Results below Expectations? What are the first 5 Questions you should be asking?

We are frequently asked to help a client whose results are not up to expectations. They may have an existing business improvement program or even no business improvement program. It may be across a complete organisation, business unit or even a small department. It may be manufacturing, processing or services in nature. They may be a large corporate or a small business -typically the questions we ask are the same:

  1. What are the goals and objectives? It is always important to know what the expectations are, What will success look like? How will we measure that success?
  2. What are the key processes? In order to improve performance we need to understand the way that value is delivered to the customers. Often in a transactional process this can be difficult to determine.
  3. How is the Key Process(s) performing? It’s important to understand the gaps in performance between current process performance and the target? How long have they been performing at this level? Has the process performance dropped or has it always been sub par? Has the target level of performance ever been achieved?
  4. What is the process constraint? Not all business improvements are created equally. If the business improvements are not focused on the process constraint there will be little performance gains, necessitating that the constraint is identified correctly, otherwise we will not achieve all the possible gains . We’d usually walk the process early on to get a basic understanding of the steps involved in the process and look for potential waste in the process. This will give us an understanding of the ‘quick win’ opportunities in the process. This process walk (or Gemba walk) will also give some confirmation (or not) of of some of the issues the process is having. This is a great time to talk to operators to find out what is ‘really’ interfering with the process performing.
  5. What does the direction of the solution look like? What do we mean by direction? The process walk will guide you in the types of problems the process is experiencing. Once the type of problems are understood then you will be able to determine the type of solutions that will be required. Is it a problem with Shift startups? Is it a computer system problem? Is it a problem with slow cycle times? Do we understand the process? Is it a problem with changeovers? Is it a manpower issue? We want to know the direction of the solution as that determines the type of approach and/or methodology we would take with a a project; can we use a Kaizen Event approach or is the problem more complicated and needs a more detailed Six Sigma approach, or a combination of the two?

These five questions are important to get you started and focused on the improvements. The list of questions above are not comprehensive but will get you started.