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Lean Innovation for Business

Having worked with teams in many industries over the last two decades, I have found that even if a team can identify a specific problem and its causes, they often have inflexibility about developing solutions. Fortunately, a method of coming up with innovative solutions already exists; it’s called TRIZ – the theory of inventive problem solving.

TRIZ as described in 40 Principles by Genrich Altshuller is mainly focused on physical innovations, but it can be applied to processes with a little innovative thinking.

Lean Innovations

When it comes to Lean, there are a couple of main principles for innovative solution development:

•Pull vs Push (let the customer pull the product or service, don’t push)
•No delay vs delay (eliminate delays)
•Parallel vs Sequential (do more things in parallel)
•No action vs action (eliminate unnecessary processing)

In TRIZ, this is Principle #13: Do the opposite.

I often find that procedures were developed to treat all situations equally. Recently, a human resources department was having trouble replacing employees. When we looked at the data, the most frequent hire (80% of total hires) was an entry-level customer service representative (CSR). There was a standard policy that all jobs had to be offered internally for five days. When we looked at the data, no one applied internally for those CSR jobs.

Eliminating the five day internal opening for CSR jobs saved over 250 days of delay per year. This will save about one-third of the average hiring time. Principle in use: eliminate unnecessary processing (no action vs action).

Six Sigma Innovations

Principle #1 of TRIZ: Segmentation: In Six Sigma, one of the most powerful tools is the Pareto Chart because it segments the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Altshuller says: With each step the area of search gets narrower. Teams, by their nature, want to expand the scope not narrow it.

Whalebone Diagramming: One of my key indicators that problems were not segmented enough is when a fishbone diagram turns into a whalebone diagram covering an entire conference room wall. When this happens, go back and narrow the focus.

Mistake Proofing: One of the key principles of Six Sigma is mistake-proofing, changing the system to prevent errors or variation.

One of the 40 principles is the concept of an Ideal Final Result (IFR). Let’s say you’ve identified the root cause, now imagine a world where it is impossible for a mistake, error, defect or variation to occur. When we eliminate the root cause, the problem will simply disappear.

Unfortunately, most teams fall back into “word traps” that suggest solutions like:
•More training
•More money
•More time
How would you change the system so that it required no money, no time and no training? This is the essence of a good solution.

Characteristics of Good Solutions

Good solutions, Altshuller says, allow you to reach a result without complicating the system or without adding considerable cost. A good solution should:
•be a technical solution of the problem
•be substantially distinct from already known solutions
•produce a useful effect.

Altshuller says: The ingenuity of the inventor appears when he solves a complicated problem with a simple solution.

In the QI Macros for Excel, I work toward solutions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to select the data incorrectly (which is easy in Excel) or choose the wrong chart (Control Chart Wizard) or analyze the data incorrectly (PivotTable Wizard). I want everyone, regardless of training, to be able to draw Lean Six Sigma charts and graphs easily.

In manufacturing, I read somewhere that GE switched from a single, high-speed jet turbine blade grinder to several smaller, lower cost, lower speed ones producing better results with fewer defects. The bigger, faster machine required coating the blades with a material and then removing it afterward. While faster, the machine complicated the process–a bad solution.

Here’s My Point

Problem Solving with Six Sigma is innovative! The first part involves accurate segmentation and diagnosis of the problem. The second half involves inventive problem solving to make the process error-free, hopefully without expense, complexity or human involvement.

Are you going to stay stuck in the “mind traps” that hinder your productivity or profitability, or are you going to learn the essential principles of innovative problem solving? The choice is up to you.

Innovation For Business – Innovating Your Internal Business Procedures

When developing an innovation strategy, it is important to discuss ways to innovate internal business procedures. Spend time brainstorming on the various steps in your internal business procedures and look for ways to simplify or eliminate steps to streamline those procedures.

However, before getting to the issue of innovating a business procedure, there’s a critical preliminary question: Is the procedure necessary?

I recently worked with a company that performs repair services on electronic appliances. The company had a detailed “inventory procedure” that was completed every morning before the store opened. The procedure required an employee to print a report of all “open” repair orders from the computer. Then, the employee handling the inventory procedure that morning checked to be sure that every appliance in for repair was actually in the store. The employee manually checked off each appliance on the list.

This process took over an hour each morning, and the employees hated it. When I began asking questions about the procedure, I learned that the completed checklist was filed away and never used again. And, if they could not find an appliance shown on the printed list, a notation was made on the list, but no effort was made to determine what happened to the missing appliance. When I asked why they did this, the answer was “that procedure is required in our business policies and procedures”. After discussing the procedure with several people, including store managers, I learned that there was no reason to continue that daily procedure.

There’s no bigger waste of time and resources than making an effort to optimize a business procedure that does not need to be performed in the first place.

Take a look at your own internal business procedures and be sure there is a valid business reason for continuing those procedures. If the procedure is necessary, then you can begin looking for ways to streamline that procedure.

Cloud Technologies – Innovation for Business

There is a lot of information around at the current time regarding innovative technology, but the biggest headline has to be the growth of cloud-based IT models, a transforming and accessible way for small businesses and new businesses to access excellent IT technology that has previously been exclusive to large businesses and organisations. Cloud technologies are simply those IT models that can be developed and accessed online making more traditional and expensive IT options a thing of the past.

Top of the range IT solutions in the traditional sense, come at a price and for smaller businesses they are not a viable option. In the current economic market and a ‘spending cut’ phenomena spreading all through the country businesses are reluctant to spend excessively for IT. The downside to this reluctance is that companies can become stuck in the mud with out-dated traditional IT software that keeps them firmly fixed in traditional methods of business operation.

Now is the time for smaller businesses to realise the advantages of utilising online business systems. For instance, online accounting software is an affordable technology, requiring an inexpensive monthly installment to secure a high-end IT technology that keeps business operating smoothly. If people need convincing then the interest that Microsoft have, in developing cloud based software packages should go some way to reassure business owners. There is currently excellent cloud, online accounting systems available – so there really is no reason to hang around. As new businesses grow a simple online company accounting system is a must. Companies that do hesitate run the risk of being left behind and seeing companies utilising online IT and accounting systems, prosper.

It is also exceptionally important to realise that during times of recession many people will be thinking about striking out on their own business venture, identifying gaps in the market and benefiting from those gaps using savings or redundancy payments to fund new initiatives. Online IT may not be at the forefront of their minds, neither may recording the company accounts other than in terms of more traditional methods of book-keeping. It is essential that the profile of online technology and particularly online accounting software is heightened to ensure success for these new small businesses.

Even people striking up on their own and not thinking of employing others should take the initiative and seriously consider online IT solutions and business accounting technologies. Software that is accessible 24/7 from any computer with an Internet connection, peace of mind regarding security in terms of login and backups and online up to the minute correct data (no need for time consuming software updates and downloads) has got to be ‘great for business’.