Common Sensei

From The Desk Of A Common Sensei

For Thousands of years people have been making improvements to processes by utilizing more efficient methods and reducing waste. The image below shows how over time civilizations were able to build bigger and seemingly better pyramids. We could also discuss … Continue reading


o the Super Highway or any number of multi-century transformations. The bottom line is if you are looking cut through all of the clutter and confusion, rely on your organizations goals and the strengths of your people by applying some Common Sense first.

The Common Sense Approach relies on four steps that have been the basis for personal, cultural, industrial, and business improvements for thousands of years:
Ask the Question
  • The First Step in the Common Sense Approach is getting back to the basics of why your organization exists and asking some key questions to help you refocus:
– Why do we exist/what do we do/what are our goals?
– What do our customer’s expect from us?
– Is everything that we do geared toward meeting our customer’s
– Are there things we can stop doing and still meet our goals?
– Why are we doing things the way that we do them?
– Can we do what we do better?
  • Once we have answered our questions we need to document the as the Organizational Mission and Organizational Goals
Identify Improvements
  • Once the Organizational Mission and Goals have been identified, walk the processes within your organization to ensure that they are aligned with the Organizational Mission and Goals –map the process
  • Conduct a gap analysis to identify where unnecessary activity is occurring and where outdated or inefficient policies, guidance, and regulations are being followed and can be removed or altered in order to create more efficient processes – eliminate those things which do not add value to reaching the Mission
  • Design and test new ways of doing business that better align with your Organizational Mission and Goals while minimizing the amount of unnecessary activity and maximizing efficiency – create processes which allow only those elements that are absolutely necessary to attain your mission
Implement Solutions
  • Implementing the new solutions identified in Step Two does not mean just doing something new. It includes several activities to help facilitate transforming your organization’s culture and creating sustainable improvements:
– Create and use an Organizational Governance Document
– Create and use Standard Operating Procedures
– Provide training to help encourage consistency of operations
– Create Metrics that align with the Organizational Mission and Goals
– Provide regular feedback and communication (both within the
processes and for the program)
– Provide easy access to all organizational documents and processes
– Hold individuals accountable
  • Once your organization is free from clutter and confusion and activities are aligned with your Organizations Mission and Goals. Your staff should be incentivized to identify new and better ways of doing business.
– Consider restructuring your personnel evaluations to reflect desired
new behaviors
I know that have left a lot of information out of this post. We have gone through some of the tools that can be used in previous posts and we will introduce more tools as time goes on. The whole point of the common sense approach though is to do what makes sense and don’t be affraid to ask questions or admit that you don’t know everything.
Until Next Time, Happy LEANing,
David Allway
Common Sensei






Not Invented Here Syndrome and Challenging the Norm

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 15:51:24 +0000 msisensei

As process based performance improvement professionals, we have come to terms with the fact that there is a long standing epidemic among organizations world-wide. Almost all of the organizations that have attempted to reduce costs and improve quality, and failed … Continue reading


As process based performance improvement professionals, we have come to terms with the fact that there is a long standing epidemic among organizations world-wide. Almost all of the organizations that have attempted to reduce costs and improve quality, and failed are suffering from Not Invented Here Syndrome (NIHS), or even worse That Won’t Work Here Disease (aka, We’re Different/Special). Identifying the symptoms is easy for an outsider however; the difficulty is accepting that you yourself may have been infected.

The beautiful thing about Performance Based Process Improvement is that everything we do in life is a process, from getting out of bed in the morning to launching the space shuttle. There are steps that must be done in order to accomplish what ever goal it is that you are trying to achieve. Once you have reached the state of enlightenment where you can admit that you need to do something to make your organization more cost efficient and/or reach a higher level of quality, you have overcome the first hurdle. The difficult part is throwing organizational culture to the wind and starting to ask the really tough questions.

Over the last several postings we discussed going to your process, asking the right questions and preparing to map your process. Now it is time to start asking the question “do we really need to be doing this (work/policy/regulation/etc.)?” First with your process as a whole, and then with each step as you map your process. With many processes or sub-processes you are probably going to find out that the only reason you are doing it is because it is what you have always done. Even with the advent of technology, many organizations are following the same steps as they always have and aren’t taking advantage of all of the capabilities that reside within their organization. So, for each process, sub-process and process step (or policy/regulation/etc.), conduct a 5 “Why” exercise. Ask yourself why we are doing this five times, or more if necessary, to get to a concrete answer as to why you need to perform the activity. If you arrive at an answer that doesn’t make sense or even “because this is how we’ve always done it”, you have probably found a great place to improve or remove a process, sub-process, or process step. You may even find a policy or regulation which perhaps made sense at one time, but is no longer appropriate.

Assuming that you are following this Blog like a how-to manual, it is time to start mapping your process. Be sure to first ask “do we need the process/policy or regulation at all” and then move on from there. Take your time and do not accept answers to your 5 Whys which do not achieve your goal of reducing cost or increasing quality (rare exceptions like laws and direct orders excluded, although they may be able to be changed down the road). Use all that you have garnered from your Gemba Walk and remember to listen.

Good luck and Happy Leaning,

David Allway




Prepare to Map your Process

Wed, 01 Jun 2011 19:45:28 +0000 msisensei

Once you have been to where the work is being done, walked your processes, and listened to your employees (as discussed in the previous two postings) you will have a good idea of what can be improved. The question now … Continue reading

ntify where improvements can be made, you will need to map your process. Before this process can begin there is a little prep work that must be done prior mapping. It is important that you fight the temptation to just jump in and start fixing. Be patient, you might just find that some of the things you think you can fix might not be needed at all. Below is a list of additional items that when defined and analyzed, in regards to the process you walked, will help you identify what can be improved, and what you can leave alone:

  • What is the Mission (of the organization)?
  • What is the Objective (of the process)?
  • What aspects are Critical to Quality (CTQ’s)?
  • What are the processes constraints?
  • Are there any known issues within the process?
  • What are the strengths of the process?
  • How do relationships with stakeholders affect the process?
  • How does the process affect relationships with stakeholders (within the adjacent steps and/or the entire process)?
  • Does your organizational structure drive process or does your process drive your organizational structure?
  • How is the process affected by your organization’s culture?
  • How is your organizational culture defined by the process?
  • Who are your suppliers and customers?
  • What is you strategic alignment with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders?
  • Has the voice of the customer been assessed and level of analysis determined?

When you are done answering these questions you should have a much clearer view of your process. The next question that you should ask is “do we really need to be doing this?” If the answer is yes, then the next decision whether key changes can be made to fix the process or if a total restart is necessary. If the answer is no, shut it down.

When you are done with the exercise and you have identified steps in the process that can be improved, the next step is prioritizing your improvements and deciding what it will take to make the changes. Is this a just-do-it, a Rapid Improvement Event (RIE), or a full blown project (i.e. Green Belt, Black Belt)? More often than not, you will be faced with a combination of all three.

If you decide to rebuild the process from scratch, consider using Design for Six Sigma (DfSS) so that you can more easily assess your projects efficiency once you get it back up and running.

While it is tempting when you finish your process walk to just jump in and start making changes, fight the urge to fix it now. Following the process will give you much greater returns and has been proven for generations. Once again, none of this should be new, but it is simple. Maybe even common sense.

So remember, take your time and plan for success. This extra step does not take that much time when considering the benefits of getting it right the first time.




Listening: A Key to Leadership

Fri, 27 May 2011 18:05:22 +0000 msisensei

Sometimes it is difficult for Managers and Senior Leaders to remember what it was like when they were first starting out, how important it was to gain face time with Senior Leaders. In my previous blog we discussed going to … Continue reading


Sometimes it is difficult for Managers and Senior Leaders to remember what it was like when they were first starting out, how important it was to gain face time with Senior Leaders. In my previous blog we discussed going to the place where work actually takes place. As part of the beginner’s guide to walking the process I recommended that the person walking the process “Speak with every person that handles the item and find out what their roles and responsibilities are in regards to the item”. Kudos to Dave who posted a comment on Prof. Woolsey of Colo School of Mines who not only observed but interviewed people at every stage of the process. It is nice to know that the readers are engaged.

In an attempt to continue generating discussion, I am going to list some questions that I have used, or have been recommended for use, as I conduct Process Walks. Once again, the key is to ask the question and listen objectively. Let the employee work their way through the answer, sometimes they may solve the problem themselves and begin to take greater ownership of their process. It can sometimes be difficult not to interject or to give what you know or believe to be the answer but, be patient. Managing Change is a difficult part of fixing your processes. However, it becomes much easier when you have a motivated and empowered work force.

Below are some of the key questions that I have accumulated over the years to ask workers along a process. These are in common use amongst a large majority of the Master Black Belt Practitioners throughout the world.

  • What do you do?
  • Where does your work come from?
  • How do you know what to work on next?
  • How do you determine what to work on first?
  • How do you know what to do on your task?
  • When you’re done where does your work go next?
  • How do you know you’ve done a good job?
  • Do you have any Challenges?
  • How do you know if your task is important?
  • What are your goals?
  • What measures do you use?
  • What is your cycle time?
  • How is Quality defined?
  • Is what you are doing cost effective?
  • How can we help you?

As you walk the process it is equally important to speak with, or “interview”, Sponsors and Supervisors that oversee the work. This step allows you to ask a few questions and once again listen objectively to their answers. Do not be surprised if the answers are different from what the employees are saying. More often than not, communications and proper documentation cause supervisors to feel they are providing clear guidance, which they may be. However, it is what the employees are hearing and understand that makes the difference. Below are a few of the key questions that I typically ask Sponsors and Supervisors.

  • What are your keys to success?
  • What are your organization’s goals?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What makes your product or process unique?
  • How do you define great performance?
  • What measures do you use?
  • How is your organization structured?
  • What are the critical issues?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • Do you see any opportunities for improvement?
  • How can we help you?

Walking the process and seeing for yourself is a key to understanding how your organization can improve is one of many keys to continuous improvement. Likewise, listening to your employees and staff is key to managing change and creating a work force that is capable of identifying and solving problems. When used in combination, you begin the process of building a culture of Continuous Improvement. None of this should be new but, it is simple. Maybe even common sense.

So remember, listen and observe while holding back on making any changes or drawing any conclusions until you have walked your entire process and spoken with your staff. In my next post I will recommend some tools and techniques for how you can use what you learned on your process walk to start implementing meaningful improvements in your organization.




Get to know your process (Go to Gemba)

Wed, 25 May 2011 19:36:54 +0000 msisensei

Organizations throughout the Government are looking for ways to reduce their budgets or to identify ways in which they can continue to function with spending freezes, hiring freezes and even budget cuts. The time when hiring was the solution to … Continue reading


Organizations throughout the Government are looking for ways to reduce their budgets or to identify ways in which they can continue to function with spending freezes, hiring freezes and even budget cuts. The time when hiring was the solution to all problems has come and gone. Repetition of work and activities that are based on outdated policies or regulations that are no longer in place needs to become a thing of the past.

For the last decade, the federal government has flirted with the idea of Lean Six Sigma, a hybrid model that often resulted in forcing two methodologies together which work well in sequence, but often fail when applied in tandem. On top of that, organizations bought into a training model that allowed contractors to deliver on enormous contracts without any return on investment other than the number of people trained. Lean and Six Sigma are not a failure in the Federal Government; there are numerous cases where a focused approach tied to an organization’s strategic goals has worked. The days of train and leave must come to an end. It is time for best practices to be captured, strategies to be tied to initiatives, and projects (not training) to be completed and demonstrate a return on investment.

Step one is to get to know your processes. Senior Managers can no longer sit in their offices and send out taskers to find out where things are only to be disappointed when they do not get the answers back that they expected. It is time for Managers to go to where the work is done and to walk the processes.

The word “Gemba” means “real place” or “go see”. In the context of fixing your work environment it means that management needs to go to the place where the work is done and is responsible for seeing for themselves. Going to the place where the work is done allows managers to observe the “As-Is” condition of their processes and is vital in identifying and defining any problems that may be occurring. One of the most important aspects of Gemba is understanding that just because a process is written down, or included in an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), does not mean that the process is being followed. Actual observation of the process from end to end, mapping the process “As-Is”, and timing how long each step takes, provides managers with a true sense of the size and scope of the problems in their processes.

So before you start sending out taskers or making phone calls to see what the problem is, try going to where the work is being done and see for yourself. Below is a beginner’s guide to walking your process:

  • No matter what you are processing, whether it is a product or a document, be the item. Start at the very first step and follow it from beginning to end
  • Speak with every person that handles the item and find out what their roles and responsibilities are in regards to the item
  • Record your observations but do not make changes or draw any conclusions until you have seen the whole process
  • Work as a team, preferably with someone who is knowledgeable about the process and someone who is unfamiliar with the process and can see things that an expert might take for granted
  • Document all of the methods used and note and variation in methods or deviations from the Standard Operating Procedure
  • Once you have walked the entire process, compare notes with you partner/team. Identify the differences between what you saw and any issues that can be fixed.

I will talk about what to do with your findings in my next post but, for the time being, go to Gemba. You might be surprised by what you find.

David Allway
MSI Sensei




One Response to Common Sensei

  1. Manny Barriger says:

    I have worked with Mr Sieber on a limited basis, but have found him to have incredibly strong ethics and very honest.

    He is asking the right questions at a time when it seems the world is looking the other way when questionable issues are being allowed to happen.

    Good thinker on his feet, and a great professional to interact with.

    With highest recommendations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: