Over the course of a career in contingent workforce management, you may spend a lot of time discussing process and process improvement techniques. They may be as complex as building an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico or as simple as time card approval and invoicing at a remote site. Regardless of the complexities inherent to any project or initiative, it often helps to consider using recognized standards or methodologies.
By taking a page from manufacturing and manufacturing process improvement techniques, you can get a head start on solving those problems. Here are a few brief descriptions of various process techniques to guide you in your selection:
Six Sigma. Arguably the best-known method, Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola in 1986. It became well known after Jack Welch made it a central focus of his business management strategy at General Electric in 1995, and today it is used in various industry sectors.
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (Champions, Black Belts, Green Belts, etc.) who are experts in these very complex methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction and/or profit increase).
Toyota Production Method/Toyota Production System (TPM/TPS). Developed by Toyota, the Toyota Production Method/Toyota Production System is an integrated socio-technical system that comprises its management philosophy and practices. The TPS organizes manufacturing and logistics for the automobile manufacturer, including interaction with suppliers and customers. The system is a major precursor of the more generic “Lean Manufacturing” (see below). Originally called “just-in-time production,” it builds on the approach created by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro Toyoda, and the engineer Taiichi Ohno. TPS is known for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota, from a small company to the world’s largest automaker, has focused attention on how it has achieved this success. The principles underlying the TPS are embodied in The Toyota Way.
Total Quality Management (TQM). Total Quality Management is an integrative philosophy of management for continuously improving the quality of products and processes. TQM functions on the premise that the quality of products and processes is the responsibility of everyone who is involved with the creation or consumption of the products or services offered by an organization. In other words, TQM requires the involvement of management, workforce, suppliers and customers, in order to meet or exceed customer expectations.
TRIZ. Also known as “the theory of inventive problem solving” or TIPS, TRIZ is a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention creativity by examining and addressing a problem by considering similar or dissimilar issues in alternate industries. It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science fiction author Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues beginning in 1946. The theory includes a practical methodology, tool sets, a knowledge base and model-based technology for generating new ideas and solutions for problem solving. It is intended for application in problem formulation, system analysis, failure analysis and patterns of system evolution.
There are three primary findings of this research:
1. problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences;
2. patterns of technical evolution are also repeated across industries and sciences; and
3. the innovations used scientific effects outside the field in which they were developed.
In the application of TRIZ, all these findings are applied to create and to improve products, services and systems. Because this technique relies very heavily on creative thinking and approaches to problem solving, it is my favorite toolset and one I reference quite often.
Lean. Also known as Lean Manufacturing, Lean Enterprise, or Lean Production, Lean is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, “value” is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Essentially, Lean is centered on preserving value with less work. Lean Manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System.
All of these tools will not replace the well-versed contingent workforce professional in solving your CW problems, but you can certainly streamline the process by utilizing these manufacturing best practices.