Finding buried treasure in organisations

May 15, 2014
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In the famous novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, a young man in south-west England, Jim, finds a map in a dead pirate’s sea chest. He takes it and, with the help of trusted friends, realises it is a treasure map showing the location of buried treasure. Together they set out on a daring and adventure-filled journey to find the plunder. After numerous fights with pirates, they discover the treasure and the weary friends return to England to enjoy their find.
What does a story about buried pirate’s treasure have to do with leaders, managers and other professionals in Kenya and East Africa? It gives us insight into discovering treasures buried in our organisations. Two organisations in Kenya – World Vision and Kenya Airways are finding these treasures by applying Lean (Kaizen) and Six Sigma Process Improvement approaches.

Buried treasure in our organisations
Every organisation has buried treasure. Everything that can be improved to increase revenue such as waste of time and resources is buried treasure waiting to be discovered. Put another way: making improvements that help us provide greater value to our customers and use fewer resources is like finding buried treasure. Another buried treasure is stifled ideas and creative energy of employees that could improve the organisation and how things are done.

World Vision, for instance has been applying Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in its processes in Kenya and other parts of East Africa. More than 400 employees have been trained on Process Excellence Energiser and over 50 on LSS Green Belt. A group of 10 are undertaking the LSS Black Belt course.
Nearly KSh85 million ($1,000,000) has been documented in annual cost reductions to date. Recruiting new employees in Ethiopia takes 41 and not 130 days, procuring and drilling boreholes in Kenya takes 64 from 174 days while portion of invoice payment documents with errors reduced from 40 to four per cent in Uganda. Consequently, employees have been empowered to make improvements in how they do their work.

In 2009, Kenya Airways deployed LSS. It has had a full-fledged “World Class Organization” programme since 2012. So far, 150 LSS full time and part time practitioners have been trained, over 1,000 processes mapped, over 20 improvement projects completed and costs reduced by USD10 million. Other companies in Kenya pursuing LSS include GlaxoSmithKline and the Kenyan Coca-Cola Bottlers.

What treasure hunt requires
So, what does it take to find treasures buried in every organisation? A reliable treasure map, commitment to make the journey, seaworthy boat, skilled, equipped and trustworthy team, right tools and to make the journey. Studying each requirement will illuminate what it means for the private sector, public sector and civil society keen on finding their buried treasures.

A reliable treasure map
A treasure map shows you where to find the treasure. In an organisation, the map is a strategy for pursuing process excellence. This strategy begins with a vision for excellence, for example: To deliver maximum customer value with minimum resources at the right time and in the right way. The vision is pursued through the mission of process improvement (PI), for example: To equip, inspire, coach and facilitate our staff and leaders to pursue process excellence through process improvements that strategically benefit our customers. The mission is broken into strategic objectives for example;
• Improve key processes with strategic impact
• Develop process change leaders
• Build a culture of process excellence
To accomplish the objectives, one identifies specific tactics and processes to improve, people to train and reporting mechanisms. Leaders assess the organisation’s current location on the map, then sets specific “stretch” targets to motivate energised pursuit of excellence.

A commitment to make the journey
The first step of any journey may be in vain if there is no commitment to the journey. Every treasure hunt begins with leadership commitment.
Senior leaders must commit to the PI journey of pursuing process excellence by committing resources, giving people time for the journey, funding PI training and workshops, learning and applying LSS thinking, concepts and tools and giving PI momentum through continued management attention.

A seaworthy boat
In order to sail to the treasure, hunters need a seaworthy boat to weather the inevitable storms and safely carry the crew across the ocean to the treasure. In LSS the “scientific method” of solving problems – DMAIC provides the standard approach that a PI team uses to make the journey of improvement. The elements of DMAIC are:
• Define the problem to be solved (the treasure to be found) and scope of the project
• Measure the current state to know how the process is currently performing
• Analyse the data to determine why there is a problem and what are its causes
• Improve the process by testing and implementing countermeasures that address root causes and prevent problems from recurring
• Control the new process to ensure sustained improvement

A skilled and trustworthy crew
As Jim and his friends found out the hard way, it is not enough to have a good captain and quartermaster and a skilled and equipped crew. The crew must also be trustworthy, or they may try to steal the treasure! The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or executive director should sponsor PI within the organisation lest competing priorities stifle it. The PI Champion – a member of the senior leadership team – promotes PI in the organisation. One or more PI Leads are responsible for leading PI in their divisions or departments. And with them are all who make improvements. Depending on their role, these people should receive LSS White, Yellow, Green, Black and even Master Black Belt training, coaching and certification. Belt training should equip and inspire employees with LSS thinking, concepts and tools appropriate to their role.

To make the journey
Jim and his friends fought many battles to get to their buried treasure. Despite some defeats, they adjusted their tactics and fought again. The PI journey requires sustained leadership, commitment and hard work. There will be battles and setbacks, but leaders must keep the course, for the treasure is there, and the rewards are great.

Will you pursue your buried treasure?
Buried treasures lie hidden in every company, every government office and every non-governmental organisation. Like World Vision and Kenya Airways, your organisation can also discover these valuable treasures through Lean and Six Sigma. The only questions should be: When will you begin, and how much will you find?

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