded and brought down by the Eagles’ defense.The reason I remember this so vividly is not because of the beer being tossed in the air. It was not the Eagle fans screaming and cursing. It was sheer elegance of how the quarterback, receiver, and offensive line worked in perfect concert to pull off such a play. Surrounded by passionate Eagle fans, I kept these observations of the Cowboys’ perfect rhythm to myself, of course. I’ve watched football on TV for as long as I can remember. But watching professional football on television never gave me an appreciation for the process rhythm required to complete a thirty-yard pass. It was not until that point that I understood just how important rhythm is to football.

And the same is true for process. It takes many pieces working together at the same time, for the same reason, in the same rhythm. Without a rhythm, a process can quickly disintegrate into random actions, each marching to the beat of its own drum. Rhythm is the unifying force holding together all the tasks and actions contained within a process.