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When you hire a consulting firm, you expect recommendations, changes, process improvements and a healthy return on your investment. In short, you want your company to be more efficient and profitable when the consultants walk out the door than it was when they walked in. Right? That should be a given.
But, what happens when the project is finished, when the consultants are not there to guide the process going forward? The answer to that question is process improvement sustainability and is a key element USC Consulting Group specializes in.
The aftermath: Preparing clients for sustainability
At USC Consulting Group, operations consulting is what we do. Companies bring us in to look at their operations with a fresh set of eyes, leveraging best practices we’ve learned in our half century (and counting) in the business. We’re not party to office politics and other company red tape, and as such, we’re able to make recommendations for necessary changes, process improvements, and operating and management system overhauls to get the company functioning optimally.
Increasing throughput and yield, reducing excess costs, identifying and eliminating waste — these are some of our areas of expertise. But, at USC, there’s one thing we DON’T do. We do not set it and forget it.
That’s one aspect of our approach that sets us apart from our competitors out there. We play the long game. We don’t swoop in, offer solutions and swoop out, leaving clients on their own. We deliver results that our clients can maintain. We make sure the positive changes we’ve helped companies enact will stick, long after we’re not walking through the door every day. It’s the whole “give a man a fish vs. teach him how to fish” philosophy. It’s our goal to give clients the tools to keep it going. Here’s how we do it:
1. Employee involvement. This needs to start from Day One. It’s hard to overstate how critical employee involvement is while the project is happening, and after it’s complete. We use “daily huddles” with team members to engage on things like scheduling, production, maintenance, quality, project status and much more. We do best practice skills. We review KPIs. The whole idea is to give team members the tools to continue successful operations and maintain the results we’ve achieved together.
2. Action items. Throughout our process, we will regularly identify action items, steps that need to take place going forward. We’ll get agreement on these and hold people accountable for success. It helps set them up for continued success after the project is finished.
3. Managing change management. We say it often — we can effect all the change in the world. But if we don’t manage that change correctly, none of it will stick. We’ve become experts in effective change management over the years. A few pearls of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way: Operational changes require behavioral changes. Employees, especially longtime employees, don’t necessarily love that. People need reassurance their jobs aren’t disappearing. Also, it’s extremely useful to recruit “advocates” on the front lines who can champion the changes we’re implementing. And it’s vital to be clear on the “why” of any changes put forth. Read more about it in “8 Change Management Best Practices to Ensure Sustainability” on our blog.
4. General training. We develop education and training for “in the field” work for team members, supervisors, leads and managers to support the Management Operating System changes being made by the team as well as supporting behavioral change management — also a critical part of the process. People need to do their jobs differently. Sometimes radically differently. And it can be a stumbling block for employees who may be resistant to change. The training gives them the skills to keep progress going.
5. Lean Six Sigma training. It’s a pretty safe bet you don’t have a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt on your staff currently. No problem. We do. One of the most effective ways to create lasting process improvements out there, Lean Six Sigma is the combination of two manufacturing methodologies, Lean, which is focused on eliminating waste and reducing process lead times and Six Sigma, which focuses on cutting down on defects and improving quality. But it takes a lot of study to get it right. That’s why we choose team members to train in this highly effective tool so our efforts using it to increase efficiency and decrease defects are sustainable. Read all about Lean Six Sigma in our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”
6. Toolkit. This is a playbook of what we’ve done on the project, successes we have achieved, steps forward, sustainable practices and more. It’s a detailed, workable plan that outlines how to go forward and build on that success.
All of these tactics work in tandem to ensure process improvement sustainability, so companies remain firing on all cylinders now and into the future. But, that’s not all. We may not be on site every day after a project is completed, but we’re always just a phone call away. We play the long game with our clients and perform audits to ensure sustained results. Setting and forgetting isn’t part of our playbook. Never has been. Never will be.
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Starting a new project is an exciting time for our consultants because it involves deep learning. As we often say, we don’t just swoop in and offer conventional wisdom about how to streamline operations, find opportunities for greater efficiency, increase throughput, reduce costs, limit waste and everything else we do for our clients. Instead, we roll up our sleeves, dig in and get to know the business, the people from the corner office to the production line, and the scope of the job.
An early part of the process is the feasibility study, which typically takes two to three weeks to complete. What is a feasibility study, exactly, why is it important and how do we use it to determine our course of action for the project?
What is a feasibility study?
Simply put, a feasibility study investigates the needs and potential for success of a new project by assessing risks, costs, benefits and outcomes. It’s a comprehensive analysis we do at the outset of any project we undertake. It’s like saying, we’re at point A. What’s it going to take to get to point B? And how best to get there?
Why do we do it?
We perform feasibility studies because no matter how many projects we complete for similar clients, every situation is unique. Every company has its own operations, set goals, strengths, workplace norms, challenges, snags and obstacles to overcome. Even different facilities within the same organization can vary. It’s a key element in our pledge to never provide cookie-cutter solutions. We need to get into the core of a client’s business to see how (and whether) we can help.
Ultimately, it comes down to creating a roadmap for a company’s growth. It’s about looking at how operations run now and how they might be improved, what that change may mean to the company and what it’s going to take to achieve the desired outcome. And remember, it’s not always about challenges, obstacles or snags. Many of our clients want to grow from good to great or build on successes to take them to the next level. A feasibility study is the first step toward us helping them get there.
What does a feasibility study consist of?
In a feasibility study, we start by looking at where we are – the “As Is” current state.
End-to-end process evaluation. We look at client processes, resources, equipment, workflows, production capacity, supply chain considerations, and even scheduling and staffing.
Management Operating System (MOS) review. A solid MOS is a cornerstone for every company. We look at what kind of MOS is currently in place (if any) and how we might improve or implement it.
Data analytics. We’re big proponents of “managing by the numbers.” In this phase of the feasibility process, we look at what those numbers are at the outset of the project to get a baseline to move forward from. We analyze the data and ask questions. Can we improve on it? Are these numbers solid?
Real-time process observations. This involves getting out onto the shop floor and understanding how the job gets done today.
Measurability of operational and financial KPIs. Put another way, this is how we measure success and ROI. What’s it going to take to get to the desired outcome, how much time and effort will it take, and where does the client need to be at the end?
Development of a customized approach for change. The roadmap we talked about earlier? This is where it comes into play. By analyzing all of these elements, we can come up with the approach we will use to effect positive change within an organization. Does it mean new roles and responsibilities on the shop floor? Scheduling tweaks? Planning for an outage for maintenance? All of the above?
Building relationships within the client organization. This is a key element to how we work. Many consultants simply engage with the top brass. While that’s important, we feel it’s just as important to get buy-in from the employees doing the job day to day. They are the heart and soul of a company, and that heart needs to be beating in step with the changes we propose, or in the end, our efforts might fall flat. That’s why we get to know the people on the line early in the process during the feasibility study to establish a rapport with your team. This ensures higher success when the engagement shifts to the project phase.
In investigating those things and more, we come up with operational and organizational improvement recommendations. We identify best practices for moving forward and, just as important (maybe more so), we can see operating gaps and develop a plan for how to bridge those gaps.
With a solid feasibility study, we can move into the implementation phase. All systems are go, and we start enacting the changes side-by-side with your team. It’s a crucial step in creating successful results for our clients.
Interested in learning more about how USC sets the stage for effective process improvement projects? Contact us today so we can learn more about your specific needs.
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If your company is looking for process improvements, greater efficiency, operations upgrades and generally a greasing of the gears in order to function at a higher level, that’s great! Now the question becomes: Do you hire an operations management consulting firm or rely on your internal improvement team?
Here’s a look at both options:
Internal improvement teams
What are internal improvement teams, exactly? In general, they’re full-time employees within an organization, usually (but not always) within the HR function. They act as advisors, change agents, process improvement experts, coaches or trainers. But it doesn’t have to be as formal as having a dedicated “internal consultant team.” Oftentimes, companies looking to improve processes pull together a team of people from different departments within the organization to tackle a problem or challenge that is impeding productivity.
Some other aspects, including pros and cons, of internal teams:
Cost. On the surface, using an internal team may seem cheaper than hiring an outside firm because the company is not paying an outside consulting fee. But figuring in salaries, benefits and all of the other expenses involved with full-time employees that are dedicated to process improvement, those savings can dry up. Also, if you’re using an internal team made up of people from different departments, there is the issue of time away from their usual job functions and the loss of productivity that can result from that.
Company knowledge. Internal people have an immediate understanding of the organization. No learning curve needed. There’s already a deep knowledge of the culture, the processes and the “unspoken rules.”
Accountability. Some external consultants “fix it and forget it.” In other words, they swoop in, offer recommendations for change and swoop out, leaving the company to implement the changes and deal with what comes next. (Note: We do NOT do that at USC Consulting Group) Internal people are there, onsite, through it all, and after it all.
Internal politics. This is one of the big “cons” of using an internal team. In many workplaces, you’ve got internal politics and drama running through everything. Who takes recommendations and advice from whom can become an impediment to progress. Certain people may want to be the one to come up with whatever fix is needed, and if they aren’t, they can put up roadblocks or sow seeds of negativity. The internal pecking order can rule the roost. Not ideal when you’re talking about making process improvements, which typically involve changing the way “we’ve always done it.” That’s a delicate endeavor, even for outside consultants. When you have Phil from HR telling a 30-year veteran on the line there’s a better way to do his job, it doesn’t go over very well.
Internal view. Internal teams have a great view of their organization, but not what’s going on out there in the industry at large. They are also not necessarily on top of the latest developments in process improvements, and certainly aren’t experts in things like Lean Six Sigma.
Operations management consultants
Operations consulting, simply put, is a discipline designed to improve your company’s internal operations and processes, making them more efficient, streamlined and ultimately, profitable. At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been dedicated to that since 1968.
Operations consultants will first look at your current operations model, systems and day-to-day processes of getting the job done. They talk with front-line workers, executives and everyone in between. Listening is a big part of the job. They employ methodologies like Lean Six Sigma, the Fishbone, the Five Ms and other tactics to uncover what’s bedeviling your operation and create ways to solve those problems.
Some operations consultants are advisory consultants, or “boardroom consultants,” who perform a two- to three-week study and provide a book of recommendations to help you out, and then hand it to you and go on their way. Implementing consultants, like USC, roll up their sleeves and work with a company’s internal teams to help implement the changes, and ensure the sustainability of those improvements.
Other features of outside consultants include:
Above the fray. This is a main reason execs hire outside consultants. An outside firm is not subject to internal politics and company red tape. They can make the changes necessary for improvements to get results without stepping on anyone’s toes. Oftentimes, recommendations for change go down easier when delivered by someone outside the organization.
A fresh set of eyes. You know what they say about the forest for the trees. Sometimes, when you’re too close to a problem or challenge, you can’t see the big picture of how to solve it. Operations consultants are outside experts who can look at your operations with a fresh set of eyes.
Horsepower. In many cases, operations management firms actually augment the efforts of internal teams and provide “horsepower” to improvement initiatives and help achieve results quicker.
Cost. Outside firms are hired for limited engagements and are not full-time employees. Therefore, a company does not need to provide salaries, benefits and other costs for full-time employees who are part of their internal teams. Yes, the upfront investment for an outside firm is more than you would pay your internal employees. However, once the project engagement is complete, those consulting costs are removed from the ledger, but the benefits are realized for years after.
Industry expertise. Another facet of bringing fresh eyes to a challenge is the fact that those eyes have seen a thing or two. Consultants like USC Consulting Group have worked in the industry for decades and have seen how similar companies have solved similar problems and challenges. While every situation is unique, the decades-long expertise in operational improvements is impossible to duplicate in-house.
Process improvement expertise. It’s a fair bet that companies don’t have many black belts in Lean Six Sigma on staff. LSS is focused on eliminating waste and improving throughput, and it takes years to become an expert in it. External consultants like USC bring that expertise, and even train your staff to implement these tools.
A final thought: Sure, we’re biased. We’re a consulting firm with 55+ years of experience helping companies improve their efficiency and ultimately boost their bottom lines. However, there is a stigma about consulting that seems to be rumored. To clear up this misconception, read our blog “Debunking Myths About Operations Management Consulting.”
Which option should you choose?
Bottom line is you need to make a decision that is best for your business. Whether utilizing your own internal improvement teams or employing an outside consultant, the main focus is reducing your operating costs and improving your productivity and efficiency.
If you would like to talk with one of our subject matter experts to see if USC would be the right fit for your improvement project, give us a call.
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Nobody knows the job better than your frontline employees. So, when you’re instituting new efficiencies to improve the processes and procedures that they use on the job every day, one vital key to success is getting their buy-in from the get-go.
At USC Consulting Group, helping companies find process improvements is what we do. We work with companies in industries like manufacturing, mining and metals, oil and gas, food and beverage, transportation and logistics, and others to become more efficient, effective and in the end, profitable. We strive to empower your performance and help you reach your highest potential by uncovering greater operating excellence across the entire supply chain. It’s about identifying and eliminating wasteful practices and procedures.
One big difference between us and the other guys is how we go about doing that.
We sell our methodology and our process, not just a solution
Nine times out of ten, when companies come to us, they already have a pretty good idea of what their challenges are. So we don’t go into a client engagement telling them what we think they should do. We have over 50 years in this industry behind us, but all of that experience doesn’t mean we provide cookie-cutter solutions. Most of our clients are looking to us to break bottlenecks in their operation, find out if they can do more with what they have, or even do more with less. But every one of our clients is unique. Every one of those bottlenecks has a different cause. The only way to find the best road that will lead to more process efficiencies is not to rest on our laurels and do what worked for the last client, but to roll up our sleeves, get into your operation and see what’s going on.
A big part of that is listening to your frontline people.
Your frontline employees are the key to the success of the project
We don’t simply sit in your boardroom and pontificate with your C-suite about how to do things better. At USCCG, we believe it’s about effecting change at the point of execution. That means we involve your frontlines. Ferreting out new processes and solutions that can increase efficiencies starts with the people actually doing the job. It’s the only way it’s going to work. Here’s why:
A single source of truth. By talking to your frontline employees, we get the lowdown on what’s happening in your operation day to day. We hear what’s going right, and at times, what’s going wrong. They often can see what the problems are, but not know how to fix them. We can get the single source of truth from your frontlines and implement plans to fix the issues and improve productivity. It’s crucial to finding where efficiencies can happen.
From resistance to change… We get it; change is difficult to accept. More than that, it can be threatening. Frankly, it’s completely counterproductive to swoop in and tell people that the way they’ve been doing their jobs for years is inefficient at best and wrong at worst. You’ll lose their cooperation. They’ll be resistant to any new ideas, because those new ideas mean the way they’ve been working has been wrong. If you don’t get their cooperation, it can be difficult to implement any sort of process changes. And if you have their opposition, it can be downright impossible.
…to drivers of change. That’s why involving your employees in the process from the start is so important. It ensures they’ll feel listened to and respected. It won’t be something that’s happening to them. Positioning this process as a way to harvest their wealth of frontline information in order to make the company more effective and efficient is the key to making it work. We involve employees from the get-go, and time and time again, we’ve seen them become the drivers of change.
Making the changes stick. Initial buy-in is only the beginning of the importance of your employees to this process. It goes further than that. It’s about making sure those changes stick. Your employees need to feel invested in the process changes in order for them to stick to them, on the job, every day. That’s why we don’t come in and hand them a new playbook. They’ll help write it. And that’s crucial to the success of implementing change.
At USC Consulting Group, we understand how important employees are in the process of change. We will respect them, listen to their institutional knowledge that only years on the job day after day can provide, and create a collaborative approach to finding the hidden opportunities for greater efficiency in your operation.
For more information about how we work during this time of COVID, download our free eBook Times have Changed – USCCG Can Help You Adapt.
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Few innovations have so saturated modern society quite as much as digital has. Perhaps the best example of all is in the consumer products space. From navigation apps, streaming media services, mobile devices, voice assistants and so much more, artificial intelligence tools and features are regularly used by approximately 85% of Americans, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Gallup. And that was three years ago — the percentage has almost assuredly risen considerably since then.
The ubiquitous nature of digitalization has essentially forced businesses to take steps toward incorporating the latest and greatest technologies into their production processes and strategies. Its implementation is evidenced at just about every stage of the supply chain.
Has your company embarked on a digital transformation journey? No matter where your organization is in this shift, there are a few important things to be mindful of to ensure that the changeover is as painless as possible. Be aware of these issues during your company’s digital transformation journey:
1. Transformations don’t always take
Once businesses makes the decision to move forward with a transformation, those who are new to the processes may underestimate how lengthy it all can be – and their chances of finding success. In other words, even though the presumption is going digital naturally increases efficiency, it doesn’t always come to pass.
For example, in 2018, directors, front office executives spent a combined $1.3 trillion on digital transformation initiatives, according to reporting done by Forbes. However, of that total, $900 billion was ill spent, as the transformations never took hold.
Why not? There are plenty of reasons, but as noted by Harvard Business Review, it may have something to do with decision makers’ failure to put the right strategy or mindset in place before the transformation actually begins. Employees — not to mention people, in general — are creatures of habit. Installing new systems and technologies with which they’re unfamiliar can lead to frustration and resentment. That’s why it’s important to establish what workers can anticipate; namely, the changeover may come with some rough patches in the beginning, but the end result will make the challenge worth the effort. Therefore, it is pivotal to define a digital transformation strategy to help evolve your organization, as per digital marketing firm Dash.
2. Provide ongoing training
In a similar vein, digital transformations are described as such because the change is often substantial, even though it may occur pieces at a time to avoid major interruptions in production. That’s why it’s important to ensure staff members have the instructions they need to utilize unfamiliar equipment — and can provide directions to customers who may have the same difficulty making the transition.
A classic example is in the manufacturing space. According to Oxford Economics, the speed with which manufacturers incorporate robotics into their workflows can dramatically enhance production. Indeed, the study found that increasing robot installations by 30% within the next 10 years could lead to a 5.3% uptick in global gross domestic product.
While just about all business decisions are time sensitive, a sudden infusion of robotics can cause confusion and consternation amongst workers, which is part of the reason why digital transformations so often fail. Ongoing training, seminars, and fielding questions from staff is essential to digital adoption so nothing gets lost in translation.
3. Consider a digital transformation consultant
Financial institutions, warehouses, manufacturers, and processing centers have all implemented digital solutions into their workflows in one form or another. While you as an owner must serve as a leader in these efforts, you may not have the level of expertise to effectively answer your workers’ questions. That’s where a digital transformation consultant can be worthwhile. In addition to ensuring work processes go more smoothly with digital elements as opposed to physical or analog, a digital transformation consultant traditionally specializes in whatever industry new tools or solutions are being rolled out, be it manufacturing, consumer products, life sciences, or food and beverage. In short, a digital transformation consultant can make the unavoidable growing pains of process changeovers less painful.
4. Recognize the reality of the digital divide
It sure seems like the world as a whole has gone digital, especially when you consider that a majority of citizens in a number of developing countries own smartphones, according to polling done by the Pew Research Center. But it’s important to understand that access to digital technologies is not as ubiquitous as it may seem at first blush. Look no further than the United States. In a separate survey also conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly 80% of homeowners who live in or along the outskirts of the city have broadband internet connections. However, less than two-thirds of Americans who live in rural neighborhoods can say the same.
Similarly, 83% of suburban residents own smartphones, Pew found. That percentage drops to 71% for Americans living in rural climes — a 12% gap.
Translation: If you’re looking to grow your business and cater to more customers, you may need to continue providing legacy services until digital technology and the accompanying infrastructure casts a wider footprint.
5. Make sure it’s scalable
While just about every industry has gone through some kind of digital transformation journey, they’re often confined to one particular department or sector, typically the one that needs it the most. In a recent survey of 200 manufacturing senior executives in the U.S. and Canada, more than half of the execs polled said their industrial internet-of-things innovations were small in scale and could not be subsumed by other units, IndustryWeek reported. This may be due to the pinch points that are so often associated with integration.
Making these efforts more scalable requires ongoing communication among departments, step-by-step instructions tailored to each department and selecting an integration platform that is user-friendly and fosters collaboration, IndustryWeek advised.
Transforming your work processes won’t be done overnight and it may not go exactly as you intended. However, USC Consulting Group has expertise in many different industries and can help your employees adopt and adapt to a new production approach more seamlessly than going about it on your own. Contact us today to learn how we can help.
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Modern businesses in almost every sector regularly greenlight operational improvement projects – internal initiatives designed to address serious shop floor deficiencies, boost product quality and output, and ultimately bolster the bottom line. However, a surprisingly large number of these efforts fail on multiple fronts, according to research from the Project Management Institute, an international professional organization for in-house strategic coordinators. For instance, an estimated 16 percent of the organizations that embarked on internal projects in 2017 experienced outright failure and surrendered one-third of their respective budgets in the process. These businesses attributed project failure to numerous variables, including ineffective vision-setting and poor communication.
How can enterprises looking to upgrade their operations via internal improvement programs avoid these missteps and the associated fallout? There are multiple solutions out there. However, few are as effective as strategic roadmaps. During this process, project stakeholders establish a long-term collaborative framework meant to streamline execution and increase the likelihood of an ideal outcome. Project teams essentially create the blueprints for success, making it easier for them to carry out key tasks and move forward without getting sidetracked or making major strategic missteps. That said, effective roadmapping requires serious effort. Here’s how internal improvement stakeholders can get started with this approach:
Unpack the Kaizen event
The strategy of a roadmap actually centers on specific collaborative meetups called Kaizen events. These assemblies come from the well-known Six Sigma process improvement methodology, which emphasizes iterative, efficient operational advancement. Kaizen events serve several key purposes, including:
- The assembly of all project stakeholders
- The evaluation of existing project workflows
- The development and deployment of process improvements
- The solicitation of clear buy-in from all project stakeholders
These are essential collaborative functions that might go unaddressed in looser project planning strategies. Additionally, team members often attend multiple Kaizen events throughout the lifespan of an internal initiative. This prevents the emergence of collaborative roadblocks or misunderstandings that could lay the groundwork for failure. However, businesses cannot simply put meetings on the calendar and expect their teams to communicate flawlessly and address all relevant pain points unprompted – there must be structure. This is where a strategic roadmap enters the picture.
Develop the Kaizen roadmap
Agendas build the foundation for effective meetings. The Kaizen roadmap does something similar, acting as an unchanging touchpoint for project team members in all departments. Most feature timelines overlain with specific collaborative tasks and sequential relationship details. Kaizen roadmaps also display the required effort levels and optimal durations associated with each scheduled task. This brand of planning makes it easier for teams to focus in on and address key variables in a timely manner.
What duties might a Kaizen roadmap include? Again, this varies depending on the project. That said, there are some relatively standard tasks. For instance, group data analysis is almost always a key activity, as Six Sigma, the genesis of the Kaizen event, emphasizes metric-based decision making. Additionally, businesses that host roadmapped gatherings of this kind often include time for current state evaluation, during which project stakeholders evaluate the status of a given initiative and assess the efficacy of its workflows.
In the end, strategic project management roadmaps centered on Kaizen events can make an immense impact on the shop floor, allowing businesses to roll out internal improvement efforts that generate actual return on investment. Here at USC Consulting Group, we have been helping companies embrace this approach for decades, lending them the guidance they need to bolster project team performance and realize revenue gains.
Contact USCCG today to learn more about our work.
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Learn more about project management best practices.
Every organization with major assets has different initiatives or projects it wants to pursue such as shutdowns, turnarounds, outages or other large scale capital projects. However, managing all the details that go into those efforts — from team coordination to stakeholder communication — requires a dedicated strategy. Furthermore, avoiding schedule overrun and staying within or under budget is critical. That’s where project management comes in, which helps leaders better monitor, control and execute projects by emphasizing:
- An established scope of work and delivery schedule.
- Different methodologies for different projects.
- Progress tracking and win sharing.
Want to learn more? Download our eBook “Getting Down to Business: The Essentials of Project Management.”
Planning an upcoming project? Contact us today to speak with our subject matter experts about your initiative.