Process

Improvement

What is it?

Process improvement is the adjustment of processes to make them or their outputs better than before. A process is composed of a series of actions. To improve it you have to add, subtract, or modify tools, techniques, methods, measurements, inspections and interventions. Our consultants have worked across different sectors including, manufacturing, defence, and healthcare to help improve processes.

Why is it important?

When an organisation struggles perpetually to meet its aspirations, at some stage it has to look inwards to understand the underlying reasons. A lot of the time, this self-reflection helps to uncover sub-optimal processes and a considerable amount of waste. When financial targets aren’t met, a typical way to cut the deficit is to reduce the workforce, but this does not address the root cause/s of the problem. Carefully designed process improvement initiatives help to identify these root-causes and can make a significant difference to performance in most cases. Some organisations have process improvement integrated into their day-to-day operations to try to instil continuous improvement. Although such efforts are praiseworthy, rarely have we come across operational groups who welcome the efforts of internal process improvement consultant groups, some actually despise their colleagues for the additional work that is demanded of them.

What is it made up of?

There are many process improvement methods that can be employed; only experience can help to identify the right methods for a particular scenario. Typical activities involved in good process improvement initiatives include:

  • Stakeholder mapping and alignment
  • Data collection
  • Process mapping
  • Current state analysis
  • Problem identification and root-cause analysis
  • Solution/countermeasure identification
  • Future state mapping
  • Improvement verification and measurement
  • Process transformation
  • Improvement evaluation
Benefits

Process improvement can bring about incredible results. One particularly successful process improvement philosophy is known as Lean thinking. The application of lean thinking in manufacturing and production processes has paid dividends in many companies. If a manufacturing company is not applying lean thinking, they’re either very small or disconnected from progress in the manufacturing world. Lean thinking has also been applied in various other sectors, including management, finance, healthcare, and food and beverages. Some of the benefits that companies have enjoyed include:

  • Faster processes
  • Better productivity (output)
  • Less wasted time, money, effort, and resources
  • Improved quality, consistency, and compliance
  • Better management and reporting of process performance
  • Continuous process improvement
  • Overall cost reduction
  • Improved customer satisfaction
Lean Product Development
What is it?

Product development is the process of conceiving, designing, and realising new products. The motives for product development can vary, but in Lean product development the focus is on value, and in particular customer & stakeholder value. Although researchers and practitioners vary in their understanding of Lean product development, they all tend to refer to Toyota. The basic principles however, can be traced back further and we at Enhance believe they represent the natural progression of engineering and design to meet current global demands. Other terms such as lean design, Lean engineering, Lean innovation, Lean product & process development (LeanPPD) are all used more or less synonymously with Lean product development.

Why is it important?

The 21st century customer tends to be social, knowledgeable, critical, and likes to shop around before making cost-benefit decisions. Furthermore, there is a huge variance in customer mentality across different product sectors, global locations, social classes and even generations (when they were born). To understanding their likes, dislikes, environments, ambitions, priorities and buying preferences is a considerable task. But failing to do so has cost many companies and organisations dearly. To add to the complexity, we also have more regulations to adhere to, environmental responsibility, shareholders to satisfy and internal stakeholders that must be contented. Lean product development allows products to be developed, while focusing on customers and stakeholders, and at the same time keeping an eye on waste reduction, speed, and continuous improvement.

What is it made up of?

Most of the literature on the subject of Lean product development focuses on principles and the kinds of things to do. This doesn’t really help people who are pragmatic and want to implement this promising strategy. We believe that Lean product development has 5 core building blocks which are presented in the figure above.

Benefits

The benefits of applying lean product development can be extraordinary as we have witnessed. If applied incoherently and without sufficient guidance, however, lean product development initiatives can be met with negativity, apprehension and result in failure. Amongst the benefits that we have realised through implementation are the following:

  • More focus on the customer and stakeholders
  • Clearer process steps
  • Lower product costs (including bill of materials)
  • Reduction in the product development process costs
  • Reduction in development cycle time
  • Little or no need for redevelopment cycles (unlike agile development)
  • Improved innovation potential
  • More innovative solutions
  • More effective communication
  • Improved learning quality
Set-Based Design (SBD/SBCE)
What is it?

Set-based design is a robust approach to designing a product or service, in which you progress multiple options, or a set, until you find out which is best (Figure 1). This is in contrast to point-based design wherein you don’t know for sure which options is best, but you still have to make a decision with whatever information is available. The set-based theory can be applied for the design of a component, module, or platform. However as you increase the number of sets involved, you also need to adjust the strategy by which you will arrive at a final integrated solution.

Both researchers and engineering professionals have found that a ‘point-based’ design approach results in various problems and inefficiencies. Some of these are:

  • Early decisions that end up being costly
  • Every project has an unconstrained number of possible iterations, but still has to meet key dates, so quality is often compromised
  • Little exploration, innovation, and understanding of the design space
  • Focus on delivery, does not help future projects
When set-based design is combined with concurrent engineering you get set-based concurrent engineering, however, many do not differentiate between the two.
Why is it important?

Toyota has established itself as a model learning organisation. They are credited as the founders of concurrent engineering, JIT, Kanbans, 5s, Lean Thinking and more recently set-based concurrent engineering. This unique approach to product development is considerably faster and cheaper than the approaches of their competitors, despite the extensive and thorough consideration of alternative solutions. The secret behind this paradox is the strategic, systematic evaluation and filtration of options, which Toyota have learnt over the years. Learning from Toyota, many other companies also now adopt a set-based approach. We at Enhance believe that set-based design is simply well-executed systems engineering.

What is it made up of?

There are 5 essential elements of set-based design which are required for proper implementation:

  • The process
  • Learning cycles and A3 reports
  • Knowledge representations (trade-off graphs, limit curves etc.)
  • Integration strategies and events
  • Supporting tools and techniques
The set-based design process must be correctly defined to be fit for a particular product, sector and design environment. Similarly the other elements require careful definition to ensure that they fit well in the company and support the set-based process.
Benefits

Set-based design enables design teams to:

  • Satisfy many different customers with each project
  • Innovate and incorporate new technologies with minimal risk
  • Achieve well-integrated and highly-optimised system solutions
  • Be empowered with knowledge from previous projects
  • Enjoy design by giving them room to innovate
Knowledge

Management

What is it?

Knowledge management is the coordination of learning within an organisation. This involves a concerted effort to capture, develop, represent and share connected data and information. Knowledge is a mix of framed experiences, values, contextual information, expert insight and grounded intuition.

Why is it important?

Most executives would agree that the greatest asset their organisation has is the knowledge held by their employees. When knowledgeable employees depart from an organisation they take their knowledge with them; this can be extremely detrimental if a significant number depart. This realisation led many organisations to proactively capture essential know-how from experienced employees. Despite this, many struggle with the idea of organising knowledge and some consider knowledge management itself to be an oxymoron. As the ocean of available knowledge continues to grow both in its vastness and complexity, and the mediums of communication and representation continue to evolve, the need to filter and structure key knowledge becomes more and more critical.

What is it made up of?

Knowledge management may be divided into two essential elements: knowledge assets and knowledge processes. Knowledge assets are the collated forms of knowledge that are captured, structured, and stored. Knowledge processes facilitate the creation, capture, development, representation, organisation, pooling, transfer, application and reuse of knowledge. There are a number of aspects that need to be considered and developed by an organisation to ensure effective knowledge management. Some of these are listed below:

  • Knowledge creation (innovation) and representation
  • Knowledge capture
  • Knowledge storing (repositories)
  • Established knowledge transfer and Lessons learnt (sharing)
  • Information Systems
  • Organisational learning
  • Decision support
  • Expert systems
  • Benchmarking
  • Knowledge creation/sharing incentivisation
Some companies are well aware of knowledge management, and have developed the above capabilities, however they continue to struggle with knowledge management. Employees often complain about the lack of time to properly capture knowledge and the difficulty they experience in extracting knowledge. The main issue that we often find is that various tools, methods, and processes are being applied, but they are not well integrated. Total knowledge management solutions are required which link business goals and strategies with programmes, projects, people, processes, tools, methods and technologies. Expert help can be a great way of avoiding costly mistakes in knowledge management.
Benefits

There are many benefits to good knowledge management, these include:

  • Making new knowledge available to support the provision of products and services
  • Empowering decision makers to make better decisions
  • Facilitating and managing innovation and organisational learning
  • Leveraging the expertise of people across the organisation
  • Managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals)
  • Solving intractable or wicked problems
  • Managing business environments and allowing employees to obtain relevant insights and ideas appropriate to their work
  • Increasing network connectivity between internal and external individuals