The ABCs of Work
By John Compton
It was at an RIT symposium in the 1990s that I first heard Douglas Engelbart speak about the three types of work activities that occur in a business. Engelbart, who invented the computer mouse, was referring to ways of raising the rate of innovation through technological advancement. His ideas have stayed with me for over 30 years.
During assessments of printing companies seeking feedback on the state of quality in their businesses, I’ve learned there are three kinds of work activities that can be observed. Following Engelbart’s approach, think of them as A, B, and C work. “A” work is the work done every day by every employee to produce goods and services that meet the needs of the customer. These “A” work activities include, among others, sales, purchasing, order entry, prepress work, presswork, finishing, shipping, and invoicing. In other words, it’s the value stream (or streams) that exist in each and every printing company. “A” work is the primary work of the business and we want it to be done right the first time, every time.
“B” work, on the other hand, is the work done to improve the performance of the “A” work. “B” work includes activities such as kaizen events, employee improvement ideas and implementation, and project-based process improvement. It includes the application of new IT and new production technologies that produce reductions in lead time, greater flexibility, and less waste while creating greater customer value. The addition of new technologies can lead to real gains in value stream performance, but they are temporary, as competing printing companies can acquire the same equipment. Alternatively, employees performing “B” work activities (5S, SMED, Kata, standard work, etc.) continually accumulate small improvements that are captured and retained. The resulting greater rate of improvement in “A” work becomes the unique property of the company and is not easily duplicated by competitors.
The investment made in “B” work activities is intended to be recaptured through improved productivity in “A” work activities. If “B” work activities are effective, the rate of return for dollars invested will be higher than for the dollars invested in “A” work activity. The greater the rate of improvement achieved, the greater the return on dollars invested in “B” work.
Many of the companies I visit have some type of structure for conducting “B” work, mostly related to problem solving with appropriate corrective actions and project-based process improvement. The challenge is that in many printing companies, there is a division of attention (and often responsibility) between the part of the company concerned with “A” work activities and the part of the company concerned with the improvement “B” work activities. Think production manager and process improvement manager. This division creates a competition for the time and attention of the people in the gemba performing “A” work activities. The daily pressures to perform “A” work to get the product out the door can severely limit the time and attention available for “B” work. Consequently, the rate of improvement in “A” work activities often stays unacceptably low.
We need to think about how to accelerate our rate of improvement. We can think of this as “C” work, activities focused on achieving a greater rate of improvement in “B” activities which are again multiplied in returns in productivity in the company’s primary work activities. Some examples of “C” work might include managers coaching employees in structured process improvement and problem solving, or everyone making many small improvements that are captured in standard work and improved upon again and again. “C” work is about getting better at getting better.
Continual improvement in “A” work is what is desired, but the seeds of that improvement lie in the “B” and “C” work that is practiced in your company. How many “B” activities are currently in place in your company? What is your rate of improvement? What are you doing in the way of “C” activities to accelerate your rate of improvement?
Primary Business Activities
Improvement of “A” work (reduce customer lead time, eliminate waste, increase flow, improve quality)
Improvement of “B” work (reduce improvement cycle time, build greater improvement capabilities in employees, create better thinking)
Some Thoughts on Standard Operating Procedures
By John Compton
Much of our work consists of repetitious activities: correcting digital files, changing plates on a press, controlling print quality during a press run, operating a rewinder, and packaging finished product.
Repeatable tasks can be studied and improved. We can determine the most efficient, reliable, easiest, safest, and most productive way we know how to do this work. We can then document that method, teach it to everyone involved in the task, and reinforce its continual use in a variety of worker-friendly ways.
Standardizing a task around a single, best-known method results in a better product and service for customers, greater ease in training new associates, and improved ability to solve problems. It also serves as a basis to further improve the process. While the best-known method is being used as a part of the routine, employees can continue to study the task to come up with an even better method. This is how continual improvement occurs.
What Is a Standard Operating Procedure?
A standard operating procedure is a documented, best-known method to perform some task or process. A standard operating procedure combines technical knowledge and process know-how, putting them in a written form so everyone can use them. The purposes of standard procedures are to:
- make it easier for people to do their jobs
- assure safe operations
- minimize the 7 wastes
- make it easier to track down the cause of a problem
- make it easier to teach new employees
- eliminate unnecessary variation caused by too many methods being used to accomplish the same task
Characteristics of a Good Standard Operating Procedure
- Clear and specific. It describes precisely what steps to take, when to take them, how to do them, why to do them, what to monitor, and how to respond to signals of problems.
- Designed for the Uninitiated. It should be understandable by new and not fully trained employees. It should be understandable by those who fill in when the regular process operator is out sick or on vacation.
- Realistic. It should be workable and easily followed and understood, and must include nothing unnecessary or contradictory.
- Agreed-upon. The standard should come from a consensus of those who must use it. They should study the methods and use data to determine which one method will work best.
Effective standard operating procedures are at the core of a strong system of continuous improvement.
March 2 Deadline for CI Quiz
The opportunity to win a Visa gift card will disappear in a few days. All individuals who take the quiz by March 2 will be entered in the drawing. The 10-question quiz will help determine your knowledge of continuous improvement. Ten percent of quiz takers have so far received a perfect score. It will only take about five minutes of your time. Take the quiz at ci.printing.org/ci-quiz.
Practical Wisdom to Reenergize Your Business
By Jim Workman
Are you frustrated with your business because your growth has stopped or the organization doesn’t seem to be working smoothly? If so, read Gino Wickman’s book Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business. The 2007 book (later updated) is drawn from his entrepreneurial experience and captures the key elements of what he teaches his consulting clients. His approach has developed an enthusiastic following by small- and mid-size businesses.
This is no academic treatise; it is a practical approach to successfully running and growing a business. For leaders who want instruction on precisely how to do it, Wickman gives it to you. In short, the book gives readers a system to optimize people, processes, execution, management, and communication. He calls the overall system the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and provides a litany of examples of companies successfully using it, including one in managed print services.
Wickman’s EOS has six essential components:
Vision—Set a company vision by using the Vision/Traction Organizer™, a tool that forces the leadership team to spell out core values, core focus, marketing strategy, short- and long-term goals, and issues standing in the way. Wickman contends that the vision has to be agreed upon and shared by all to create corporate traction.
People—Getting the right people into the right “seats” is paramount, and the book provides tools for doing that. Wickman insists that companies create an Accountability Chart (aka organizational chart) that delineates each person’s responsibility. The exercise to do that will probably cause leaders to end up with a chart different from the one they may have now.
Data—Develop a scorecard of 5–15 metrics that provide the company pulse, are assigned to specific individuals, and are reviewed weekly during the leadership meeting. Once the scoreboard is in place, the measurables cascade down so that every employee has at least one number that they influence and for which they are accountable.
Issues—Identifying problems and having a systematic method for solving them creates forward momentum. Wickman provides his methodology for doing this.
Process—Identifying the core processes in a business and documenting them is essential for consistency and for removing impediments to customer satisfaction and efficiency. It becomes a company’s “Way” of doing business. Wickman offers advice on documenting the processes, communicating them, and getting people to follow them.
Traction—How do you keep the company focused and on task? Wickman offers instructions for that, too. In this section of the book he describes how to establish corporate-wide, executive, and department-based quarterly goals. The book devotes a section to running effective annual, quarterly, and weekly leadership meetings, including the agendas. If you already have a weekly leadership meeting (deemed crucial by Wickman), then compare your method to his “level 10 meeting” approach.
Traction is for corporate leaders not happy with their current state of affairs who are looking for a better approach. To follow Wickman’s prescriptions will create unease as the operating manner of the company changes, but the many examples suggest that it will create discipline, focus, and improvement necessary for growth.
[Note: a case study on printing companies combining the power of EOS with CI practices will be presented at April’s Continuous Improvement Conference by Mike Dye of Alliance Franchise Brands.]
Operational Excellence Peer Group Seeks New Member
We have an opening for a senior executive to participate in our OpEx Peer Group that meets in person twice per year. The group consists of CEOs, presidents, and VPs from mid- to large-sized member companies striving for ongoing improvement in all areas of their companies. The tours, learning, and sharing make the peer group an extremely valuable resource. John Compton facilitates the group. Peer group involvement would be categorized as “C” work in the above lead article. If interested, contact Jim Workman at email@example.com.
Continuous Improvement newsletter is published seven times a year by Printing Industries of America. Send submissions and subscription requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.