CI Tools

What is customer value and how do you define it?

The journey to transform your business into a continuous improvement enterprise should start with the definition of value. The CI business management model defines the value of a product or service from the customer’s point of view. How much your product or service is worth for the customer? What are the expectations?

How do you find the answer to those questions? Only the customers themselves can tell you. There are a couple of ways to get their input, talking with them, or using social media. The best time for a conversation is right after they received the product or service. Ask about their experience. What do they like? Do they have any suggestions? Listen to what they have to say and watch their demeanor. Social media accounts are another way to receive feedback from customers. Review the comments and ratings often. You can also create polls to survey their opinion.

The information from these three different sources will give you the value definition from the customers’ point of view. Value definition is a critical piece to start your continuous improvement quest. You will use it to classify each process as value-added or non-value-added. Value-added activities are those that transform input into output or change materials or information. In other words, the customers are willing to pay for it. Everything else is non-value-added or waste.

When you go to a restaurant, you expect to receive on a reasonable amount of time the plate you ask. You also expect that the staff follows any special instructions like cooking the meat the way you request it. You will pay for the food and the service without hesitation. If the restaurant messed up with your plate, that is a defect. Now they have to prepare a second plate, which is overproduction. Both things are waste or non-value-added activities. I bet that you, the customer, are not willing to pay for them.

Businesses need to complete various processes that are critical for operation but do not add value to the customers. Examples of necessary non-value added activities are hiring, payroll, and month-end financials.

The entire flow from the customer order to product or service received is drawn using a value-stream map (VSM). VSM is a special type of flow chart where you can visualize the flow of information and materials. This map is a tool that allows you to see waste and plan how to eliminate it. How to create a VSM will be the subject of a future post.

The priority of continuous improvement is to eliminate waste. Waste elimination will create faster and bigger results. Second, it is to challenge and reduce the necessary non-value-added activities. Minimize the quantity of non-value-added steps will further improve flow and reduce costs. Finally, you will work on optimizing value-added steps.

Waste

How can you identify the 7 types of waste?

Waste can be deceiving, learn how to identify waste in Lean

Value-added means those activities that change raw material or information into value for the customer. Any step that does not serve the purpose of providing value for the customer is non-value-added or waste. This type of activity adds cost or time but does not add value. One way to identify what areas of your business need change is by identifying waste.

For people with continuous improvement experience, it is easier to identify waste. They will see waste jumping out in front of them. For most people, finding waste is not an easy task. If you are one of those people, use the back-door method.

Waste is everywhere, and probably things that you see now as part of the process, are waste. With the back-door approach, you look for the opposite of waste, work. Work is the value-added activity in the area. When you cannot see waste, find the work, and everything else is waste!

Follow the following five points or steps while focusing on one process.

  1. Look at the three real things, the functional area, the facts, and work-in-process. Do not guess or let the emotions or company culture drive the way, use data-driven thinking. Be in the look-out for excess inventory.  
  2. Ask what the operation is about, what is the purpose of the process?
  3. Ask why the operation is necessary? Is there a better way to accomplish that purpose?
  4. Everything that is not Work is waste. Draw the process steps, and everything that does not execute the function is waste. 
  5. Ask why at least five times to find the root cause or reason for each step to exist. Ask how you can change the process. Create an improvement plan with the information gathered and execute it as soon as possible.

If you follow these steps every time, soon you will grasp the concept. It is important to understand the purpose of the area. Why the process exists and what is the value for the customer are important pieces of information for effective waste identification.

Productivity

Do you want to see simple solutions at work?

Earlier this week, I posted about using common sense, low-cost solutions to create improvements in the business operation. In this post, I want to present to you one example.

The manager of a chemical laboratory that provides service for a food manufacturing company had problems to released test results as per the customer demand. The samples waiting for analysis were piling up on the refrigerator, and the staff was working overtime to process the backlog. My friend was getting ready to hire an additional lab technician when I suggest to let me help him. He agreed to walk the lab with me at the time he was explaining what he thought was wrong.

I noticed various boxes on the floor, which is a safety hazard. The working tables looked cluttered. I watched one technician searching for the right sample for almost five minutes. They don’t have an efficient method to store them. Also, I observed another technician walking around the room to work on different workstations to complete his test. While I was watching him, somebody came to drop more samples. She just put them right on top of the piled the other guy did while searching a while ago. Within the first ten minutes, I identified two causes for inefficiency, disorganization, and ineffective layout. Everything I pointed out was waste from the customer’s point of view. All those things contribute to increasing the testing time per sample without adding value to the process.

We have a short meeting with the staff to explain the situation and invited them to be part of the solution by participating in an improvement activity called Kaizen. They were happy to do something because although they like money, they wanted to spend more time with the family.

The laboratory performs on a daily seven major types of tests. One of them accounts for almost 70% of the daily demand. We focused our analysis on that test type. The staff draws a process map with the steps to complete that test. They also measured the time to complete the test and watched the process to identify waste.

We used 5S, a housekeeping and organization program to clean and organize the entire laboratory. The staff used a drawing of the facility layout to draw all the walking between steps of the process. They also measured the distance walked. Based on their observations and suggestions, we moved some equipment and tools to have them closer to where they need them. Just by doing that, they reduced the walking time by more than 50%, which reduced the test process time as well. Other benefits of this event were: 27% reduction in over-time, 52% reduction in total process time, and 30% more on-time test results released to the customer.

They need some help to move the equipment, but the investment was peanuts compared with the benefits. After the event, the customer noticed the improvement in the quality of service, and the team was able to rest better and spend more time with their family. I will keep using this example on future posts to explain in detail how we achieved the improvements.

You can have similar results by using continuous improvement as your strategy to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s have a good old conversation about how you can do it!

CI 101

How do you reduce operating expenses?

There are two ways to increase profits, to increase revenue or reduce costs. Operating expense is a common headache for business owners, are you one of them?

These days consumers have more choices and more information than ever. They know that with so many competitors, they have multiple options for the needed product or service. To survive and be successful in this environment, cost reduction is critical. How do you reduce operating expenses?

Unfortunately, when it comes to cost reduction, the first thought is to reduce team members. Another common idea is to cut materials cost by buying inferior quality. You can not afford to do anything that affects the quality of the service or product. The best solution to cost expenses is to identify and reduce waste.

Waste reduction has to be an everyday activity, it is not a one-time event. With the help of your employees, you can improve your business working with continuous improvement basics. The basic activities of CI are housekeeping and organization, waste reduction, and standardization. You know already what waste is, in the next weeks I will talk about the other two.

Assessment of your business processes to identify waste reduction, standardization and organization opportunities is the best way to improve. Do not start this process as an excuse to cut manpower. Reducing team members is not, and never will be a continuous improvement goal.

CI 101

How can you create changes in your business?

Often business owners see something that tells them that something different needs to be done. Perhaps it is a recurring problem or realizes that the business is not reaching financial goals. What is the solution? You need to identify what areas need change and prioritize. How can you create changes? There are two major ways to create change: innovation and continuous improvement.

More often than not, innovation is a high-cost solution. While it is necessary to keep yourself ahead of the game, I like to start somewhere else. My first stop in creating improvements is to use common sense, low-cost solutions.

What are common-sense solutions? It is to approach a problem using good judgment. For example, let’s use one of my favorite low-cost tools: housekeeping and organization. Will you agree that keeping a clean and organized workplace is common-sense? Why do you think it is? Perhaps because you know some of the following facts:

  • Clutter and disorganization are against productivity, reduces the ability to concentrate.
  • A messy workplace causes anxiety, stress, and has the potential to foster a negative state of mind, like feeling overwhelmed.

Your good judgment tells you that an efficient workplace is cleaned and organized. A lack of cleaning and organization is a visual indicator of inefficiency. You know that this condition has to change.

To improve housekeeping, you can buy a fancy computerized program or use a simple low-cost solution. Your new high-cost application will help you to create checklists, assign responsibilities and follow up on the cleaning activities. But it will not help you to ensure the workplace is clean and organized.

An alternative is to use 5S, a housekeeping and organization program. This program along with waste elimination and standardization are the basics of practicing continuous improvement. CI is about creating small changes using common-sense solutions that are easy to implement and follow. When you add up all those changes you will see a huge improvement in the overall performance of your business.

Waste

Are your customers paying for the inefficiencies of your business?

As a customer, I am not willing to pay more than necessary. When I needed to paint the house, I compared service costs and customer reviews between service providers. Around 61% of internet users research a product online before making a purchase. These days is easier than ever to compare prices, which is why price strategy is so important. Most business owners use cost-plus pricing. This strategy sets the service price, adding a mark-up to the cost. 

This formula implies that higher costs translate into higher prices. If your service price is higher than your competitors and the service is not much better, you are at risk of losing customers. There is a simple and effective solution to reduce operating expenses. What you need to do is to find waste and eliminate it.

Waste is any activity that does not add value from the customer’s perspective. For example, Company A paints with brushes and rollers while Company B paints with paint sprayers. To finish the job on-time, Company A needs more painters because their process is slower. Are you willing to pay more because their process time is longer?

There are eight types of waste: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, defects, and underutilization of people. Our friends from Company A have quite some waste in their business. The following are examples of each type.

  • Transportation: moving paint cans in and out storage
  • Inventory: keep enough brushes and rollers for 6-month service
  • Motion: walking back and forth to the truck looking for the right size brush.
  • Waiting: Waiting for the materials truck or instructions
  • Over-production: Painting the fence when it wasn’t part of the request
  • Over-processing: Paint the same wall five times
  • Defects: Use the wrong color paint
  • Underutilization of people: the new guy is wasting paint because he does not have training

One way to identify what areas of your business need change is by identifying waste. You can highlight the waste on the process on your process map and use the information to design a new process.

Do not make your customers pay for your inefficiencies. If you want to improve profits by controlling costs, it is important to learn how to identify waste.

This article was originally posted by Jina Rivera in Organization and Efficiency Solutions.