Episode #4 – Business Process Improvement

JacquiDaley - Web

What is this business improvement thing?

In today’s episode, I have chat with former colleague and one of the most knowledgeable business improvement specialists in Australia – James Chevis.

James is an independent Lean Six Sigma Master Black belt based in Wollongong, NSW. With 20+ years of experience in process improvement, the last 8 of which, as a Lean Six Sigma practitioner. James has built his knowledge, skills and experiences; then applied it to many improvement techniques, not only in manufacturing, but across many different industries. James stands out from many other business improvement specialists, because of his understanding of both practical application in real world environments, along with a deep knowledge of the basis of the most successful techniques that work.

We discuss the application of business improvement tools and techniques. The importance of using statistics and data in helping to improve business process issues. As well as overcoming hurdles in Business Improvement.

Follow James Chevis here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-chevis-6aa81543/

Show Notes/Transcript

With James Chevis
SUMMARY KEYWORDS
people, improvement, problem, process, manufacturing, tools, data, business, businesses, industries, sigma, talking, sorts, work, guess, bit, happening, measure, conversation
SPEAKERS
Graeme Fitzgerald, James Chevis

So hi there, everybody. In today’s podcast, I’m joined by one of the most knowledgeable Business Improvement specialists in Australia. James Chevis. James and I first worked together several years ago in a manufacturing plant in Wollongong, New South Wales. During that time, James led major changes in that business, bringing science to an operation that had previously been a bit more experience and touch and feel. Since that time, I followed his development, growth and achievements, with a wide range of success across many industries. Over the last 20 plus years, James has built his knowledge, skills and experiences, applying many improvement techniques, in manufacturing and in those other industries. James stands out for many other business improvement specialists, because of his understanding of both the practical application in real world environments, along with a deep knowledge of the basis of the most successful techniques that work. James is a practitioner, someone who has actually had responsibilities to delivering results. Using that knowledge. James has held senior business improvement positions across Australia, and worked as an independent consultant across a wide range of industries. His podcast theme is what is this improvement thing anyway? When I decided on this theme, James, James was one of the few people I thought of. over many years, I’ve learned that James has a skill and getting people to embrace the science and practical applications of tools that are often seen as stuff that won’t work here. During today’s podcast, we’ll explore the keys to success with improvement in particular, lean manufacturing, and six sigma. In our time together, I hope we can share some of the secrets that make real improvement possible and sustainable. So welcome, James to manufacturing mastery.

James Chevis
Thanks Graeme Pleasure to be here.

Graeme Fitzgerald
I know we’ll probably talk for we could probably talk for hours given both of our passion for improving processes. But given the audience generally busy people, I’ll try and keep some sense of structure by asking some questions if that’s okay. Yeah, no worries at all. So I guess to open up but what would be great if you can share with us what is it made you so passionate about process and business improvement? How that’s shaped your journey to the day?

James Chevis
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I graduated out of materials engineering in Wollongong and, and got a couple of part time jobs in local manufacturing, so you know, heavy manufacturing, steel industry and so forth. And a bit like you, you alluded to the place that we work together, they they did a lot of their work by feel and touch and and there was a few people who, you know, knew the recipes for Black Book type stuff. And it was fairly plain when you started talking and scratching below the surface with people that they they didn’t know what they were doing. They they knew within certain bounds what worked, but as soon as your sort of very few parameters or something went wrong, things just went off the rails and it took ages for people to get back to smooth running of the of the process and I just seem to speak really loudly to my training and, and, and just my nature, I suppose, curiosity to find out what actually made these processes tick and actually, and really work out what’s underlying them and make some improvements make people’s lives easier in doing so. So I guess that’s really what’s underpinned my passion.

Graeme Fitzgerald
Some people, some people do that sort of stuff, and then don’t necessarily follow on, but I’ve seen that you’ve really sort of delved into this area. And so what drives that

James Chevis
it’s a continuation of the same sort of thinking, and, and the, the opportunity to actually do some formal training in that area. Because you see, a lot of improvement, people are thrown into those roles, and they’ve got their background education, whatever that might be. So it could could be technical could be could be university education. And they use the the tools that they’ve got, in the best way that they can, but I’ve, I’ve had that been lucky to, to have some pretty good formal training in improvement. And, and that’s really accelerated the, the abilities, the knowledge, and also the passion to actually pass that on as well.

Graeme Fitzgerald
I guess that’s a good lead into, I guess, my next question, which was, when we started our journey together, bringing science into making steel pipe, you know, terms like lean manufacturing, and six sigma, were really only new into the world. Now, I know, I’m showing my age a little bit in saying that I can can you share with, can you share with me, you know, with our listeners, how your experiences evolved from, you know, that process manager role you had with myself to a master black belt? And, you know, and then maybe where you see the direction in the next five to 10 years gone?

James Chevis
Yeah, yeah, oh, those those lean manufacturing and six sigma, I mean, I’d cast my mind back to again, on, you know, showing my age, just like you that they weren’t even terms that were banded around much when you and I started to work together. And it was only, as we sort of went on that journey together in that, in that manufacturing plant that those terms came out. And, and we were able to really use those techniques to crack open some problems that were, were just built into the, into the plant. So that, that sort of thinking were, you know, I think being aware of the business, so And by that, I mean, connecting yourself as a as an improvement person to the process of the people in it, what’s going on and what what drives them mad each day, what are the perennial problems. And then using those techniques, lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and some of the other tools for problem solving the LA to use data to really crack open a problem. And, and I know, you were sort of the other side of the fence in terms of management, what would you call it? Drive to get the answer as quickly as possible. And I guess, you know, there’s a bit of patience involved with some of that to actually collect data measure appropriately. And then decide what your next steps are, and, and use those tools to, to, to dig in and, and solve some of the fundamental issues in a in a process. So, you know, that that role from from Process Manager using using tools like probably more lean tools than than six sigma and then and then doing master black belt courses and things like that. Moving through to using Six Sigma and and and really using some pretty powerful statistics to relate to to unfold problems and get to the root, fix them and and essentially redesign processes from the ground up if necessary. I guess the next party question, what do I see in the next five to 10 years. More of the same, but the the amount of data that’s available these days with all sorts of you know, measuring systems and so forth, that are gathering information, you know, in in real time for in process that you don’t really think that you could possibly measure. That’s where I see the next five to 10 days,

Graeme Fitzgerald
from, from your perspective. One of the things that being in 2021 allows us to do is to actually capture the data more readily, and put it into a format, which can be analyzed and assessed and potentially, maybe, speed up that timeframe. I know, as a business manager, I was always wanting things done quicker. But knowing sometimes you actually had to get into the detail to fix the root cause of the problem.

James Chevis
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, the other thing I see is that a lot, a lot of businesses are awash with data, and they really don’t know it. So I think in the next five to 10 years, businesses that are going to do well in this area are going to actually wake up and go, golly, we’ve got all this all this data, we don’t actually use it, we don’t analyze it, we don’t actually take any notice of it, we click lots of stuff sometimes for for, you know, for their own purposes. And sometimes because they required some sort of statutory capacity to do so. And a lot of it sort of gathers dust and mold is in in databases, and so forth, and no one does anything with it. So I think, you know, businesses that do well in improvement will actually wake up and start using that data will.

Graeme Fitzgerald
So, I guess in line with that, you know, one of the the opportunities is for people to recognize what they actually do collect in the first place. As you know, my experience in process improvement really started in hands on manufacturing processing in the steel industry. You’ve worked in many other businesses, other than manufacturing as well. So can you share with us some of the similarities of those other businesses and with manufacturing, and potentially where the different opportunities might exist? Yeah.

James Chevis
As I’ve moved out of manufacturing, and into, you know, service businesses, and so forth, it’s actually struck me as how similar they are at manufacturing businesses, we’ll see service businesses and how they’re different to us and service businesses certainly look at manufacturing go, you know, like, they really can’t teach us anything, because it’s so different. And, and the point is that you boil a process down it, boil a business down to its fundamental processes, and start measuring things in that process. Essentially, they’re the same thing you can use all those tools in that, you know, that have been developed in manufacturing, and and quite effectively in service industries, industries and so forth. And if I will say anything, service industries are probably less, I guess, less advanced, less mature in the awareness of data and their use of data in their day to day, activities, and so forth. So, yeah, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s not so much the differences of similarities that have struck me on the tip

Graeme Fitzgerald
from that. So from that perspective, you know, I’m very aware of the value that can be gathered from a manufacturing improvement in process capability. What sorts of benefits were you able to achieve? In some of those? Maybe the, the Align back office processes and those sorts of things?

James Chevis
Yeah, some really spectacular ones, actually. I mean, there’s one particular presses I was looking at for a service company, and basically, they’d lost a million dollars down the back of the couch. And I’m wondering, you know, what, why a good month suddenly turned into a bad month, when a million dollars worth of costs suddenly landed on the bottom line, and, you know, those sorts of things, the, the, I guess the, the tools used to actually find that were relatively simple. So, you know, the, the, I guess the complexity is somewhat less in service industries, because, you know, that when you measure things, and a lot of the measurements are, you know, time to process something or or, you know, days between, you know, sending an invoice and getting your cash in and that sort of stuff. fairly easy to measure things and quite often automatically measured in in most systems like sa p So you can actually do some fairly easy, quick and big improvements quite readily in service industries and stuff.

Graeme Fitzgerald
So really about making things visible. Yeah. Yeah. And bringing them into focus, rather than having them hidden behind the noise of busy work day to day. Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

James Chevis
Yeah, it’s a matter of actually looking and seeing rather than, rather than the super visual that a lot of people take across, you know, a big data set.

Graeme Fitzgerald
Okay. So as part of my, my purpose of the podcast, my goal is to have at least one thing that people can take away from a 20 minute podcast talking about manufacturing, and be able to apply that quickly in their business. So as a, as a practitioner, with responsibility for getting results, can you share with us one of the biggest challenges in business improvement that you’ve had, and how you tackled

James Chevis
it? I’ll probably illustrate that by saying that the, one of the biggest challenges is getting people to believe that they can solve a problem, and also getting people to believe that the problem is actually being caused by the things that you can demonstrate using facts and data. So once you can actually get people to, to believe that belief drives action. So the the, the getting people to believe that they that they, you know, they can see the problem, they can see the the answer and they can implement the answer is that is the biggest series of challenges. Quite often it’s not, you know, the data and all that sort of stuff is relatively easy. It’s it’s often convincing people that, that they can actually use the answer effectively. Because, quite often, in my Do you have an example? Yeah, I guess, the the example I was just sort of thinking about then was, again, the, the in one of the businesses I’ve been working with, where they lost their million dollars down the back of the couch. The the people who were solving the problem, before I was asked to go and have a look, we’re going to go and buy a new computer system, they believe that there was a problem with the, the software that they were using. And it took a few days to actually unravel the problem itself, and get some some good information about what was going on. And then to show them how to use some fairly simple tools to figure out what was causing the problem. And as it turned out, you know, they could have bought themselves a new bit of software, but it would have solved part of the problem and not all of it. So you know, the million dollars would potentially still have been an issue disappearing and then reappearing on the bottom line. So that those sorts of things, to working through the problem in a systematic fashion, using some simple tools and figuring out why things are being what they are, what the root causes are and working from there. And I guess the the education on the way with people who aren’t necessarily used to using improvement tools.

Graeme Fitzgerald
There you’ve talked about tools being some things that you might you go to. So what are some of those simple tools that the first port of call you pull out on the kitbag, so to speak?

James Chevis
Yeah, one of them is actually at least listen to what people are telling you about in an anecdotal form, and then go gather some data and the old Pareto principle is, is one of the most powerful ones go and find out what’s what’s mostly going on in the process, and separate the wheat from the chaff sort of thing reasonably quickly. So that that’s worked in numerous occasions,

Graeme Fitzgerald
say listening, listening. Yeah. So listening to people, and what they tell you is wrong, is a good place to start

James Chevis
is a damn good place to stop. Absolutely, that’s right. Yeah. And then and then go and back that up with a bit of observation. And see where they’re at and see whether what they’re telling you is, is, you know, is also a fact, but not from the point of view of trying to judge people more more the case of people don’t necessarily describe things in a in a clear or concise way. And so going and verifying what they’re talking about is, is one of the useful tools as well.

Graeme Fitzgerald
So confirm, confirming what they think is coming from what is actually really happening. Yeah, and knowing where to go and look.

James Chevis
Yeah, that’s right. And then combining that with a little bit of science. So, you know, you and I have deep experience with with people who operate processes and so forth. And, and they have a fantastic knowledge of what goes on day to day, but they may not know some of the scientific principles behind why they do what they do. And so actually reconciling what they’re observing with what the process is supposed to do, or what or what, technically, is actually it’s designed to do, and then then working from there and seeing where the problem may well, buddy.

Graeme Fitzgerald
Very good. And so I guess my final question, so it’s been many years now, since you started your journey in the process improvement. What’s been your greatest lesson in that time, and how’s it influencing you today,

James Chevis
it’s been a couple of lessons actually Graeme. And one of them, you actually started me on the journey. And that is, people are not always rational. They wont always actually acting the way you think. And, and the other one is the one I was just talking about where your belief drives action. So people will, will act on their beliefs. And, and, and sometimes they’re not rational beliefs. So you’ve got to unravel a lot of that sort of thing. Sometimes if we can get to the root cause of the problem. And I think those things have been some of the the eye opening things for me over my career.

Graeme Fitzgerald
And so how does that how does that help you in your approach today, with your clients as they come on board and identify issues?

James Chevis
Yeah, a lot a lot more focused on people and why they may be experienced a problem or working out? why some of the actions and activities you see are going on, you know, that might not make sense on the face of it, why they’re going on. So to to chancy question directly, I suppose open open my eyes a bit more to how people react rather than how the process itself and all the nuts and bolts actually work together. And I’ve often often found that the problem is actually the problems in in processes are driven by people’s misunderstanding, or, or past practices that that may not have been particularly appropriate. And I’ve just grown out of, you know, people’s misconceptions or mistakes or, and been passed on them down through history in places.

Graeme Fitzgerald
So the stories that people tell, yeah,

James Chevis
yeah. Yeah. enlightening to put it bluntly, you

Graeme Fitzgerald
know, so the Why is James of 2021 ís somebody whose strong around the science that with a with a healthy respect for the interaction with the people that actually Yeah,

James Chevis
absolutely, yeah. Yes, it’s, it’s been a it’s been a at times are hard won. Knowledge. But yeah. So always best to start with what the people are telling you and then work from there.

Graeme Fitzgerald
The most valuable ones are usually hard ones. And, yeah, I thought, well, James, look, I could go on, as I said, I could talk for hours on process improvement that’s, you know, and how to create world class businesses. Yeah. Yeah, it’s probably a good place to To wrap things up, what I’d just like to share is, can you think you can contact James on LinkedIn? Just search for James Chevis, Lean Six Sigma, Master black belt, is that right? Yeah,

James Chevis
that’ll that’ll probably put me out there that LinkedIn. Thanks for joining me.

Graeme Fitzgerald
Thank you for your time and your insights today. And I look forward to catching up with you again soon.

James Chevis
Thanks. Thanks. I hope they’re useful. So it’s interesting. I mean, we could cover a lot more topics couldn’t we? We could just reminisce

Request a
FREE consultation

GraemeEbook_5TraitsManufacturing

SPECIAL OFFER: 5 TRAITS OF A SUCCESSFUL
MANUFACTURER EBOOK
DOWNLOAD NOW