All entries for November 2010

November 21, 2010

PDSA and Dancing!?

So, here I am, sitting in a big hall in birmingham wearing my waistcoat and fancy shoes while attempting to show off my best waltz for the judges. I can’t help but thinking that we haven’t gone through enough improvement cycles for our routines before the competition! Every run through was packed with mistakes that with practice could have and should have been avoided, but unfortunately we coming up with a routine (plan) should have followed by many more runs through of do, study and act!!! Theories and plans definitely do no suffice. Test runs are a must!!!

November 17, 2010

Welcoming the World of Six Sigma

Well, I have to admit that my entries of late have been sparse. Infact, sparse is most probably an understatement. There is a very good reason for this though. Long days of study mixed with the occasional even longer day of necessary paid work has left me with little time for blogging. This has, however, given me time to gather my thoughts about the past few days.

We have recently started our module of PIUSS, or Process Improvement using Six Sigma for my few readers who aren't familiar with MBE acronyms.

The question we started with is "what is six sigma?". Our introduction to the topic, compounded with some excellent elearning exercises run by PMI (Project Management Institute) answered this for us. While at thge beginning, the idea of six sigma as a tool for improvement seemed quite vague, our understanding developed through the excercises and we quickly became aware that rather than a set method of process improvement, six sigma provided a toolbox (a rather large one at that) from which a variety of tool could be used within a structured systematic approach to improving a process that is suited to the organisation. In terms of six sigma, improvement is encapsulated by the ideas of reducing variation within a process and thus stabilising the process, and reducing costs of the process. The elearning excercises put all this into perspective by demonstrating six sigma implementation within a set example, showing the various stages of the improvement cycle (DMAIC) and the tools used for each step. We were introduced to project charters, SIPOC charts, SPC charts, histograms, fishbone diagrams, and many many more.

Putting our knew found knowledge to the test, the week so far comprised of the simple enough exercise of the creation of a process to build mecano airplanes. 14 stages of the process, 7 operators, 1 plane, lead time of above 5 minutes per plane. Simple production line. But could we improve this? Time for bring in Six Sigma. The next day I can only describe as chaotic semi organised fun! Despite the tools and processes being fresh in our minds, it became apparent that introducing improvement even in such a "simple" process was a challenge. Our first challenge was a lack of direction. Despite being part of a group of strong willed and intelligent people, nobody jumped forward as leader. In part i think this was down to using the terminology of "leader". To me it seemed nobody wanted to take this title that can be seen to infer a higher hierarchal importance than other team members. Despite this problem, we trudged on. Facing challenges of communication after splitting into 2 teams to address seperate problems,  challenges of time management with too long spent idly discussing, and challanges of bad organisation in test runs. Despite all this, when the time came we managed to demonstrate an improvement on the original process! For me this showed that the tools of six sigma can be very affected, even in situation where many challenges are faced and the process of improvement does not run smoothly. This exercise also made it apparent that the socio-emotional links within the team are crucial. Solving these psychological problems of team integration and communication would have given a vastly improved results.

Moral of this story for me: People. People are vital to any process. Ensuring an environment in which socio-emotional barriers to an improvement process are minised will greatly increase its chances of success.

November 06, 2010


As I was driving home from work today I started thinking. Thinking intellectual thoughts after a 13.5 hour shift may be a crazy idea, but i actually did!

My thoughts started off with wondering how much the place I work could be improved by providing adequate training to staff, and not have a constant influx of new agency workers who will largely only work there once or twice. This stream of thought led me onto thinking back on my reading about organisational learning, and then the literature i'm currently going through about continuous improvement and this is what tonights blopic is (blog topic. yes, i know blopic isn't actually a word, but I like it) Hence the blog title ciol (Continuous Improvement & Organisational Learning)

When considering organisational learning, the literature we covered in our group went through alot about  instigating cultural change, ways to incorporate learning into an organisation, the systems that would be needed, the methods by which learning can be accomplished. Some literary sources also went into details about what learning should be undertaken.

Looking into continuous improvement, I've read lots about the implementation of continuous improvement in an organisation. Seeing area of improvement within a process or systems, defining what is to be improved, finding a solution, implementing the change and analysing the results.

But where do we learn from or find methods of improving a system? Models that are related to management mention a variety of factors within the system. Its seems to me that learning and finding improvements can come from any factor that makes up the system of the organisation. These include, but are not limited to the people, processes, environment (including customers, competitors, suppliers and society) and results. But where is the line drawn for sources of learning?

When considering the environment, do organisations that are about to undergo a change take into account the actions of competitors and their resulting successes or failures from a similar change... Definitely. Taking this further, can an organisation learn from the actions of firms of the past, or do the differentiated conditions of seperate time spans makes nulify similarities of situation? Consider a firm seeking means to improve a process in a country where industrialisation is underway. Can this firm look at past firms from countries that have already industrialised when implementing change? Or does the difference in eras mean that methods learnt from past firms actions would be irrelevant in todays world? How far in the past can you look into before knowledge and methods of improvements become too outdated to be put into use? On his blog, one of my colleagues even talked about some ideas within excellence models that have been mentioned in ancient philosophy. Should we... or can we even go back that far when considering sources that will be learnt from? Does it depend on the firm, or is there a cut off point for useful information. Where do we draw the line, if we can even say a line should be drawn? This may be something that the more I read, the more I will gather snippets of information about. But then again, in my reading I haven't seen much that strays from "what" and "how" to learn/improve, into the realms of "when to learn from".

If anyone has any thoughts about this, or has come across an interesting book/journal/whatever please share!

November 04, 2010

Apathy and Lathargy

" It's what makes you 'That Guy' "

This line from a film came into my mind yesterday. Some of you may recognise it, some of you may not. Its from a the latest of the Die Hard film.

This came to my mind from the apathy I witnessed last night in a very unexpected place. It was my first engagement representing my course as SSLC rep and turning up at the meeting I expected everyone to be eager to take responsibility and get involved. It seems that wasn't exactly the case. While people did want to contribute to the discussions at hand, the responsibilities of chair and secretary were not sought after. In fact, it seemed these positions were appointed by virtue of myself, and one other, taking the roles despite our already staggering number of responsibilities because nobody else would. This brings me onto the quote. What makes an individual that guy. The willingness to do what is necessary, regardless of the challenges involved, the absense of apathy to get involved, and the lack of lathargy to make it happen. That is what makes you that guy! These traits are ones that I am proud to say I have readily observed in all my colleagues on MBE. If something needs doing, there are always individuals that will take the task head on. Being "that guy" demonstrates the qualities needed to take on the challenge of leadership and be one of the people shaping the future. I believe that everybody I know on MBE, had they been there would have done the same, taken the responsibility to do what is needed. Being surrounded by people who are all "that guy" definitely makes for a fun working environment.

November 01, 2010


ep·ic  [ep-ik] –adjective Also, ep·i·cal.

1. Of, constituting, having to do with, or suggestive of a literary epic: an epic poem.
2. Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size
3. Heroic and impressive in quality:

This one little word sums up my last week in more ways than one, and because of this my entry today will be an epic (in literary terms) because a quick post will not do the week justice. For me, the CBE module was indeed impressive in quality and surpassed the usual (comparing module standards of my academic life to date) far beyond my expectations. It wasn't until the final few days that it hit me how much we, as a class, have actually learned directly and passively during the previous weeks.

I'll give some examples. Our last seminar, a few questions on leadership lead into a heated and very much indepth discussion about leadership styles, morales, values. What is considered an effective style of leadership is a good question. Does the authority of an autocratic leader having absolute control motivate? Is a leader that leads by example better for morale? Is a democratic approach allowing input from everyone a better way to create an environment of high efficiency and creativity? Or can a more laissez-faire approach provide individuals with the drive to achieve by empowering them and giving them greater responsibility? Personally, i don't believe a leader should be restricted to any of these styles. I think what makes a leader is the ability to adapt, to be flexible and knowledgable enough to see the best approach any situation may require and to behave accordingly. No two situations are the same and a leader must be able to adapt as required.

But what role do values and morales play? Can a leader be "corrupted". We debated this to great extent, with opinions often at polar opposits to each other. On the one hand, it was argued that the only way to proceed in life is through a steadfast resolve to never succomb to moraly dubious actions to maintain ones dignity. That the ends will never justify the means. While on the other hand it was argued that sometimes corruption is a way of life, that the only method to achieve any end is through actions that may be considered questionable. This stream of thought considered that sometimes the ends do indeed justify the means. Personally, I sided with the latter. While the ideology that the ends never justify the means is the epitome of ideologies in a perfect world, I think that the flawed nature of our world means that the this cannot always be applied. I believe situations do exist whereby what people may consider a questionable action such as accepting or offering bribery is indeed the only option to achieve a desired result. For example, in a country where bribery is common place, an individual may desire to build a hospital that will improve social welfare, but the political system means that to be granted permissions a bribe must be offered. For me, not doing everything in my power to ensure the permissions are granted would mean a failing of my values, the ends here would justify the means. This is a very tricky topic however, does this put an individual on the path to complete corruption, or would such an assumption be a cruel stereotype that all individuals do no have the morale fibre to know when they will be going against what they believe in. For me, such actions will not guarentee the complete corruption of an individual.

Now, moving on to something different. Learning. How much have we been learning? The last presentations of the week enlightened me to the extent that which I have personally leart from my personal reading, and from my colleagues. I did not think I was as knowledgable about this presentation as the previous ones, I felt in some way unprepared. But once I started talking, it all made sense. As questions were asked at the end, I was able to participate in answering these question in an informed manner! For me, this showed that we have learnt far more this week that we are actually aware of and filled me with confidence that in the coming weeks, I will be able to apply this knowledge to my PMA.

As for the end of the week, once again, epic. The first MBE social gathering went off smoothly and I was amazed with the turnout. Seeing everybody together and enjoying themselves demonstrated the comradery present within our course. It made me thankful to be part of such a dynamic group that works so well together. We are all on this journey to excellence together.

November 2010

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