Creative thinking puts business process improvement on steroids
At first glance, creative thinking seems an unlikely tool to use for the improvement of business process efficiency and quality.
Not so, says Executive Education facilitator LK Lim, who is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 20 years’ experience working in quality system and business process improvement across a variety of industries in Australia and South East Asia.
“Applying creative thinking and Kaizen methodology to solve problems and remove weaknesses in processes and systems can be very productive”, he says.
Creative thinking is necessary to make progress in three areas: market innovation, product innovation and process innovation − the last of these to optimise all the important links in the value chain. With innovation in all three areas, an organisation can move beyond the average and ahead of the competition.
Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. Kaizen Blitz, however, is a Kaizen methodology that can be used to develop and test improvements in as little as five days.
Gather your team together in an environment that is conducive to creativity, Lim says. Collect the data you need to analyse the problem(s). Use drawings, simple words, coloured post-its and a whiteboard. To focus the team and find creative solutions fast, use mind mapping with Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” and “Lateral Thinking” methods. Finally, record the problem, analysis, corrective action(s) and action plan on a single A3 sheet, for presentation to stakeholders and senior management.
Sounds a bit simplistic for a large organisation with complex processes, doesn’t it? But it works. For example, Lim recently worked with an international banking group that was lagging behind the competition in process efficiency – exemplified by the amount of time it was taking for a customer to open an account with the bank.
The project team’s objectives were to improve margin and market share by digitising the bank’s core customer-facing processes. They first identified that there were bottlenecks in both the customer application process, and the back end verification and documentation process.
In a five-day Kaizen Blitz workshop, using Six Thinking Hats and innovative idea generation as taught by Lim, the team came up with seven steps to streamline the account-opening process. These included simplifying the application forms, using facial recognition technology for initial verification, centralising background checks and training CSRs to check customers in hotel-style with a ‘welcome pack’ containing all cards, online log-in ID and the relevant product information.
From there, the team formulated an action plan, with specific tasks assigned to each member, and a six-week timeline for delivery of the objectives. All this on one side of an A3 sheet.
“This structured and focussed approach challenges ingrained assumptions, personal bias and negativity, and forces people to think outside the box”, says Lim. “It’s remarkable what can be achieved in less than a week.”
Learn more about Kaizen and Kaizen Blitz, Six Thinking Hats and Six Sigma in LK Lim’s Executive Education courses: