Recently, Michael Hanson has been sharing his wisdom of the best practices to help continual process improvement be successful. In this article, he details SIPOC (+CM), Pareto sheets, decision matrices, and Failure Mode Effects Analysis, giving a good overview of each.

by Michael Hanson
April 26, 2021

Recently, we’ve been discussing the tools and procedures for continuous process improvement (CPI) programs to improve customer and client experience. Here are a few more to consider:

SIPOC (+CM)

The next tool is designed to look at a process from start to finish. Like the Five Whys and Hows, it works best when a team of subject matter experts get together and provide their feedback. As with many CPI tools, it is simple in concept but powerful when used properly.

SIPOC stands for Supplier – Inputs – Process – Outputs – Customer. The American Society for Quality also suggests including “+CM” to the term, which adds “Constraints and Measures” to the tool. It’s easy to build in a spreadsheet format, within the mind-mapping environment, or even just a whiteboard.

With this tool, the starting point is the center – the process being analyzed. In this case we’re looking at a basic Service Desk process. There are three or four steps as documented, which would be placed in the middle Process column. Depending on the process, it can also be input as a flow chart, which can help with understanding how the process moves from top to bottom. Once the process is in place, consideration should be given to the Suppliers.

Suppliers can be internal or external, and they provide the basic material for the process. That can be physical material such as hard-copy reports or hardware assets, or it can be information. For this process, our information is coming from our customers or vendors who are experiencing a problem.

How they get that information to us is the job of the next column, Inputs. This is how the Supplier injects the information into the process. This could be via a direct phone call, through an online chat or text application, a web form, or social media.

On the other side of the process, there are the Outputs. This is what the process should produce when it completes. In this case that could be a ticket, either closed or escalated, as well as system reporting for management.

The final column is Customer, which is the recipient of the Output. These are the users of what the Process creates. While it is not always the case, in this instance the Supplier and the Customer are the same, with the addition of management (who receives reporting).

The two “plus” columns are Constraints and Measurement. These provide some additional insight to the process. Constraints alerts us to any potential roadblocks or events that could slow or stop the Process. Measurement is the metrics generated to measure the performance of the Process.

The SIPOC is another good tool for involving the team and subject experts in the CPI function. It spurs process-based thinking by looking at it from start-to-finish.

Pareto and Check Sheets

The Pareto chart is often considered to be one of the basic tools in the continuous improvement arsenal. It is one of the easiest charts to build, yet provides an enormous amount of insight into process performance. It is a causal analysis tool.

Since it is data-driven, there are some things that are necessary:

  • Data needs to have some means of categorization.
  • Data should be of similar types (frequency, volume, cost, etc.)

Most incident management tools have reporting or export capabilities that should allow you to gather data to build a Pareto. However, if reporting is lacking, there is a very simple tool called a Check Sheet that can be used to gather and collate data. It can be built into a spreadsheet, made with a basic database, or even just pencil and paper.

There are plenty of free templates online to create Pareto charts, and the most recent versions of some spreadsheets have built it into their charting module.

A Decision Matrix and Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA)

The next couple tools are similar in that they are a scorecard that allows leadership to concentrate their attention. Often, making the right decision or focusing on the highest priorities can be challenging when there is ‘static’ from a number of other, possibly similar issues.

A Decision Matrix is a decision-making tool that uses a weighted criteria and then evaluates each potential decision against that criteria. It’s a good tool to use when there is a need to narrow down a large list to a single item.

A Decision Matrix can score issues facing a service desk call center and assist leadership in determining which problem to tackle first. The top row can lay out the criteria being used, and add the weighting to it. Once the issues are established, they are compared with the criteria and given a score. The scores for each row are summed to provide an overall score for that issue.

The Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) tool is similar in that it uses weighting. The weighted values are preset, and its purpose is to look at potential failure points within a process, determine how severe, frequent, or visible they are, and provide an overall score. How that criteria is defined can vary, but generally severity means how serious a failure would be to the process (or business). Frequency is how often it occurs or might occur. Visibility is how obvious the failure could be to customers or management. How each is weighted is usually a numeric scale, 1 to 5, 1 to 10, etc. The formula to arrive at a Risk Score is simply Severity x Frequency x Visibility.

The first part of the tool looks at potentials and possibilities. It all starts with a specific process step. This can be entered as a description, or if you have developed a process map where each step is numbered that works very well. The second part of the tool looks at what was done to reduce the risk, and recalculates the Risk Score.

How each criteria is weighted could vary depending on the process or the focus of the organization. In the example, it can be surmised that this team has a strong customer focus, so the Visibility score has a higher priority. If we’re looking at an internal process that is not customer-facing, it’s likely that the Visibility scores would be much lower.

Because the weighting can be adjusted based on the process being measured or the organization’s approach, this tool is very powerful and is why it is one of my favorite tools in the CPI arsenal. It really goes hand-in-hand with a good process mapping initiative.

There are many more tools that can be leveraged to build a culture of continuous improvement, and many of the tools listed here have variations that can address different types of scenarios. I hope this has shown that a culture of continuous improvement can be a useful part of a services team!


Michael Hanson has a broad background in information technology, and is an IT executive with over 30 years of experience leading IT Operations, Service, and Support, and has extensive experience leading globally distributed teams. He is ITIL, Six Sigma, and HDI certified, has a BS in Business Technology, and is a regular contributor to industry conferences and publications. His passion is building effective, happy teams and leveraging business and IT process improvement techniques to make processes more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable for both IT staff and their customers. Today, he leads the IT Service Desk at PSCU, one of the USA's premier financial services organizations.

Tag(s): supportworld, culture, continual service improvement

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