In last few days I have been fortunate enough to participate in the workshop for LEAN service framework. And thus, I am trying to share my experiences and learning on LEAN here.

The LEAN framework originates from the manufacturing system developed by Toyota called Toyota Production System [TPS] that pursues the principle of optimum streamlining throughout the entire system through the thorough elimination of waste and aims to build quality in at the manufacturing process while recognizing the principle of [ongoing] cost reduction. It also includes all the accompanying technology & tools necessary to accomplish those aims.  [Reference .. here]

The process that Toyota developed for Just-in-time production was called TPS until 1990. MIT researchers tossed the term LEAN in their 1990 book called “The Machine that Changed the World” to describe the principles of Toyota Production System. Thereafter, of course, the process was known to the world as LEAN Service Framework.

In a nutshell,

LEAN is an integrated system of principles, work practices & processes that empowers the operational users to drive the relentless pursuit of perfect customer value creation. 

Although LEAN was innovated and started in the manufacturing industry and especially at Toyota, it, over the years grown out of the manufacturing industry and into other verticals, not to mention the IT/BPO industry.

LEAN underpins 5 principles in the framework as follows,

 

Lean Principles

 

 

 

  • Eliminate Waste – As per the LEAN principles, the waste could be due to the idle time spent by the employees waiting for work, or spending extra hours to exceed customer expectations (without customer asking for it), excessive testing etc., activities and all such activities that do not add add direct value to the customers.
  • Eliminate Variability – This talks more about complexity of the work within the team. LEAN suggests eliminating the variability of work done by the employees so that activities & individual performances are streamlined to carry out typical activities. This also talks about the external work that comes within such as ticket trend, business requirements etc., and suggests to streamline.
  • Eliminate Inflexibility – This suggest more about the resources capacity and the work segmentation and align the efforts and create skill pools so as to better utilize the knowledge, performance & work practices against repetitive / common tasks.
  • Performance Management – LEAN suggests to compute the performance of the individuals as well as the team and making the results publish to the individuals / teams and discuss with them on a regular basis. LEAN recommends that regular performance discussions enhances the team morale, gives them goal to enhance performances etc.,
  • Involvement of workers – LEAN, more than a process is more of a philosophy and change in the thinking of the workforce and suggest to have the workforce participate and understand these principles so they themselves are aware of the waste being created around they can eliminate themselves.

 

Many IT companies have implemented LEAN successfully. IBM has been doing the LEAN implementation for the customers since last 3+ years. Over the years, being LEAN organization has been a selling point for the IT vendors and equally the customers have been demanding. 

The benefits of LEAN include reduce waste, reduction of inventory costs, cross trained employees, reduced cycle time & obsolescence, high quality & reliability and may more.

 

This, of course was a drop in the ocean of the knowledge of the LEAN framework, even for me. If you are interested in knowing more and reading more, suggesting the following reading

Principles of LEAN Thinking

Lean Manufacturing  &  Lean Software Development

What is LEAN?

Benefits of LEAN

LEAN – The Machine that changed the world !

Bye the way, if you have read the above carefully, the following video might tell you something.  Have a look (with audio ON) and let me know what you think ?

 

Caltex – going extra mile !

Its been a while since I posted a new topic on Learning Innovation series I started last time here. I thought I would keep on posting frequently, but not to be so. Anyways, here is my another attempt at writing one more article in the Innovation series.

Last time I wrote about one of the techniques of learning Innovation called Innovation by Subtraction. This time, I would be trying to explain one more type of Innovation viz., Incremental & Radical Innovations.

The Incremental & Radical innovation techniques are most commonly used across the world for innovation. They are also called Sustaining & Disruptive Innovation techniques.

Incremental innovation generally relates to enhancements or small improvements in the existing products or services, whereas the Radical innovation brings a significant improvement in the product or the service.

One of the most common examples of the Incremental innovations are the early Pentium chips developed by Intel. From Pentium I to IV, they were generally based on the similar pattern however as the new version came out they brought out newer technologies & innovations in their chipset, which could be attributed to the Incremental innovation. Moving from a single core to dual or quad cores in their latest processers could be termed as a Radical innovation though.

Another example of Incremental innovation being Microsoft’s Windows 98 operating system, which was an enhancement over the Windows 95 operating system. The Windows 95, however was a Radical innovation over the previous Windows 3.1 operating system interface.

Now you may ask me how to differentiate between the Incremental innovation from a Radical innovation or you may even ask, what should be the degree of deviation between an innovation to be considered as Incremental vs Radical?

The answer to this question was defined by a team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. They recommend to consider an Incremental innovation as a Radical if it meets one or more of following characteristics,

  • The innovation provides entirely new set of usage features and experience
  • In terms of statistics, it provides about five times or better performance
  • Or it provides more than 30% reduction in the costs of the product / service

Normally the Incremental & Radical innovations go hand in hand. If you see my previous examples you would see that the Radical innovation has followed after one or more Incremental innovations. So you would relate to the fact that the Radical innovation is characterized by a long period of Incremental innovations before and after it.

imageThe diagram shows the cycle of the Radical Innovations and how they arrive after a series of the Incremental innovations.

The important benefit of the Radical change is the fact that it can potentially and significantly change the basis of competition in the favour of the innovator.

Incremental innovation is relatively easy to obtain than Radical one and I am sure by now you would have understood pretty much of it.

There are significant examples of where the Radical innovations have given great advantages to the innovators. Some of them are as follows,

IBM

Introduction of electronic typewriter, nearly wiped off the manual type writers form the market and gave IBM a significant business advantage.

Wal-Mart

Innovated a radical process change in the way the supply chain was managed throughout its stores in the US that gave a significant advantage in terms of time & cost and helped it cement its position as No. 1 in the retail market.

 

Incremental Vs Radical – Which one to choose ?

Radical Innovations are significantly risky, take more time to develop and are more expensive to obtain in nature, whereas, the Incremental are significantly less risky, relatively cheaper & based on a proven product or a process and are more likely to produce results in a shorter time frame.

The Incremental innovations provide the businesses with a steady stream of enhanced and improved products / processes or services, but due to relatively simpler nature of these innovations it is required to keep in mind the following,

  • Ensure that the innovations are focussed around the market demands.  Since the nature of innovation is such that you would eventually keep on developing new enhancements, small features, there is a danger that you might do something which the customers would not want and may not need in their product.  If you continue to churn out the improvements or new features that the customer does not want, the customer eventually might look for alternative products.
  • Don’t forget Radical innovation ! Incremental innovations do not necessarily envisage the future technology and attempt to provide a bridge between current and future technologies. Imagine what would have happened to iPhone if Apple would have used the traditional keyboard design of the phone !!  Also, remember that its on Radical innovation that changes the business game in your favour !
    So when you look around next and do a brain storming about innovation, you might want to start with an Incremental innovation and who knows you might bring out a Radical innovation in your product / process or your service ! 
    Good Luck !

During last few days I have been fortunate enough to participate in few meetings with our top management and these meetings have been a huge learning experiences for me. One such learning, was using storyline technique for writing effective presentation, email or blogging.

The technique is called The Minto Pyramid Principle, or the SCQA technique. The SCQA technique provides you with a flow, that you could use to write your storyline. It helps you write introductions that engages the audience attention before they are told the answers.

Ohh, by now you must be wondering what does SCQA mean? So before you get any impatient, let me describe them,

  • Situation – describe what is the current situation
  • Complexity – describe the tension / issue in the situation
  • Question – describe the question in response to the issue / tension
  • Answer – suggest answer to ease out or mitigate the issue / tension

Now lets take few minutes to describe what each of above point means.

Situation

As I mentioned earlier, the Situation describes what is the current situation with regards to the subject. This could be something that the audience may already know. This establishes the context of the discussion.

As soon as the audience might think I know this, what different are you telling me?  you know you have hooked them in the discussion and you may want to start telling them about the complexity.

Example

For last 6 months our availability has been very good and above the threshold.

 

Complexity

Ok, you set up the context and you have explained the situation. However, now is the time when you actually mention the actual problem or an issue that you want your audience to know.

The answer to the question What happens now that we understand the situation or  What happens next? might help you create a tension un the minds of audience with regards to the story you are telling. Also, once you trigger the tension or curiosity about the possible question, its time you tell the question.

Example

However, this month the situation has changed and we had an unwanted dip in the availability statistics.

 

Question

The question will arise logically after the context you have set and problem complexity you have mentioned in earlier two points. In most of the cases it might automatically come in the minds of the audience, but you may just want to logically put the question forward.

Example

So what do we need to do to recover from the availability loss and resolve the situation?

 

Answer

The answer to the question is the main substance of the whole story and you have to make your point emphatically here.  Try to summarise your answer first – completing your introduction to the answer and later break it down into details and write the main body of your presentations or story.

Example

We need to complete find the root cause of the problem. Ensure the problem is fixed and put a plan for prevention of reoccurrence.

 

I am convinced that using this technique for providing updates would be really effective in day to day work, however I am sure it would take a bit more time for me to actually understand practice the SCQA technique.

After all, this has been explained to us by our Vice president and he seems very convinced of the benefits of using this techniques 🙂

The method is explained in greater detail in Barbara Minto’s book "The Minto Pyramid Principle".

First of all, I must apologize to myself for not being able to post anything on the blog.  Its indeed been a very hectic time both at work as well as at home.

Indeed, its not easy to be a father of two !!

Anyways, back to the topic !

I always thought innovation is something that can never be taught on the job and I thought it must come from within individual to break the mould and find out better ways of doing the job. I never thought that you can actually teach someone to think innovative and come up with innovative ideas, implement the innovation concepts and practice innovation techniques.

How wrong I was to think that !

I have been part of the Innovation Sessions in my organization and the experience there has been nothing short of great. Not only these sessions have given me a direction to think different on innovation, but also to learn more on various innovation techniques and processes. 

With this post, I would starting a new article series Learning Innovation based on my own learning and my thoughts on the same. I hope this first post will give you few leads to help yourself learn more on innovation techniques and processes so you can also try them in your organization,

 

Innovation by Subtraction

Innovation by Subtraction is a bit uncommon process but might yield surprising results.

To use the IbS process for doing an innovation in a process, we are expected to make a list of components of the process. The list should contain the MUST have components of the process. Now, as a part of the IbS, you are expected to brainstorm on how the process would still function without each of the components.  We are expected to innovate the potential value or benefits would be without the components.

However, the most important part of the solution must be the fact that the solution should not compromise the business value or benefits coming out the process. It should sound like a workable business idea !

The examples we discussed within our session were very interesting and the ideas that came out were even better. Have a look at the following table which might give you an idea on how radical can your thinking get when you remove the most essential part (you thought) from your process, service, product.

 

Product / process

Most essential part of your product / process

Innovative Solutions when you remove the most essential part

Mobile phone Battery charging

Can the phone use solar energy?
Can the phone use bio cells?
Can the phone breath?
Self sustaining power?

Laptop Keyboard Can it use touch screen?
Can it use gesture control?
Can it read your brain?
Shopping Shops Shopping as a service?
Can the experience be made better?
Assisted shopping with experts?
Better value for money?

 

IbS has been a catalyst for many great innovations over the year.  Most notably of them were,

Phone call with IVR (Interactive Voice Recording)

The most important thing when you deal transactions on phone, are of course the people.  You need someone to listen to you and act on your instructions or help you in dealing issues. Now when you apply the IbS rule to this process of a phone call and remove the most important part of the process, the listener (person) and replace with an automated solution, what remains is an innovative solution of IVR.

Business benefits – Significant reduction of costs, reduction in errors, more customer satisfaction in general.

Client server technology

The most important part of the computer functionality was the business processing and the subsequent hardware that is consumed by desktop PCs do support the business processing. When you remove both 1. an ability to compute itself  and 2. CPU unit, what remains is an innovative solution of Client server technology. The server controls the business processing and has significant CPU power while the clients are more of dumb terminals with only monitor & keyboard as significant hardware. You can still perform full tasks and can add more terminals with less costs.

Business benefits – Significant reduction of costs, space & consistent performance

Touchscreen

Did you ever think of any computing device until last few years with no keyboard to interact with? Calculators, mobile phones, notebooks, desktops were all having dedicated keyboards for users to interact with them. You now take out the most important part of the device interaction i.e. keyboard and the innovative solution is to have a touch screen interface. Touchscreen technology has been touted as one of the most popular device interaction technology now a days with more and more devices giving option of touch screens.

Business benefits – Style factor, bigger screen areas, better interaction techniques

 

So, think on you can use the IbS technique for finding out innovative ideas and solutions for your processes, services.

I discovered a very interesting page via stumble upon that mentions some interesting proverbs and sayings with regards to the Software Engineering area.

Some of the very interesting of them are copied here …

A clever person solves a problem.
A wise person avoids it.

— Einstein


Wexelblat’s Scheduling Algorithm:

Choose two:

  • Good
  • Fast
  • Cheap


To go faster, slow down. Everybody who knows about orbital mechanics understands that.

— Scott Cherf

 

For more of such interesting things .. you can find them here.