Friday, February 04, 2011

Another business lesson from the kitchen: the order matters

I mentioned in a previous post how I love to cook and often have a cooking show on while I'm preparing dinner at night. I was watching Emeril as he made a bolognese sauce (which I tried along with him and it turned out fantastic!) and he commented that when you start by putting the olive oil and bacon into the pot you need to wait to add the onions and garlic and other ingredients. If you add everything all at once the moisture from the vegetables will prevent the bacon from crisping which needs to happen in order to get the full desired flavor.

In other words, using the proper order matters just as much as using the right ingredients.

Let's switch gears. Business. You're trying to make something work better, cheaper, faster. You've got a gal that's a black belt in Six Sigma. You have a guy who did a stint at Toyota and loves Lean. And you've got another gal who loves the Theory of Constraints or TOC. Do you throw them all at the problem all at once and say, "have at it"? You can, but I wouldn't.

If you have those three skill sets in-house you're fortunate. You have the ingredients you need. But the order in which you deploy these resources matters just as much in business as it does in cooking. The research that's coming out in the continuous process improvement literature strongly suggests using TOC as a focusing mechanism to determine the optimal place to start. You can't work on everything all at once and you need to know where to focus first. Bring in your TOC expert. Then bring in your Lean SME to reduce waste, then your Six Sigma person. These results will typically yield far better results than trying to "cook" the approaches all at once.

What works even better is to have a person, a firm, a team that not only knows each discipline well but also how they work together--the Integrated TOC/Lean/Six Sigma (iTLS) approach pioneered by Bob Fox and others. Instead of having one person cook the pasta, someone else come in to make the sauce, a third to make a salad, and someone else to plate it, you just bring in a chef who can do it all. Ideally, bring in a chef that can teach you how to make the dish yourself the next time.

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