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At long last, the doctor finally examines you, but you're not quite home free. You receive a prescription for your earache, meaning you'll have to drive to the pharmacy and wait in line once again to pick up your medicine to begin the healing process.
Going to the doctor’s office is not exactly everyone’s favorite activity. But, wouldn’t your experience be a little better if you could eliminate the time wasted waiting on hold, driving to different offices and standing in line, and instead go straight to the steps that matter – scheduling your appointment, seeing the doctor and finally, taking your prescription?
Although eliminating these “wasted” steps is probably not going to happen with your next doctor’s appointment, this situation accurately illustrates the concept behind continuous improvement programs – identifying opportunities to cut waste and add value to your customers on an ongoing basis.
What is Continuous Improvement?
For supply chain professionals, implementing a continuous improvement program is vital to running as efficiently and accurately as possible. However, many organizations are hesitant to embrace change or are simply unsure where to start. Others are going about it the wrong way—“throwing” technology at their problems with the hope that it magically improves their processes overnight. Instead, you have to take a step back and first perform an operational assessment.
With your operational assessment, the key is to focus on your company’s people, processes and technology, and how all three are integrated and work together to enable better collaboration, business processes and decision-making for the entire organization. Before you dive into introducing technology, you must first identify the problem, and then determine a possible solution. The solution may or may not include technology; you may even find that you can solve the issue without introducing the latest and greatest data collection software or mobile hardware. In the end, the technology must complement the process, not mask the problem.
When embarking on an operational assessment, you need to first consider your customer. The customer is your primary focus, and every organization needs to understand how their customer defines value. In actuality, the customer stimulates the demand for a service or product, defines the requirements and evaluates the results. Therefore, your continuous improvement program should aim to optimize areas within your supply chain to deliver customer value. And, anything that doesn’t add value is waste. With a continuous improvement program, you must look for these “non-value-added” steps, and find and address their root cause. In order to do so, use a tactic called Value Stream Process Mapping.
Opportunities to Improve
Value Stream Process Mapping is an exercise for looking at your entire process and pinpointing opportunities for improvement. The first step is to create a Current State Map by writing down the value-added steps of the process, and then, indicating the wasteful steps. Let’s go back to the doctor’s office example. Receiving the examination and obtaining your prescription are value-added steps, whereas sitting on hold with the receptionist, driving to the doctor’s office, waiting in line and so forth are all wasted steps. These wasted steps are areas needing improvement.
When performing Current State Mapping, look at every nut and bolt. Dive into the business reasons behind each step and get everyone involved. Tap into your employees’ experiences to see why and how each person does his or her job.
Next comes Utopia State Process Mapping. Indicate how your processes should work in a perfect world. If you’re mapping a Utopia State of a doctor’s office visit, you may say that ideally, the pharmacy would reside within the same building as the doctor’s office so you wouldn’t have to undergo the wasted step of getting back in your car, driving to the pharmacy and waiting in yet another line.
Once you’ve mapped both the Current State and Utopia State, you can compare the two with a T-Chart in which you list the advantages and disadvantages of each state. With the doctor’s office example, improving customer satisfaction and decreasing overhead may be advantages of the Utopian State. On the other hand, a disadvantage may be that the billing rate decreases because the office has maximized its resource utilization. Then, looking at the listed advantages, determine which improvements would work in reality.
The next step involves creating your game plan. How will you roll out these improvements? Identify your major, sequential initiatives to take you from the Current State to Utopia State and assign a team to spearhead the corresponding program. It is a good approach to start by looking for the “low-hanging fruit.” Is there something you could focus on, right away, that will minimally disrupt the business? If so, tackle that project first.
A Living and Breathing Initiative
As you roll out each initiative, look back at everything you’ve done and revisit the Utopian State. With lessons learned and ever-changing customer requirements, it is always beneficial to re-valuate your program. Once you’ve experienced success in some areas, replicate those efforts. If people see success elsewhere, it will light a fire and inspire them to drive additional change.
Of course, not every continuous improvement program is successful. Usually, a program fails if there is no buy-in from upper management. This leads to fear of change among employees. It takes a certain cultural mind-set to embrace change, and that notion must exude from the top.
However, when continuous improvements programs are successful, they will help organizations deliver more value to their customers and improve the quality of their goods and services. In today’s marketplace, the ability to change faster and more effectively than the competition is a true game changer. Continuous improvement programs help proactively identify issues before they become major problems and run you out of business.
Just remember: continuous improvement is not a “one-and-done” effort. In reality, it is an ongoing, living and breathing initiative that involves all your employees looking for ways to drive operational efficiencies – with or without technology – and add value to your customers.
Source: Barcoding Inc.
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