Content By Akhilesh Gulati

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Brian had been running his machine shop as a third-tier supplier to the aerospace industry for more than 15 years, and it had been successful as a small shop. Over the years he had learned the importance of ongoing training and continuous improvement. He contracted with trainers and encouraged his people to take on quality improvement projects. He also partnered with the local professional development center to ensure his people could continue to hone their skills.

As the company grew, he brought in additional professional staff to handle operations and manage his supply chain better. Picking up on lean concepts, he held 5S events and supported setup reduction and other process improvement projects. Lately, he’d even put together an annual strategic plan.

However, Brian was troubled. He had begun to notice that results were not being sustained. He and his executive team were familiar with lean tools and concepts, and facilitated their employees through problem-solving sessions, but there were setbacks. The company leaders seemed to know what was wrong and the tools they could use to overcome the problems, but getting sustained results was proving to be a challenge.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Jerry, the president of a company that manufactured precision machine parts, noticed that the business environment had changed dramatically during the past four years. Although his company had done reasonably well in the aerospace industry, customers were taking longer to make buying decisions. When customers did commit to making purchases, they placed smaller orders and pushed for rock bottom prices.

Competitive pressures were felt throughout the company. Jerry was busier than ever meeting with customers, old and new, and trying to showcase products and services to domestic and international prospects. At the same time he was also trying to reduce costs, improve processes, provide innovative solutions, and motivate employees. As president, Jerry’s challenge through this changing customer behavior and the associated employee frustration was to ensure that his actions were consistent with his intended strategic direction and corporate mission.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Terry had been using lean techniques to improve his company for quite a while now. He’d held kaizen events, reduced inventory, provided training for his employees, and was quite pleased with the progress his organization had made.

However, he felt it was time move beyond this type of transformation—which was to provide his products and services more efficiently and effectively. While Terry and his organization were busy reducing nonvalue-added activities and increasing efficiencies, his competitors were busy rolling out an improved product by adding more value to it. He wanted his organization to be more innovative and constantly seek ways to improve or augment solutions for customers. Immediately, Apple came to mind; he wanted his people to exceed clients’ expectations by adding more value than expected. He had to get his organization to eliminate not only nonvalue-added work, but also act in ways that would significantly benefit clients’ businesses.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Barry was excited about the journey he was to embark on. He had just contracted a professional organization in his industry that would help his company implement lean practices. These professionals understood Barry’s challenges: “Making it” isn’t easy in U.S. manufacturing, especially with increasing demand for lower prices, higher quality, and just-in-time delivery.

The lean journey set off with a management briefing, a quick assessment, and the direction to move forward was established. Management trained the work force in lean concepts and held kaizen events. Conferences were attended to network with peers and customers, and learn how others were handling challenges in this industry.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Starting from scratch, Gil had slowly built a small business and was running it quite successfully. He was a professional at heart: He gained the confidence of customers and prospects, met their expectations, negotiated better prices, and provided personalized service. Life was good. Things were settling in. And then the tide turned.

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Initially, customers’ issues centered around unfair prices (or perceived value), or an occasional slip in quality. More recently, complaints reflected a lack of client interactions via technology (e.g., outdated web presence, no social media). The comfortable days of getting by and resting on his laurels were gone. Gil started seeing a decline in business and realized that he had become complacent. Customers started rejecting the status quo. Something had to be done.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

An optimist would say a glass is half-full, while a pessimist would say it’s half-empty. Someone with a mind for physics would say, “The volume of this cylinder is equally composed of a colorless, odorless liquid and a colorless, odorless gas. Thus, the cylinder is neither full nor empty.”

With most things, we tend to think our way is the only way. That’s not to say there aren’t other ways, but we assume that what we’re thinking is what everyone is thinking, unless we consciously stop and acknowledge that there might be a different way of viewing the same thing. This is especially true with people who have witnessed an accident or crime. No two statements are identical, even though the witnesses all saw the same thing. It’s a matter of perspective.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

The IT department of a school district supported itself by providing application development, database maintenance, training, and other services to its internal clients, although no money exchanged hands. The school’s outreach unit, which provided training and education to local organizations, also maintained its own profit and loss statement but was having issues with invoicing. Somehow the invoiced amount always seemed to be different from the quoted amount, which meant manual corrections, delays in receivables, and most important, unhappy clients.

As one of the more experienced analysts, Joel was brought in to resolve this issue expeditiously. He quickly identified an anomaly, which led him to assume data corruption as the culprit. He dove right in analyzing data, working backward from the output data, looking for patterns. Not finding anything, he delved deeper and discovered tiny data issues surfacing randomly, and he failed to detect a pattern that would point to a root cause. None of the data defects he found affected the invoices uniformly. A supposedly quick IT project was turning out to be a nightmare, and the outreach unit was getting anxious at the number of hours it would have to pay the IT department.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

Given the current dynamic business environment, there is a tremendous need for operational agility and the ability to quickly respond to changing market forces. Time to value (TtV) is an important metric that can be used to manage such environmental conditions. It can drive the development of methods enabling the rapid realization of delivering business value as soon as possible.

Within a market, simply being the best in TtV might not be enough; a distinct increase in value over the competition is also required. Two examples in the world of technology prove this point. Apple’s Newton was one of the first serious handwriting-recognition platforms, but its performance failed to convince users of its value. On the other hand, iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player on the market, but it was the first one that could store your entire library, and buy and load music easily and legally. It not only provided value from a user’s point of view but it also cut the TtV because customers “got it” very quickly.

To not only gain but also retain competitive advantage, both value, as perceived by the customer, and TtV, when realized by the customer, are required.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

You check into a high-end hotel for an exorbitant fee. You are tired, thirsty, and you want a drink of water. Either you find no water or the bottled water costs an additional $5.50. You see a coffee pot and complimentary coffee or tea, but you don’t want to drink something hot; you want water. Coffee is free; water is not. Reluctantly, you open the bottle of water and wonder why the hotel would nickel and dime a customer who’s paying hundreds to stay overnight. Hotels are in the hospitality industry, but they just don’t get it!

This same lack of understanding occurs in food oriented scenarios. Back at the high-end hotel, breakfast is included with the room. What is served? Danish rolls. Who wants sweets and likely a glucose crash when you need to be on the ball for your meeting? How about something healthy that will sustain the body until the next meal?

What about lunch? Yes, serving many people quickly and with a nice presentation is important, but the nutritional content of the food isn’t a priority. Pasta is commonly served because it’s filling and cheap, but it fails at boosting brain power.

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By: Akhilesh Gulati

The city of Austin, Texas, wanted to be listed as one of the top five places to live in the United States. Explaining that vision to the various municipal departments wasn’t difficult. Managers set about benchmarking from previous years, looking at the numbers, and deciding where they should take the big steps to improve performance, such as with emergency-response time.

One of the areas that needed improving was infant mortality; data pointed to several root causes such as illegal immigration, measles, and infant diarrhea. Elaborate plans were made to address the causes. These included educating medical personnel and the agencies that interact with parents who, for fear of deportation or who prefer home remedies, didn’t go to clinics. Inoculations were planned, and educational pamphlets were prepared. Compliance audits were also scheduled.