Posts Tagged ‘continuous improvement’

APICS (The American Production and Inventory Control Society, “the premier professional association for supply chain management”) provides a wealth of information both practical and theoretical about how companies (especially manufacturers and distributors, but applicable beyond) can manage for results and continuously improve their operations through lean initiatives and supply chain excellence.

In the Mar/Apr issue of their magazine, in an article entitled “Targeting Continuous Improvement with Laser Focus,” APICS member Iris Nielsen points out four factors essential to successful continuous improvement which “when implemented properly, can help professionals reach near-perfect results:”

  1. The support of an organization’s executive team. Arguably the number one requirement.  Executives need to demonstrate support for the initiative and model behaviors they want employees to emulate.
  2. The time and mental capacity required must be present and available. Too often, companies work harder instead of smarter.  Problems in need of fixing are often a series of small failures that distract teams from identifying root causes of the real issue at hand.  Be aware of those who cut corners or cause chaos, as you search out root causes.
  3. Constancy of purpose. This was the first of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 key principles for significantly improving business effectiveness.  It relates to an unwavering focus on improvement, which is critical to maintaining and sustaining forward momentum.  Progress here is not so much an initiative as “a long-term practice that permeates the core of the organization.”
  4. Consider the long-lasting effects of the work. Sometimes managers get so focused on monthly or quarterly targets that it “becomes counterintuitive to prioritize improvements” that don’t have an immediate impact.  But continuous improvement is as much a mind-set as it is about action.  Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.

Remember too, Nielsen adds, to celebrate the “tiny triumphs.”  They lie at the heart of continuous improvement, and their celebration will incentivize the types of forward momentum that will keep your own improvement initiatives on track.

Clearly communicate expectations, design processes to meet customer needs and “give them what they value.”  While perfection may never be achieved, striving for it is key.  Know what to look for, what to adjust or fix, and when to act when a process is not creating the optimal product or service.  Only then, notes Nielsen, will real innovation be realized.



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[Due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, we’re publishing a day early today.  We return to our Tuesday/Thursday schedule next week.  Til then, may all your turkeys be tender, and of the edible variety…]

A recent article from ERPWire.com highlights what we already know to be the absolute most critical component to a successful ERP implementation.

They call it “BPR” or Business Process Reengineering, and refer to the work as a Business Process Reengineering analysis.  At our firm, we call it a “BPA” or Business Process Analysis, but semantics aside, the message is the same: It’s the fundamental step taken prior to any successful ERP implementation.  It’s the process by which a company looks at what structural changes need to be made in the way it does business – before fixing their processes and procedures in place with their ERP system.

The BPR (or BPA) analysis is critical to any significant business process change.  In other words, it’s not just a precursor to deploying ERP.  It’s really a feasibility study, in which management looks at those inevitable agents of change (or improvement) and determines whether, when and how to adopt and integrate that change into its processes and systems.

BPA identifies areas for possible change (oftentimes, “gaps” in the current system), that then can be used to break down the process and reengineer a smarter solution.  Once the solution to a problem is proposed, flow-charted, debated and proposed, then your team sets about the task of inserting the changed process back into your process flow.  This could be simply changing the sequence or type of work to be done, or automating a process to eliminate some redundancy, or replacing the manual with the electronic, and so on. 

It is, of course, all part of what should be the ethic of every company: continuous improvement.

Oftentimes, a BPR/ERP clash occurs, when the process is in conflict with ERP and the software.  The answers are basically to restructure the process itself, modify the software, or find an acceptable workaround that satisfies the change requirements.  The best time to do this, of course, is before (or between) ERP implementations.

In fact, upgrading or deploying or redeploying ERP is the critical time juncture when any firm should step back, review its processes, update or change where needed, and only then think in terms of applying ERP (a new system) to the change principles.

In the last analysis, there is the tradeoff: change the software, or shoehorn the change to the software.  There are costs, hard and soft, involved either way.  Managers of course are paid to determine the most cost-effective long-term solution to the clash.  Modifying software costs money.  Changing processes can cause confusion and stress.  But software that does not work the way the organization should is no bargain (or helpful tool) at all. 

When that happens, it’s time for a little reengineering.

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