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Tools Repository – Steve Hardgrave, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

by Joe Aherne

In my last post I talked about some of the challenges of sharing files amongst a geographically disbursed team. Today I would like to dig a little deeper into one particular aspect of this- the use of common tools and templates for continuous improvement (CI) projects across a team.

In the CI world we love our tools! We’ve got SIPOCs, process maps, fishbone diagrams, affinity groupings, spaghetti diagrams, histograms, 5 whys, FMEA, control charts, and tons of others. Whatever problem solving approach your team uses (DMAIC, PDCA, or some other variant), you likely have at least a couple of dozen different tools that you use fairly regularly, plus another bunch that you call on less frequently.

One of my favorite reference books for CI projects, and one that I consult quite frequently, is The Lean Toolbox, by John Bicheno and Matthias Holweg (the latest is the 5th edition, published in January 2016).  From a quick look at the index of my older 4th edition copy, I reckon they have somewhere around 450 to 500 different topics that are covered under the umbrella of lean tools. That’s a lot of tools!

Even if you only routinely use a relatively small subset of all of the available tools, you can still have an awful lot of files and materials that get generated pretty quickly. My most recent team was made up of about 20 CI professionals, each of whom might have been working on three or four projects at any given time.   If we assume that each of those projects used 15 different CI tools, and each tool required the use of only one file to document it’s use (a highly conservative assumption, as typically we go through several versions or iterations while using each one), suddenly we’ve got around a thousand files and documents to manage (20 x 3.5 x 15 = 1,050!). And that’s just for one snapshot in time- over the course of a year we might finish some projects and move onto others, so that number will only get bigger.

So it’s important that you have some sort of central repository where everyone can access standardized versions or blank templates for each tool, and also some instructions or guidelines for using each, as well as examples of completed ones. Only by doing this can you hope to keep some degree of consistency and standardization across all of your projects.  You’ll also need some place where completed templates or documentation can be filed in a way that associates it with a particular project.

Many teams try to make do with a generic file sharing site, such as Sharepoint or Dropbox, but I find that these, while better than nothing, have their own issues in trying to manage the large number of files that get uploaded. You also need to control and restrict who can change and edit the standard templates, while at the same time providing read-only and copy access for the broadest possible audience. Finally, you need some way of standardizing the way the templates and documentation are filled out, and how and where they are saved. I think you’ll find, as I did, that the benefits of a specialized portal that’s designed specifically to support CI projects make it far preferable to the generic file storage solutions.

Joe Aherne Photo
Joe Aherne

CEO of Leading Edge Group

Joe qualified as a Certified Public Accountant in 1982. It was a decision that reaped great benefits for Joe, providing him with an international recognized qualification which allowed him to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps who had both worked and lived abroad. Having qualified as a CPA, Joe took up financial positions in the Middle East and UK.

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