People + Process = Performance

L.E.S.S. ™: The Case for a New Strategy and Approach to Productivity, Quality and Safety

Part 1:

These days, nearly every company is striving to ‘do more with less’, especially given the challenging economy of recent years and uncertain economic climate in the future.  Executives and managers are constantly looking for ways to reduce operating costs without damaging customer satisfaction and quality.  Simply reading the news headlines in the past few months shows common cost cutting measures of layoffs, consolidation, total reorganization and ceasing of certain operations.  Unfortunately, some measures may even do more harm than good by eroding customer loyalty, employee morale, and market share through decreased customer service and poor work system execution.  In order for companies to fully optimize their organization and processes there needs to be a new strategy and mindset that looks at processes and culture from many points of view simultaneously.  A somewhat familiar combination has been Lean and Six Sigma, commonly call Lean Six.  However, that dual combination still doesn’t always produce the wanted results.  There are also other business disciplines similar to those that try to achieve greater efficiency and productivity that also have limitations.  I believe these business discipline miss or ignores a vital piece of the puzzle—people.  By people I mean the physical, cognitive and psycho-social-organizational abilities, tendencies and characteristics.

 Let me ask you two questions:

  1. How many times do organizations try to fix problems related to cost, efficiency and customer satisfaction only to have the same or similar issue resurface again and again?
  2. How many times do organizations implement disciplines such as Lean, Six Sigma or Ergonomics and fail to get the expected results?

 I’ve witnessed and experienced the singular, siloed application and results of various process improvement disciplines:

 Wasted time, effort and resources

  • Symptom chasing
  • Solved one issue but created three more
  • Decreased employee morale
  • Failure of production to keep up with sales
  • Failure of sales to keep up with production
  • Actions taken by “Process Excellence” Team undone by those who do the work
  • Widening chasm between Operations and Safety
  • Lack of cost savings

 So what’s the answer?  I believe the answer is found in the mantra of “do more with less” and as such has been right under our noses for years.  Doing more with less certainly isn’t a welcomed instruction to managers and front line employees.  Matter of fact I’d say it’s probably a almost hated mantra.  However, is “do more with less” even possible or reasonable?  I believe it does only if less means: L.E.S.S.= Lean, Ergonomics, Six Sigma and Systems thinking.

 Now you might be thinking that each of them (Lean, Ergonomics, Six Sigma and Systems Thinking) has strengths and produces results otherwise they wouldn’t be used today—you’d be right.  You may also be thinking that each of them has weaknesses and pitfalls—you’d be right again.  I’ve laid out their definition, strengths, weaknesses and where they are typically “owned” within an organization in the table below:

Component Lean Ergonomics Six Sigma Systems Thinking
Definition Respect for people and continuous improvement Optimize human and system performance Reduce variation and continuous improvement Considers all parts of a system and how they affect each other
Strengths Focuses on identifying and removing waste; creating standard work; has many associated tools Focuses on improving both human and work system performance equally including errors, speed and flow Focuses on using data to statistically analyze the problem (defects) and evaluate the results; has a number of associated tools Focuses on looking at the whole as well as the parts of the system for problem solving and solutions
Weaknesses Little consideration for the human factors involved in the problem; doesn’t include the statistical tools to identify the sources of variation Has very few commonly known tools (mostly focus on physical assessment); borrows/adapts tools from CI and Systems methodologies Little consideration for the human factors involved in the problem; complicated from use of data and statistics; doesn’t address flow or speed well Has very few commonly known tools.  Typically Not thought of as an improvement methodology
Location/dept. typically found  within organization Operations or Quality EHS or HR Quality or Operations R&D

 While the four components of L.E.S.S. ™ can and often do result in improvements when used separately, combination and integration of all four results in more powerful and effective outcomes.  When used in combination those weaknesses nearly disappear while the strengths multiply.

In Part 2 we will explore the Power of L.E.S.S. ™