Sunday, January 2, 2011

After the Victory

So, let us imagine that we have successfully implemented a process improvement. Victory at last! What may surprise many readers is that the improvement effort has not completed yet. In fact, a large percentage of successful process improvement efforts slide back to square one after the improvement has been made and the effort declared a success.

Let us take a closer look at this phenomenon. What typically happens after a successful improvement effort is that the improvement team or specialist gets moved to another improvement effort. Upper management, too, lessen their attention on the team that was undergoing the improvement. This results in the recently improved team or department in a fledgling state and very susceptible to moving back to their old (bad) habits. Furthermore, they may not be entirely comfortable with the analysis and effort required and without the specialist’s presence may end up spending excessive time and effort on what should be quick and easy. This in turn gravitates the team members to go back to their old ways.

To ensure that this does not happen, even after an improvement effort is declared a success, lines of communication between leadership, the improvement specialists and the team being improved must remain open. Regular checkups with the team should be performed by the improvement specialists albeit less frequently. An improvement effort is not an on/off switch but rather a living, breathing thing that must be properly cared for.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Cubicle Shuffle

At my client organization’s offices, an interesting and traumatic event for those affected by it was the usual employee cubicle shuffle, where recently moved people had to box up and shift elsewhere. Now, there are many reasons why such a sequence of events would take place (and sometimes they are out of human hands). Generally, however, this is due to poor resource management.

When folks hear about People Management, they generally think along the lines of motivation and psychological counseling and support. However, the most basic part of the organization is the staff and their management at the most basic level involves management of their shelter and place of work. This repeated cubicle shuffle simply denotes the lack of organizational planning to accommodate the most basic requirements of your most basic components.

Effective people management begins with a CMDB that records not only the basic information about the employee such as cubicle number, email address, phone number etc. but also makes note of their skills and capabilities including past experience and skill sets. Much can be researched and perused on the net regarding this topic, but the magic is in the implementation of it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Magnificent Seven

In the pursuit of quality, it is necessary to utilize techniques to analyze and evaluate metrics in a quality-oriented fashion. There are seven basic techniques that have been utilized for many decades now in the world of quality management. The utilization of these techniques has resulted in organizations making great strides in their quality management efficiency and quality delivered to the customer.

The seven techniques are as follows:

  • Cause and Effect Diagram (Ishikawa Diagram): This breaks down the possible cause of a variation from specifications into six different areas – People, Methods, Machines, Materials, Measurements and Environment. These can be further subdivided into smaller components. The basic idea is to link these areas to the process in order to evaluate which area (or sub-area) could be causing problems. This can be used proactively to evaluate the process for problems before they happen or reactively to zero in on a problem once it has manifested itself.

  • Check Sheet: This is a simple document that is used for collecting data in real-time and at the location where the data is generated. The document is typically a blank form that is designed for the quick, easy, and efficient recording of the desired information, which can be either quantitative or qualitative. When the information is quantitative, the check sheet is sometimes called a tally sheet. There are 5 basic types of check sheets: Classification, Location, Frequency, Measurement Scale and Check List.

  • Control Charts: A control chart consists of points representing a statistic with
  • mean, standard deviation and upper and lower control limits also displayed. If analysis of the control chart indicates that the process is currently under control then data from the process can be used to predict the future performance of the process. If the chart indicates that the process being monitored is not in control, analysis of the chart can help determine the sources of variation, which can then be eliminated to bring the process back into control.

  • Histogram: A histogram consists of tabular frequencies, shown as adjacent rectangles, erected over discrete intervals (bins), with an area equal to the frequency of the observations in the interval. Histograms are used to plot density of data, and often for density estimation: estimating the probability density function of the underlying variable. The histogram provides insight on the problem (or potential problem) that may be related to the data being plotted.

  • Pareto Chart: A Pareto chart contains both bars and a line graph, where individual values are represented in descending order by bars, and the cumulative total is represented by the line. The purpose of the Pareto chart is to highlight the most important among a (typically large) set of factors. In quality control, it often represents the most common sources of defects, the highest occurring type of defect, or the most frequent reasons for customer complaints, and so on.

  • Scatter Diagram: A scatter diagram uses Cartesian co-ordinates to display values for two variables for a set of data. A scatter plot can suggest various kinds of correlations between variables with a certain confidence interval. Correlations may be positive (rising), negative (falling), or null (uncorrelated). If the pattern of dots slopes from lower left to upper right, it suggests a positive correlation between the variables being studied. If the pattern of dots slopes from upper left to lower right, it suggests a negative correlation. A line of best fit (alternatively called 'trend line') can be drawn in order to study the correlation between the variables.

  • Stratification: Stratification is a technique that separates data gathered from a variety of sources so that patterns can be observed. These patterns can then be further analyzed to zero in on the root cause of the problem.

The seven basic techniques of quality management have been staples in the toolbox of any quality professional for a long time now. It does not take a lot of effort to start utilizing these techniques in your organization quickly and efficiently. There is really no reason why any and every company shouldn’t be using these tools extensively.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Business’ Disappointment

At my client organization’s offices, while passing through, I overheard two ladies in the marketing team expressing their dissatisfaction with IT and the help desk in particular. I stopped and spoke with them a little bit about what was troubling them. What emerged was the usual lack of quality and support provided by IT for the applications that they use to perform their job functions.

What IT must always keep in the forefront of their minds is that they are ultimately servicing the business. If staff in business cannot access the applications that they require to perform their duties, then this will result in their incapability to bring in new business and increase sales volume. This, in turn, will lower the organization’s competitiveness and damage the brand image. Ultimately, this will result in lower profits and less resources available to all departments including IT.

I have always emphasized that IT is key in today’s times. Most other departments within the typical organization (Sales, Marketing, HR, Accounts etc.) are fairly mature. However, IT is relatively new in that processing information utilizing computers has only been going on for a few decades or so. Sales and marketing have, in their way, been occurring since the dawn of time. What this means is that, generally, IT has the greatest potential for improvement within the organization. A 10% improvement is usually quite easy to achieve in the IT department of most organizations, if not a much higher percentage. If an organization can improve their IT by that amount, it is obvious that they will surge ahead of the competition due to the efficiencies that will be inherent in this improvement to the entire organization. IT is, therefore, the most significant catalyst to an organization’s success nowadays.

It is easy for IT to pigeonhole itself inconstantly putting out fires and only focusing on meeting quarterly numbers. However, this is a short sighted strategy that will hinder the organization and ultimately hurt IT. Constant improvement is not a luxury but a necessity for all of us, especially IT.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Skills Management

With IT being more knowledge centric and requiring an ever greater array of skill sets to get things done, one of the major challenges facing organizations today is the effective management of skills.

Now the skills can be brought on board in a number of ways. There is the option of acquiring In-House talent a.k.a. Full Time Employees. One could get Contractors (which is essentially the same thing nowadays). Consultants could be brought in as well. And then we have the ever present outsourcing option as well.

It is in the regular evaluation, analysis and relevant action in the area of employee/supplier skill set that the effective management of the organizations skills can be successfully undertaken. The ITIL body of knowledge refers to this as Supplier Management and outlines a strategy of classifying suppliers (which can be said to include employees as well) into long and short term suppliers as well as strategic or commodity suppliers. There are, of course, many different techniques and tools to perform the task of managing the skills and suppliers of the organization and these are readily available online. The focus of this post is to emphasize the need for these techniques and the warning to avoid the trap of forever being in fire-fighting mode and not ever getting to perform this important task.

There are many aspects to IT management. Some tasks are considered “essential” such as the successful completion of a critical project. Other tasks such as Skills Management are generally fall into the “we’ll get to them if we can” category. While the completion of the critical project will keep the lights on for tomorrow, it is the other tasks that distinguish a ordinary organization form a world class one.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Wisdom Hierarchy

The Wisdom hierarchy is often mentioned in passing and for a lot of folks is a new topic. It is, however, a great way to gauge the state of an organizations’ (or teams, or even individuals) depth of understanding of a topic.

The components of the Wisdom Hierarchy consist of Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. The first component, Data, is simply that. Usually data is a list of numbers that provide almost no meaning to anyone, unless they are connected in some way to some context. Typically data is unorganized and unprocessed.

Information, the next evolution in the hierarchy, is described as “organized or structured data, which has been processed in such a way that the information now has relevance for a specific purpose or context, and is therefore meaningful, valuable, useful and relevant”.

Knowledge is then derived from information, also applying experiences and insights gained through true cognitive and analytical activity. If someone "memorizes" information, then they have amassed knowledge. This knowledge has useful meaning to them, but it does not provide for, in and of itself, a way to further the knowledge.

Wisdom is the accumulation of the previous levels along with a deep understanding that enables the ability to increase effectiveness.

As readers may have guessed, it is the ability to operate at levels of wisdom that every individual, team and organization should aspire towards. However, how is this to be accomplished? Why, with proper process improvement techniques in place, of course.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Strategic Plan

The one thing most companies do not create or work out of is a strategic plan. Now I am not talking about a project plan that should be (and is also usually not properly) created for every project but a master strategic plan for the IT department of the organization. This plan should cover a lot of different issues and plan for the long term growth of the company.

The strategic plan should of course first and foremost define and build upon the relationship between the products and services that a company produces and the utilization of these by its customers. This, in the end is the life blood of any business endeavor whether it is IT or retail sales. Financial management, Demand management and just good old fashioned service strategy must be performed to achieve this.

Of course, technology must be involved to decide what should be researched and developed in the future in order for the organization to be more competitive. Constant technological improvement is the lifeblood of any technological organization or department. This is obvious.

Furthermore, supplier management should also be considered in a longer term role within the overall strategy. Possibly, certain suppliers should be handled as longer term partners while other suppliers have a less intimate relationship with the organization. By the same token, a plan for the staff should be thought of and monitored in order to reduce the dramatic changes brought on people’s lives with changes in their employment status.

In reality all aspects of the organization must be considered at the high level and incorporated in a strategic plan. Individual project plans and so on should be deeper dives in to the overall strategic plan. It is the author’s hope that top management performs strategic planning in a well organized and complete way.