Posted by: Chris Wan | December 22, 2011

Introduction to WorkOut

As noted on our recent post an Introduction to the Holistic Toolkit, we leverage WorkOut in combination with other methodologies to drive business results. WorkOut is an amazing tool to drive simplicity, cultural change and realize tangible benefit.

WorkOut emerged as an approach to drive transformation at GE in the 80′s.  Like many large organizations, it was marred with bureaucracy, barriers and siloing preventing it from moving forward.  The methodology was used to drive rapid, continuous process improvements reducing, and ultimately eliminating, wasted hours and energy organizations experience in day-to-day operations.

Jack Welch’s goal was to create an environment where “a relentless, endless companywide search for a better way to do everything” is baked into the very DNA of the company.  As such, WorkOut enables increased employee engagement, makes customer expectations real to team members, turns business strategies into results, improves business process while removing bureaucracy and breaks down organizational barriers.

WorkOut comprises of three high-level steps:

  • Planning
    • Sponsor identifies critical business challenge
    • Challenge refinement with an Engagement Team
    • Participant selection
  • WorkOut event
    • End-to-end overview of scope
    • Issue identification
    • Solution generation
    • Action plan development
    • Recommendation approval
  • Implementation
    • 90-day implementation delivered by event participants

Many have been quick to overlook WorkOut as a methodology to drive results but we’ve experienced incredible results from utilizing the approach from customer experience to tangible business benefit:

  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased collaboration between teams after WorkOut events
  • Double digit year-over-year increases in team engagement in areas that have high utilization of our holistic toolkit including WorkOut
  • An average of over $250,000/project in operational savings across a growing portfolio of 50+ WorkOut opportunities

We’ll get into more detail as to why it works in future articles.

Have you used WorkOut before?  What results have you seen?

Happy holidays!

Posted by: Chris Wan | October 9, 2011

Facilitating virtual sessions

Like many of you, we work in an organization that spans wide geographical areas; some cross Canada and others across the world.  We introduce complexities, such as time zone and language, into our interaction with our team members or clients.

We deliver GE WorkOut style facilitated workshops frequently.  These workshops work best in face-to-face environments where team members can work with each other and move about organically.  Team members constantly break into small working teams and move been groups while leveraging flipcharts and sticky notes.  With downward pressure to reduce OPEX cost, we continue to explore ways to facilitate these sessions in virtual environments to which these mechanisms are not particularly well suited.  How do you ensure that outcomes can be delivered to the same level of quality and efficiently at the same time?

Technology available to us today has helped.  We have technologies such as audio conferencing, webcams, video conferencing, TelePresence, WebEx and LiveMeeting.  While they are great enablers to virtual collaboration, they add time and complexity as well.  There is no perfect way to manage this but there are options and strategies that can be employed to reduce the risk.

  • Don’t be a hero. In face-to-face sessions you could be the only person in the room.  In virtual, ensure you have additional facilitator support in each of the remote rooms if you are managing a large group yourself.  You can’t corral those individuals or read them if they’re pixelated characters on a video conference screen.
  • Instant messaging is your friend. Leverage instant messaging to stay in touch with your facilitators.  We create conferences in BBM.  Can you do that in WhatsApp?
  • Reduce the number of virtual meeting rooms.  Ensure that team members congregate in common rooms.  At least they can experience some face-to-face interaction.  Don’t distribute the conference bridge number if they’re expected to attend in person.
  • Sync breaks with the time needed to manage logistics. Often if you’re managing multiple small groups, data needs to be merged and transitioned from medium to medium.  If team members are waiting while you do this, it will kill the flow and your participants will check-out.  Ensure that you’ve built a very clear facilitation plan integrating the tools that you plan to use and give participants a break.
  • Leverage tools like Google Docs, or iEtherPad.  If your organization does not have a policy preventing you from hosting content on external servers, you can leverage tools like Google Docs when small groups breakout.  Google Docs will allow you to edit a Document or Spreadsheet real-time. Team-members will have the opportunity to watch as others are typing and contribute concurrently. Typically the participant with the keyboard owns the room or can influence the group more.  This ensures that no one person has that control.
  • Leverage tools in LiveMeeting. Peel back the onion to discover annotation tools, Pools and concurrent user whiteboards and notepads.
  • Pre-build your templates.  Building forms on the fly adds complexity and confusion when you’re in the moment.  This is a variable that you have control over so pre-build the Visio, PowerPoint, Word documents in advance so they’re handy in a bind.  If the documents need to be shared with participants, store them on a publicly available LAN drive so they can be loaded when needed.
  • Dry run your tools.  Technology doesn’t always work and it always fails when you need it most.  Work with your team to familiarize yourselves with the tools in advance.  Ensure the transitions flow.  Build in additional time – you’ll need more than you think.
  • Use adjacent rooms for breakouts.  If your participants need to breakout into subgroups, ensure that the rooms they move into are adjacent and on the same floor.  The further the distance the more of a distraction it is.  If you can, have a laptop and conference bridge setup in advance so participants can get to work immediately.

While industry has helped us to see and talk to one another quite well, there remains a key challenge with how team members collaborate and share data concurrently and in real-time.  In the coming months, I expect to be conducting further research and testing on Etherpad since it has been Open Sourced.  Years back a team of individuals that left Google created the hosted web application which was subsequently shut down when the company was bought out and Google Wave was released.  Due to the nature of our organization and policies surrounding hosting internal data on external servers, we have not been able to explore this option until now.

What tips do you have when running virtual working sessions?  How do you share data real-time with team members?

Posted by: Eric Michrowski | September 10, 2011

Qualifying the impact of social media

I recently came across one of the most comprehensive studies on the impact of Social Media in organizations.  McKinsey recently concluded the latest edition of their Global Survey ( that surveyed over 4,000 executives across regions and industries and provides some very interesting insights on the use of social media in organizations.  If anyone doubts the impact that social media will have on collaboration within organizations and in driving process improvements, I highly suggest reading through the details.
First and foremost, the survey reinforces two important factors around social technologies:

  • in terms of benefits, 9 out of 10 respondents whose organizations use social technologies report some degree of benefits
  • 72% of respondents confirmed that their organizations use social technologies in some form

When listing the top likeliest organizational changes resulting from social technologies in the next 3-5 years, in the absence of constraints, the following top 4 areas that were highlighted:

  • The boundaries between employees , vendors and customers will blur (35% of respondents)
  • Teams will self-organize (32% of respondents)
  • Decisions will be based primarily on the examination of data rather than reliance on opinion and experience (32% of respondents)
  • Data used for decision making will mostly be collected through experiments (20%)

When seeing these results, I would expect that most process improvement and organizational development practitioners would see the potential opportunities that such improvements could bring to organizational collaboration and process improvements.  More specifically, the data based decision making and the piloting  are definitely benefits that social media do bring in terms of rapidly testing ideas in the market (i.e. how Starbucks leverages social media in their product development lifecycle to test new ideas) and quickly seeking feedback from team members and customers on new ideas and concepts.

Many companies have already incorporated social media into their operations.  At Intuit, makers of the software QuickBooks, team members turn to internal social media tools to source solutions to software problems from other team members. Employees at Dell use a platform called EmployeeStorm which surfaces ideas from all it’s business units and creates an environment where discussions can occur among it’s 80,000 employees.  Topics range from product upgrades to process improvement opportunities.  In other organizations, process improvement opportunities are crowd sourced and voted on by team members increasing the visibility of potential projects.  Active workshops have also posed questions to the community eliciting assistance identifying process issues or potential solutions.  Facebook and Twitter are now used as well to address customer support issues and also take feedback to develop an improved customer experience.

While the analysis clearly points to the fact that social technologies remain in their early days of adoption as capabilities and opportunities continue to evolve, it is somewhat disappointing to see how few companies leverage social media to help drive process improvements.  In a recent iSixSigma survey, the same was highlighted when only 1-2% of respondents indicated that they leveraged social technologies as part of their deployments.

Based on your experience, what are some of the top opportunities that social technologies bring to improve collaboration and drive process improvements?
Posted by: Eric Michrowski | June 28, 2011

Social Media: an enabler for Process Excellence Webinar

Just completed a free webinar for the Process Excellence Network with Michael Marx (@MichaelMarx) providing an introduction to Social Media for Continuous Improvement and how to get started.  As part of the workshop we shared:

  1. What social media is and why it can’t be ignored in today’s business context.
  2. A few ideas on how social media can support the evolution of process improvement tools either as a process enabler or to support existing process improvement efforts.
  3. Considerations on how to get started.

As a follow-up to the webinar, we encourage you share your thoughts and ideas on the opportunities presented by social media for process excellence practitioners in this blog or by using the Twitter hashtag #socialpex.

Additionally, here are a few of the additional references that we communicated to get started.  These are just a small sample of resources available and we welcome your suggestions on other references.

People on Twitter
Mark Graban  @LeanBlog
Ron Pereira @LSSAcademy
Mark Hamel @MarkRHamel
Karen Martin  @KarenMartinOpEx

Open Leadership, Charlene Li
Wisdom of Crowds, James Suroweicki


Posted by: Eric Michrowski | June 23, 2011

An introduction: Social Media to drive operational excellence

Much has been written and observed on how dramatically social media has been reshaping our social interactions. Online social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn, micro-blogging tools such as Twitter, and crowd-sourcing sites such as Wikipedia and Yelp are no longer just communication tools of a generation and have definitely gone mainstream.

Many organizations have realized the importance of these tools to effectively support marketing and brand management initiatives. And in a few cases, organizations that haven’t realized the importance of this new communication medium have faced embarrassing public relations nightmares where an issue exploded in the social media space for days until it moved into mainstream media at a point where it became difficult
to contain.

I once counted myself amongst those skeptical of the value of social media in the business and process excellence context. However, over the course of the last few years, I’ve come to realize the huge opportunity presented by social media to the process improvement professional and have had a chance to experiment with many different tools and approaches.

When social media is well leveraged in a business context, it creates a new medium to encourage collaboration, communication, learning and knowledge management. In the process improvement context, these tools can also help overcome time and space barriers.

Over the next few posts, I will explore different ways in which social media could help your operational excellence and process excellence efforts by improving engagement and collaboration on key projects. In the interim, my colleague Michael Marx and I will explore some of these opportunities in a free Process Excellence Network webinar.

I encourage you to start exploring some of the potential opportunities that social media presents to us in evolving and enhancing our existing methods and to challenge any preconceptions that might exist around the value of these tools.

Posted by: Chris Wan | June 23, 2011


Welcome to our newest site: The Collaborative Edge.  Join me and Eric Michrowski as we discuss business process improvement and operational excellence in the collaborative space from social influences on business to methodologies and tools that can be leveraged to drive improved business performance.

Roll back 30 years.  What would it be like to conduct business solely on paper or locally in your community? What would it be like for those business owners if they miraculously found themselves in 2011?  I would hazard to guess that they would be astonished by the complex dynamics of our new society.  Today, we’re required to factor in the complexities of automation, globalization and virtualization into our approach to business.

As a result of these significant changes and exponential growth, companies find it increasingly challenging to compete in an already competitive market.  Innovation and savings are key areas of focus but let’s not forget the glue that holds it all together: the people have a critical role in realizing dreams.

There once was a day where the only way to communicate was face-to-face.  Avenues available today – phone, e-mail, video conference, telepresence, web collaboration – each have their own inherent challenges.  So the question is, how do we collaborate effectively in this increasingly complex environment to deliver tangible business results?

We believe that this is an emerging space to which little has been written so far.  This is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts as a result of our broad experience in tandem with your ideas and strategies.  We will touch on topics such as social media, leadership, time and geographical barriers, culture and collaborative ways to drive improved business performance.

We believe that engaging and exploring new avenues with you is the ideal way to share ideas and discover new approaches to achieve process and operational excellence.  To that end, we want this blog to be a collaborative exchange of ideas and knowledge so please take every opportunity to provide your feedback and suggest topics for discussion.  If you have thoughts as to how we can improve this site, please contact us as well.  We will make every attempt to create a collaborative space to foster continued growth.

Check back often and share your thoughts as we share ours!



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