Posts Tagged process improvement

Start, Stop, Continue – Reviewed


When I hear in meetings that people don’t know why they are doing something or why a certain policy is in place I begin to wonder how much time is wasted on things we are just doing because we’ve always done them that way.  This post was triggered after reading “I can’t believe we’re still doing that” which brought back a lot of memories about team meetings that I facilitated and the frustration I had because there was such a resistance to change when confronting obsolete work.  Now I want to admit that I thought I had posted on this exercise in the past but after searching my archive I didn’t find it referenced.  Sorry about that.

Setting the Stage

This exercise is great when change occurs naturally in the workplace.  It does not need to be forced.  But I must admit, when I am called in as an outsider to facilitate change meetings it is very natural for me to use this tool.  If you are managing a team or organizations, there are still may opportunities to use this tool:

  • New Leadership – often a great time to realign your department or team when a new leader is ready to add a new twist or their own perspective to the role of the organization.
  • New Management – this is a great time to review ‘why’ we do things.  There are times when the past choices are allowed to be questioned as to why we are doing something.
  • Direction Change – often with new management or leadership comes a direction change and a time to evaluate past traditional work and possibly make changes.
  • New Team Member – sometimes a new set of eyes brings a new perspective.  And remember, those new team members have past experiences for you to gain from as well.
  • New Competitor – nothing can be more jarring than a new threat in the vicinity.  This change is ideal to reevaluate what the team is doing and make some needed changes.
  • New Capability – learning something new is a great time to make changes.  Sometimes it’s as simple as learning a new lens or gaining new tools or skills that allow you to reevaluate past norms.
  • Measurement Changes – remember always “you are what you measure” and at times those measurements tell you that something is wrong or something unexpectedly went well.  This is a great time to pull the team together and analyze the outlier.

Pick your change.  For the most part any change that occurs in your normal business cycle becomes an opportunity to evaluate your norms and possibly make some changes.  My only word of advice is that you don’t use “Start, Stop, Continue” too much.

Facilitation Instructions

You will need three surfaces, I tend to use three large tear off sheets taped to a wall, with each one title with one of there topics: START, STOP, and CONTINUE.  You will need sticky notes and writing materials, and sticky dots handed out to each person attending the meeting.

You will provide the participants a problem to solve  in which they must come up with ideas on how to improve something by stating things they would START, STOP, or CONTINUE doing.  Here are some suggestions for problems to solve:

  • How can we make this department better?
  • How can we reduced the total elapsed time of a specific process?
  • How can we reduce the duration of a specific task?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?
  • How can we reduce the returned product / restocking percentages?
  • How can we decrease the Account Receivable averages and improve cash flow?

Have the team write their ideas on the sticky notes and place it on the correct START, STOP, or CONTINUE sheet.

Facilitation Tip: This brainstorming session is sometimes best SILENT. As a general rule if there is a superior in rank or position in the room and someone may try to “impress the boss” by controlling the session, or an (opinionated) person who naturally commands all the discussions, then make this part of the exercise “SILENT ONLY” and limit the damage.

If the STOP page seems sparse after the activity is underway, then stop the team and force them to evaluate that specific area alone.

Facilitation Tip: If you have a process map already created for a specific process you are asking the team to improve then make sure the process is visible somewhere in the meeting room.  If you don’t have the process thoroughly mapped out then begin first by mapping the process into a swim-lane chart so everyone can understand what they are being asked to improve.

Group and Rank Suggestions

Have the team go through a nominal grouping exercise where they attached similar ideas together.  Allow the tam to challenge each other.  If an idea seems to fall into two groups then create a second sticky note and have the team move on with other groupings.  Then identify any associations between the grouped items (i.e. Item 2 can’t be started or completed without Item 1 having been accomplished first).

Then have the team vote on which items they think are best.  Give each person 5 or 10 sticky dots.  They can place dots on any of the grouped items.  They can place multiple dots on any one group if they feel strongly that a specific items needs more attention.  (Don’t let them place all their dots on one item though).

This will produce a list of items the group either believes are low hanging fruit or very important and need to be addressed.

We are looking for

STOP Sheet

  • Redundancies
  • Obsolete Steps
  • Eliminate Points of Failure
  • Reduce Inter-Departmental Hand-offs
  • Reduce Elapsed Times

START Sheet

  • New tasks in an existing process
  • New processes
  • Purchase new software / tools
  • New classes to educate staff
  • New Hire orientation updated lists

CONTINUE Sheet

  • All existing items not found on the STOP / START sheets that the team is already performing.

I hope you enjoy this exercise.  Let me know how it went.

Good Hunting.

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Exceptionalism: Focus on the Never


Firstly, I need to apologize up front that I don’t remember where I got this idea from.  It is not my idea, I have used variations of this exercise in my consulting practice,  but I wanted to pass it along.  One of the problems I have when listening to a host of podcast products  is that at times I am not in a good position to stop and take notes.  This idea I found on either Phil McKinney’s “Killer Innovation” or on a “Venture Voice” interview, but that is a guess at best.

We all need tools to help us think of new ways to solve old problems.  We have a lens that we use to evaluate data as it comes in.  Every so often we find a new lens which helps us provide a breakthrough in performance or understanding.  In this case I wanted to share with you a new way of looking at things with a hope that it produces exceptional results.

Always / Never Brainstorming

This is an excellent team exercise.  I would expect at least two large hanging paper sheets and a pile of sticky notes and some felt tip markers would work nicely.  Here are the steps:

  1. Define the topic or focal point.  Try to be specific.  I prefer these questions NOT be open-ended if possible to make sure you are focused as possible. Here are some example:
    1. “What are the first impressions of our company/organization/church?”
    2. “What’s the last thing people remember about ?????”
    3. “What do people expect when they ????”
    4. “What happens when a person doesn’t ????”
  2. Have the team brainstorm things that ALWAYS happen (Time limit 10 minutes or until the ideas dry up)
  3. Now, have the team identify things that NEVER happen for this topic (Same time limit, and keep the answers relevant)
  4. Take a break – you just spent 20 minutes hurting your brains! (5 minutes)
  5. Nominal Grouping next – spend 5 to 10 minutes  moving the stickies together that are talking about the same thing (duplicate stickies if the idea is relevant to two groupings)
  6. Focus on the Never – now ask the team to come up with ideas that would make the never become a reality and be considered exceptional. (20 minutes)

Innovation Bonus Exercise

Now I did get this great idea from a Phil McKinney podcast as I was driving back from a State Cup soccer tournament.  This is the first time I heard this exercise described this way and should provide you some great ideas and insights.

Our brains are programmed to stop thinking once we think we found the right answer and often we leave ideas in our head and never share them because of this reason.  You as the leader or facilitator need to force your team past this creative barrier.    Here is the bonus exercise:

  1. Have all your nominally grouped ideas placed on a grid.
  2. Each idea group should run across the top of the grid
  3. Each idea group should run down the left side creating a matrix.
  4. In each matrix box, FORCE the team to come up with a new idea.
  5. Use this Hybrid list of ideas for innovative ways to move forward.

The ALWAYS List

This list represents the performance bar that all expect from any organization in the specific category examined.  This list becomes the managers performance list.  The manager will use this list to help identify talents and skills needed by the staff to accomplish these objectives.    Mentoring, training, feedback and possibly team reconfiguration (fire/hire) might be needed to help the team reach the Always Base Level, if they are not already there.  It is imperative that the manager get his team to this level and make sure they stay there.

The NEVER List

The Never list (and Innovation Hybrid List) is used by leadership to determine what the group will take on next.  An assessment needs to be performed first.  Do we have the right talents?  Do the correct skills exist at the right level to take on the new item?  What do we gain by taking on the new item as it relates to our competitors?  How long can we have an advantage before the competitors catch up to us?  And let’s not forget, how much will this cost us?

Marketing Warfare Correlations

Now before I get emails asking me how this relates to Marketing Warfare let me break this down quickly.  This exercise will work for three of the four areas of the strategic squares.   I’ll try and break this down by market position:

Market Leader – you are using this exercise to create a Defensive Marketing Plan.  The goal is to create a moving target for the competitors in your space.   The ultimate object of these  repetitive successes would be to discourage your competitors from attempting direct attacks on your position.

Market Non-Leaders – since you are not using this exercise to attack the leaders weakness within their strength, this exercise should be used in creating a flanking attack and would work best if you focused on an area in which the leader is currently not focusing on.

Local or Regional Leaders – this exercise will produce great ideas for guerrilla marketing warfare plans.    Many of these ideas will place you in a strong competitive advantage to the national companies that cannot respond to the dominance you hold in your local or regional spaces.

Please let me know what you think of this post.  I hope it helps you and your organization.  Your feedback is most welcome!

Good Luck and Good Hunting!

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