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Basic Business Cents: Best performance improvement practices addressed

Lou Schultz

The forth-annual Advanced Strategic Improvement Practices conference was held in Minneapolis last week, where 15 outstanding leaders shared their experience in performance improvement.

I was asked to summarize the presentations at the end of the day. There is no way I could adequately summarize the presentations but I did relate some major points that resonated with me.

Jim Buckman, a retired university leader, is documenting operation excellence examples. Case studies reflect improvement and innovation in process, knowledge and leadership systems. He stated Operation Excellence secures the present; Innovation Excellence secures the future. He has found early leaders in quality lost their edge but some have regained it. There is a history of quality cycles in companies.

Jim Nelson, of a manufacturing company, said his company is changing from a focus on tactical quality to a systems view. They are doing strategic planning on quality efforts.

Dr. Andrew Van de Ven, a university professor, shared that macro-policies advantage some but disadvantage others. Not all multi-site organizations are alike nor do they share the same environment.

Mike Degan, of a manufacturing company, told of his company's "Focus Process." This can be described as: teaching, learning, innovating develop- ment of people which leads to standardizing and improving work which leads to increasing value to customers which leads to improved financial performance

They are changing from a functional organization (silo mentality) to a matrix organization. This is a change from a reporting structure based on departments to one based on key processes.

Dr. Randy Linton, of a health care organization, shared that basic to their model is understanding process of "Things that Matter:"

Horizontal and vertical matter; visual models matter; too high or too low matter; content and process matter and stucture matters.

They are also moving from a function driven organization to a matrix driven organization. He shared that matrices are not for the meek.

Sheila Ward, of a food processing company, reported that they have deployed the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award framework to all businesses. They utilize a peer review from other divisions to provide feedback on position and progress.

Craig Swanson, of a manufacturing company, told of taking "Lean" training to the factory floor and they select critical-few targets to improve. Every month they meet to look at progress on charts.

Dr. Charles Liedtke, a leading consultant and researcher, reported on a strategic system, Hoshin (Policy) Kanri (Management). It is a system to develop strategic objectives, deploying them throughout the organization, and then accomplishing them.

It is not a "what-what" system where organizational objectives are deployed mindlessly downward and individuals are left to determine how they might help accomplish them.

Instead, it is "what-how" system where each management level determines what methods should be used by their direct reports to accomplish the "whats" handed down to them. In this way the "hows" of one level become the "whats" at the next level.

In other words, you cannot hand down to the next level objectives without first determining how they might be achieved.

Linda Nelson, of a government agency, said continuous improvement is the glue that holds the organization together. They have a formal Continuous Improvement structure and use a tree diagram to depict phases of projects.

Jeff Swanson, of the same agency, told of their TOTE procedure. This includes task-definition of the work to be done with expected outcome; ownership - who has the responsibility for the outcome; timeline - must be measurable and reportable; escalations - when triggers are tripped

Cathy Reiter, of a manufacturing company, said they link priority of development to product line gaps before budgeting. This has strengthened marketing and engineering synergy.

Lloyd Brandon, of another food processing company, said their industrial engineers are now the drivers of process improvement. They have the skill set and technical capability necessary more so than the people in the traditional quality department.

Vern Campbell, speaking for a manufacturing company, told of the need to get everyone in the organization to work on the critical things that are important to the organization. Five things to help are: guiding philosophy, principles, and values; leadership capability (top to bottom); strategic alignment; systems to surface and address problems and engage the front line

Dave Brucks, of a manufacturing organization, said customer compliance audits become assessments as a part of their continual improvement culture. It becomes a culture of how you do business.

Laura Preus, of another government agency, reminded us that early skeptics can become strong supporters. Once they see the benefits of improvement efforts and get comfortable with the tools used, a culture of continuous improvement and innovation happens.

It was an exciting and enriching day for all attending to hear first hand what is happening at other organizations. It was driven home that although products, services and people may be different, processes and systems are not. We can all learn from each other.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently works with area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@process