SBK021 Problem Solving for a Better Business

Problem Solving is the essence of any Continuous Improvement effort.  In this episode, I go back to the fundamentals of Kaizen and focus on the art of problem solving as a basic business improvement tool.

I discuss 10 common problem solving tools and techniques that will bring sustainable solutions and show how all of these methods hinge on 3 vital principles of

a)      Measuring the Impact of the Problem

b)      Taking Action

c)      Reviewing and Measuring the Impact of the Action

My Top 10 Problem Solving Tools

  1. Is/Is Not Tool
  2. Pareto’s 80:20 Rule
  3. The 5 Why’s
  4. Brainstorming
  5. Checklists
  6. Poka Yoke
  7. Process Imagineering
  8. Value Stream Mapping
  9. Fishbone / Ishikawa / Cause and Effect
  10. DMAIC

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

19 How to Get Free Business Intelligence

Running any business without the use of Intelligence or Insight is foolhardy. It’s akin to driving a car in pitch darkness, with the headlights turned off ! Although you might start the car, move a few metres, will you reach your destination? I doubt it.

Business Intelligence is what informs the best of business decisions, serving as the headlights for your business by showing where to turn, slow down and avoid obstacles on the journey to achieving your business objectives.

There are many ways to collect business intelligence and fortunately, today the internet provides a vast array of  free methods and tools to gather business intelligence and empower your decisions.

In this episode, I provide practical methods, mostly free and web based, to source for a balanced view of your overall business insight.

In particular, I cover details on how you can collect business insight around the 4 key areas of your business:

Customer Insight – listening to the “Voice of the Customer”
Organisational Insight – a powerful SWOT analysis tool
Competitive Analysis – spark Innovation by analysing your competition
Market Trends – strategies to stay ahead of the game

Enjoy !

References made in the podcast:




The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman

Viral Heat

Action Plan Download Link

Dont forget to send me your questions on any Business Improvement , Kaizen or Continuous Improvement topic or issue.

The first 3 people to send me a question will receive the complete PIMP YOUR BIZ Package, 100% free !

Send an email to or use the Contact Us Page to pose your question and stand a chance to win this awesome book package prize .

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16 Twelve Business Improvement Ideas for Christmas

A brand new 2011 year presents a great opportunity to start something new for your business.

Why not tap into the many, mostly free, productivity and business improvement tools available and unleash the power of web 2.0 business tools for your business.

True to the Christmas spirit, this episode focuses on:

12 Tools to Improve your Business.

  1. Mindmeister – An online mind mapping brainstorming  software for Project Management, Brain Storming, great for innovative people and businesses collaboration in real time.
  2.  IdeaScale – Idea collection platform where customers submit their ideas and vote for the best ones
  3. Evernote – Capture images, text, audio and video as a means to help you remember everything.
  4. Viral Heat – Track who is mentioning what in any of the Social Network Platforms. Viralheat covers every corner of the social web from Google Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, Real-time web, to YouTube.
  5. Twitter
  6. Google
  7. YouTube
  8. Zune
  9. Yahoo Answers
  10. Mocking Bird  
  11. DropBox
  12. oDesk

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Why Six Sigma DMAIC Problem Solving Always Works

basic_dmaic_problem _solving stepsSix Sigma DMAIC is one my most successful Problem Solving Methods that I use in a business or project context . Basic DMAIC is a problem solving process involving 5 steps summarised as: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control.

Though there are hundreds of other methods available,  DMAIC is one I highly recommend because it remains true to the fundamental principles of Continuous Improvement. It is Simple in Approach,  follows 5 Logical steps  and ensures the decisions you make are based on hard core measured data which helps you deduce the root cause , implement solutions to eliminate the root cause then track to see what results you get. There’s no rocket science here, just  pure common business sense.

DMAIC is ideally suited in situations where your business is constantly faced with reoccurring/repetitive problems that prevent you from forging ahead. Problems that don’t seem to have a known root cause and therefore cannot be solved, typically lend themselves to DMAIC. Let’s explore what each stage is about.


Problem definition is the first stage of any problem solving. Not only are you recognising your business has a problem, but defining the problem will give you the real purpose and scope of the problem. Always write it down.

The define phase also involves the making up of the wider “Project Team”, people you believe ought to be involved in solving this problem. Together, you all establish and agree to a detailed project plan with key milestones, deliverables and responsibilities.


In the Measure step, the Project Team goes about collecting data on the problem and start to analyse, root cause style, what could be the potential causes.


Analysis phase of the project is typified by maximum participation of everyone in the team to brainstorming the possible causes and confirm the root causes using several different techniques.

The whole DMAIC approach is fact based and therefore no room at all for assumptions. All decisions need to be supported with measured data or indicators, the hard core evidence.


Improve stage is all about finding a solution that will nullify or at least significantly reduce the root cause of the problem. Hard core evidence is required to confirm the impact of the solution has had on the problem identified. Success criteria should be clearly measurable.

Depending on the outcome, further actions, responsibilities, timing and a revised plan may need to be agreed by the Project Team to verify the effectiveness of implemented solution.


Control is there to ensure, the business, process, systems or people do not slip back to old habits. The newly established solution(s) should be embedded and Standardised as a new way of working.

This could involve issuing out new work policies, procedures or instructions or defining training needs as a result of the new way of working. Finally, Control has to do with the sharing and celebrating of successes.

That’s Six Sigma DMAIC Problem Solving – in a nutshell

The A-Z of Kaizen Continuous Improvement.

A is for Action Plan, without this, everything you say in those meetings is just hot air.

B is for Best Practice, a technique, process or activity in your business known to bring the most effective solution or outcome than any other applied in a similar situation.

C is for Coaching, being a mentor to someone and taking them on a personal journey in self-fulfilment and discovery

D is for DMAIC a well-documented problem solving technique based on six-sigma principles and 5 specific: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and control.

E is for Efficiency is a doing things in the most economical way, and if those things are the right things to be done then this becomes a measure of effectiveness.

F is for FMEA, Failure Mode & Effects Analysis, a fancy term for a tool, typically used in new product development, to identify potential failure modes based on past experience with similar products or processes.

G is for Gantt Chart, the project scheduling tool of choice for managing improvement projects, milestones and responsibilities.

H is for Histogram, also known as skyscraper diagram, or bar chart. It’s a series of data plotted on a bar chart representing frequency or quantity against different intervals.

I is for the Inspiration to Improve – the heart and soul of Continuous Improvement

J is for the Japanese pioneers in Continuous Improvement, Sakichi Toyoda and Ishikawa amongst them, who at the heart of the Japanese industrial revolution were instrumental in embracing the principles of continuous improvement.

K is for Kaizen, the Japanese word that simply means “Change for the Better”. So now you know where we get our name SmallBizKaizen from!

L is for Learning, a continuous need to “sharpen the saw” to ensure your knowledge thirst is never quenched.

M is for Motivation necessary to support improvement efforts. Top Management plays a vital role in motivating everyone in Kaizen.

N is for Novel Ideas, typically the birth of most Continuous Improvement successes.

O is for Opportunity, any gap between a customer expectation and what your business currently delivers. This is the very source of Continuous Improvement

P is for Problem Solving, a discipline and approach to remove obstacles and barriers preventing your organisation from fulfilling customer obligations and expectations.

Q is for Quality as defined in the eyes of the customers. Are your products and services fit for purpose?

R is for Reward and Recognition an essential part of the CI loop. Recognise the stars and the players in your team and always celebrate successes.

S is for Sustainability – The art of ensuring your hard earned improvements don’t slip back to old habits.

T is for Tracking the impact of Actions to check whether the CI has been delivered.

U is for Upper Control Limit, the upper most control limit set in a Statistical Process Control chart to trigger corrective and preventive action.

V is for Value Addition – Efforts put into any product and/or service to improve attributes and is appreciated by your customers is deemed to have added value.

W is for Waste Elimination, basically any non-value adding activities along the value chain are considered to be Waste and ought to be eliminated.

X is a difficult letter to find a word beginning with it so we’ll settle for eXcellence in eXecution wich is the art of ruthless and flawless delivery of agreed objectives.

Y is for Yoke, part of Poka Yoke the Japanese word meaning “fool proofing”, designing a product in such a way it’s virtually impossible to make a mistake using the product.

Z is for Zero Defect, the quest for perfection in everything you and your organisation does.

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How your Business can Benefit from 5S Principles

Whenever I’ve come across an article or examples of where 5S principles have been applied, there’s almost always two images displayed depicting a “before” and “after” image of a typical section of an office, warehouse, factory or piece of a machinery. Invariably, the “before” picture shows a grimy, dirty state of affairs and the “after “ picture as if by some bit of magic shows the same item now cleaned and looking bright and shiny. This is NOT 5S!  The problem with this portrayal is it only demonstrates one aspect of the 5S – the cleaning.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is 5S? Very simply, this is a way of working (a methodology) used initially to organise workplaces to be more efficient and streamlined thereby consistently striving for more outputs, lower costs and less waste. So in essence, as this is what Continuous Improvement is mostly about, 5S is one of the commonly used Continuous Improvement tools.

5S is widely believed to have originated or least initially widely used in Japan and the term 5S is derived from 5 Japanese words-  seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke which loosely translated into English stand for: sort, simplify, shine, standardise and sustain.

The principle activities taking place at each of the stages are  :

Sort –  All unnecessary items, parts, files, supplies are removed from the area

Simplify – (or Set in Order) – A place is created for everything and everything is stored in its place

Shine – (Sweep) – Clean up the area

Standardise – Apply the same standard throughout (to other similar areas)

Sustain – Maintain the new standard and avoid slipping back to old habits

The recommended way to adopt and live 5S should be to approach it as a journey rather than a destination.  Once you reach the standardise stage, it can be quite easy for standards to slip back to old ways, hence the sustaining stage should go on for as long as necessary up until it has been embedded as part of a new culture.

finger touching gold buttonAt SmallBizKaizen , we have a few practical recommendations to make 5S a key part of your Continuous Improvement machinery, regardless of the type of business you are in.

  1. Prioritise conducting 5S in workplaces where the efficiency improvement would benefit the business most, especially where there is a customer impact or interface. For example it’s more essential to do a 5S in the order processing office rather than the staff coffee making machine area.
  2. Stating the overall intention and anticipated benefits will add weight to every 5S initiative. Consider linking it to some tangible benefit such as: By conducting 5S we aim to reduce our customer waiting time from the current 10 minutes to about 5 minutes.
  3. Create a team building atmosphere and conduct 5S in teams rather than as individuals. This allows a common approach, making the standardisation stage more representative and giving it a greater chance to succeed.
  4. There’s normally no need to go out of your way and spend loads of money on 5S. Basic discipline and common sense is mostly what is required.
  5. 5S principles go beyond the office, consider using the 5S in today’s increasingly information technology driven environments for the efficient storage, protection retrieval and maintenance of data and files.

Watch the short video to see our tips on how you can apply 5S on your computer or hard disk drive as from today.

Lastly, if you’ve got a 5S success story to share, we’d love hear your it so do leave a comment or two.

Image used in the gallery :

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

Mapping Business Processes need not be Rocket Science

What’s in a business process flow?

So here’s s definition you’ve probably come across several times over:  – It’s a series of steps or actions that take place in your business to convert inputs into outputs.

In the SmallBizKaizen context, inputs are defined as your efforts i.e.  your money, labour, software, hardware, materials, phone calls,  emails, websites, consultants, packaging, electricity and so on. Outputs on the other hand are simply what your customers get at the end of the day which could be a product or service or both.

There are other terms used for process flow mapping that you may have come across including value stream mapping,  six sigma process mapping, process flow optimisation – it’s really all one and the same thing. Call it what you prefer as at Smallbizkaizen we don’t believe in BIG words and terminology but rather in the core principles and the concepts behind the decisions and actions we take.

In Kaizen, process flow mapping can be a powerful continuous improvement tool if used correctly, allowing your business to improve the value offered to your customers. It’s what we like to call a weapon of massive improvements.

There are several benefits to doing process flow map. We recommend you consider it for the following reasons and situations:

  1. Does a process even exist for this? – You’ll be surprised how often, key processes within a business are not recognised as a process important to add value for your customers. A typical one I’ve come across is a lack of a process to allow and handle all customer feedback!
  2. Is the process consistent? – This can also reveal many more surprises if you have people in your organisation who do similar tasks. You may find everyone has their own way of doing it, some more effective than others and so you only want to keep the best practices in your business.
  3. Is the flow logical and optimised? The key here is optimised. You need to ensure every step of the process is not a duplicate, a waste or unnecessary. Additional questions to ask is are is this the right sequence, are we using the best technology available. How could we do it better?
  4. Does it Add Value? This is can be a nasty little question if you challenge anyone in your business whether what they do adds value or not. The key point here is, these questions are not aimed at a person but rather at the process. You are optimising the process not the person most of the time anyway.)  We recommended you simply ask what your customers will benefit from each of the steps outlined in your process. If the answer is nothing, need we say more?
  5. How can we improve the process? – The main reason why you want to do this is to identify improvements to the process. Once you have come up with a new streamlined and optimised process, put it to test immediately and monitor and measure the impact it has on your business.

So in typical Smallbizkaizen fashion, we give you practical tips on how to perform a process flow mapping exercise but do remember there are many ways to do this, so do what works best for you. This can be a great team building exercise so why not do it as team exercise or management team session ?

  1. Keep it Simple – it’s a boring cliché but it’s so true.  Avoid mapping out very complex, long and winded processes as you’ll easily get lost and/ or side-tracked in the maze.
  2. Start your mapping at a high level to give you an overall BIG picture of your business processes. From this high level picture, take each of the big steps in turn and map these out, one at a time.
  3. Start by mapping the processes that add or are likely to add the most value for your customers.
  4. Consider using a white-board (i love these)  as  there will be a lot of chopping and changing when you get to the optimising bit.
  5. Describe the process in simple words.
  6. Describe the objective of the process – a tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the customer (no matter what shoe size).
  7. Define the level of process to be described, stick to it.
  8. Define the boundaries:  starting / end point of the process.
  9. Who is involved in the different steps?
  10. Where are critical measure points?
  11. Follow the flow of the process and draw up all the actions and decisions in their sequence. We recommend to use the SmallBizKaizen Action Plan template
  12. Use  simple recognisable process flow symbols and arrows
  13. You could try several different software available for mapping process flows such as Microsoft’s Visio,  Excel or PowerPoint also have great templates for process flow mapping. I personally use these with pleasing results as in the Microsoft Office 2010
  14. Whatever you do, keep it real and do it for your customers.
  15. Typical symbols are used are:

process flow mapping example and symbols

As always, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback on how you get on – Happy value stream mapping to you all !

Photo used in the gallery :

Image: luigi diamanti /