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The 8 steps to humanizing your processes that will 10x continuous improvement within 30 days

12 MINUTE READ

Learn how The Will-Burt Company, a 100-year-old manufacturer based in Ohio, has been able to reduce process cycle times by 75% in less than 30 days.

Why this matters?

This method has yielded incredible results for the following companies:

  • The Will-Burt Company – Reduced process cycle times by 75% in less than 30 days.
  • LaundryTec – 100% visibility and elimination of 3 systems for distributed teams
  • TD Power Systems – Reduced coordination time by up to 4 hours a day for 5 teams
  • Prestige – Reduce response times on customer issues and complaints by 90%

This article contains actionable advice which can be implemented in less than a day, and could result in a similar impact at your company.

Who is this article for...

This article is written for people who are in charge of quality or continuous improvement at manufacturing companies of between 10 and 1000 employees. Grab a coffee and read this article if any of the following applies to you:

  • you have tons of corrective actions and kaizens pending
  • you’re a one-person army and you want to increase engagement
  • you’re worried that your team is wasting time on non-value added activities
  • you already have ISO/GMP (or other framework) in place but your system is sub-optimal
  • your process are taking way too long to complete
  • You have an eQMS or some other quality software and it is painful and frustrating to use, and you’re looking for alternatives

The core concept: why do I need to humanize my processes?

Continuous improvement is critical for companies to compete and adapt within their market. However, in most companies, continuous improvement is slow and suboptimal.  

The truth is that you can speed up your continuous improvement by 10x if you can make it easier for people to follow your processes.  The problem is existing systems and tools are actually making your processes harder than they ought to be.  This is because they were designed for managers and they ignore the humans behind the processes. 

If you want to learn how to humanize your processes in 8 steps, read on.

First, a bit about us…

We’ve built Unifize from the ground up to solve the problems we ourselves faced in operations and leadership roles at manufacturing companies in the US, UK, India & China.

15+ years in manufacturing, quality, engineering, sales and software implementation

7 years running my own fabrication business

Ben Merton
CEO

15+ years in operations, design, maintenance, projects, and process engineering

6 years running my own food processing business

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 5.37 3 (1)

Lakshman Thatai
President

We’ve learned from our mistakes so that you don’t have to

We’ve both implemented systems, processes, and software. They often failed. Miserably.  For example, even with ISO 9001 and an eQMS, my team would still waste up to 80% of their time on non-value added activities.

After months of experimenting, we found a solution. We now refer to this method as humanizing processes – and it yields incredible results in less than 30-days!

We’ve dedicated the last 4 years to humanizing processes for the manufacturing industry. Read on to find out about the 10 steps to humanizing your own processes.

Before we begin we need to understand two concepts…

CONCEPT 1

The difference between a process and a process record

Processes at your company repeat over and over again. Every time you start a process you create a record (also called an instance, occurrence, or issue). Most process records are associated with a serial number or other unique identifier.

For example, in quality & continuous improvement, every unique non-conformance, root cause analysis, defect, corrective action or kaizen is a record. So there could be 100s or 1000s (or more) records of any process at your company.

Why is this important? To humanize your processes, people need to focus on one record at a time. We’ll discuss more in Step 1.

CONCEPT 2

Real-time, asynchronous conversations

In this article, we will refer to real-time, asynchronous conversations. What we mean by this is live-chat or instant-messaging. You’ve seen this before if you’ve used Facebook Messenger, Slack, Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams, Hangouts, iMessage etc.

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Real time

Users can exchange messages back and forth at the same time with zero lag. You can see whether a message has been read, whether someone is typing a response and the online status of participants.

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Asynchronous

Users can check their messages and reply at different times. They don’t need to schedule meetings or calls to converse or collaborate.

Why is this important? To humanize your process, your team will need to start using real-time asynchronous conversations.

Step 1: Create a separate real-time conversation for every process record

When you manage a lot of processes, each with 100s or 1000s of active records, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the stream of messages, emails and notifications.  The problem is that humans aren’t very good at making sense of so much bundled information. We are better at focusing on one objective at a time.

How do you solve this problem?  Create a unique, real-time conversation for each process record. This allows your team to focus on one record at a time, and drastically reduce noise and confusion.  This means every non-conformance, complaint, kaizen, root cause, corrective action should be its own unique conversation, which is clearly identifiable (and accessible).

Tip: This might seem like a lot of unique conversations. You’ll have to make sure you choose a tool that can filter and sort your conversations by process and status.

Result: By using real-time conversations for every record, LaundryTec reduced unnecessary email ping pong by 80% for its field service team

Step 2: Allow different teams to form organically for each process record

Processes often suffer because the right people aren’t collaborating on the right things at the right time. This is because it’s hard to get the different people and skills that you need in one place to move each process record forward.  The result is usually a lot of meetings and phone calls to keep everyone in sync.

How do you solve this problem?  Create a different cross-functional team for each record (using the corresponding real-time conversation). This team formation should be organic – not forced. People are good at identifying the right colleagues to solve a particular problem.

Tip: To get this working well, identify a core set of 1 or 2 people to be added by default to every conversation. They can then decide who to add (or remove) to get things done.

Result: By allowing different teams to form organically each record, Prestige eliminated unnecessary email CCs and improved response times on customer issues by 90%.

Step 3: Make ownership transparent and negotiable

So now each record has a conversation with the right cross-functional team. But you need to define ownership for each one otherwise nothing will get done! However, ownership isn’t arbitrary. It changes throughout the stages of any process record based on unpredictable things like availability, skills, willingness.

How do you solve this problem? Since you already have a real-time conversation for every record, allow teams to negotiate and agree on ownership collaboratively as the process progresses through different stages. This improves outcomes by making ownership clear and transparent in each of those real-time conversations.

Tip: At first, this system takes a few days of getting used to, and you will still require managers to review and intervene from time to time.

Result: By making ownership transparent and negotiable, The Will-Burt Company reduced their process cycle times by 75% in 30 days for 138 non-conformance records.

Step 4: Make data collection collaborative

Okay, so now you have a real-time conversation for every process record. You have the right team and the right owner in place. Next comes the process, and most critically, the data you need to manage.

Most companies currently use one system for gathering data and managing their processes (eg Excel, ERP, CRM, eQMS, PLM etc) and another for collaboration (eg email, phone calls, meetings).  This means that users waste a lot of time and make a lot of mistakes gathering data and then transferring it between different, disconnected systems.

How do you solve this problem?  To humanize data collection, you need to make it collaborative. Since each record is already connected to a real-time conversation, you should add the forms you need for gathering data to that same conversation.  Your team should be able to add whoever they need to help fill out the required data in each form in real-time.  This will reduce wasted time and also makes it easier to identify and correct errors faster.

Tip: Instead of mandatory fields, try to make the fields optional and use the conversation to fill in the gaps later. This will make things much simpler for your team.

Result: By using collaborative data entry, Van’s Kitchen was able to coordinate with 12 people in 8 areas around collection of data for their GMP Audits.

Step 5: Increase engagement by involving customers and suppliers

Most continuous improvement goals suffer from a lack of engagement. The problem is too few people have access to the tools to participate in continuous improvement.  By extending continuous improvement to your entire organization, your customers, and your suppliers, you immediately improve the chances of success.

How do you solve this problem? By adding all internal collaborators (could be your entire organization) to your real-time conversation tool, you instantly include all of them in your continuous improvement initiatives. This makes creating a record or participating in one easy and fast.

Tip: By using email automation, allow customers and suppliers to create and respond to conversations. A generic email address for each process can be used to create records eg. [email protected] The system should email all external participants that they can reply to. Each email thread must correspond to a single real-time conversation.

Result: By extending conversations to their network of distributors, TTK Prestige was able to identify 47 ignored customer issues on their first day!

Step 6: Give your team end-to-end visibility on progress & data

Human beings need context about broader objectives in order to collaborate. It helps improve thought processes and decision making.  

By providing visibility on all processes and achievements, you can build consensus and a sense of belonging. You will also improve context on the importance of their objectives in the larger scheme of things.

How do you enable this?  Ideally, your software should allow your team to have open access to data about their processes. Your charts should show process status (eg pending, approval, complete), ownership, timelines, delays, and trends. Users should be able to drill down from dashboards to high level process data and then all the way into the real-time conversations and process records.

Tip: Instead of having everyone involved in every conversation (with everyone getting over notified), allow users and managers access to dip in and out of conversations that need special attention from the charts and dashboards.

Result: By using charts that show progress vs. ownership, LaundryTec’s team was able to balance their load more effectively and improve response times by 30% for customer requests and corrective actions.

Step 7: Build a flexible system of priorities, due dates, and reminders

Most humans aren’t great at managing their time and priorities. Some people work on what’s urgent. Others work on what’s important. Some might even work on what’s most convenient.  Even the best of us have to maintain an independent to-do list to be effective. That’s not transparent or flexible for your team.

How do you solve this problem? By making due dates and/or reminders transparent and flexible, you build accountability and help teams resolve conflicting priorities.  If you are able to facilitate proactive, automated reminders, it removes a huge burden on people to remember what needs to be done next. That way they can focus 100% on what they are doing at the moment. This is where technology works best.

Tip: Follow up on delayed or critical items once a week so that things don’t fall between the cracks. Your team will soon start creating due dates and priorities on their own.

Result: By using proactive reminders, TD Power Systems was able to improve corrective actions cycle times by 30%.

Step 8. Measure, then improve your process cycle times

Collaborative processes like continuous improvement often take too long. And because they are so important, they often have a massive impact on your organization.  But, unlike processes involving physical material on the shop floor,  it’s hard to measure collaborative processes.

How do you solve this problem?  Since you now have a conversation mapped to each process record, you can now measure wasted time on collaborative processes using the conversation history. Every single event, comment, and data entry should be available and timestamped. You should see owners changing as you move the process through all its stages. You will also see delays, hurdles, and difficulties.

It’s like having a real-time value stream map of each process record. You will soon identify issues with your process, resource constraints, or problems with your software that are manifesting in the conversation.

Tip: You should select the most common hurdles, root cause them, and implement corrective actions. These might be changes to process, skills, software or something else.

Result: By measuring cycle times, The Will-Burt Company was able to identify inefficiencies and reduce quality process cycle times by 75% in 30 days.

Summary: The 10 step cheat sheet to 10x your continuous improvement

Go ahead. Print it out. Hang it up.

So, just to be clear: if you can follow the above 8 steps, you can humanize your processes and 10x your continuous improvement and:

  • Reduce firefighting by 90%
  • Increase process efficiency by 75%
  • Increase engagement by 10x
  • Save $20,000 per employee

You must be wondering… now what?

So, you have two options…

Option 1: Build your own solution

You could hire a process consultant and a systems integrator. Ask them to connect a real-time chat software to your eQMS or ERP. If you can’t track ownership and status – add a project management solution to the mix. You’ll need someone who understands human-computer interaction to help simplify the tools.

You should be able to create a record on any of the software and it will replicate elsewhere. Data entry should flow to the corresponding conversation for each record. You also need to run analytics on your conversations so you can get information on wasted time.

But be careful because:

  • your collaboration is still split from your process
  • managing all those conversations can still be a mess 
  • some of the software might still be inaccessible
  • it’s hard to improve over time without making a bigger mess
  • it will take a whole bunch of time
  • and probably be expensive
  • finally, you’ll be lucky if you’ve made things easier

Option 2: Use Unifize

Unifize is a cloud-based platform that’s made for quality management teams at manufacturing companies.  It is the only platform that helps you create a culture of continuous improvement by humanizing your processes.

Unifize faces none of the shortcomings of the existing software tools.

We are backed by major industry leaders like Airbus, Target, SAP & Techstars.

But is this really for me?

This article is written for people who are in charge of quality or continuous improvement at manufacturing companies of between 10 and 1000 employees who face any of these problems:

  • Your continuous improvement is suboptimal
  • You’re constantly firefighting
  • Your team wastes a lot of time on non-value added activities
  • Your existing system is cumbersome and not inclusive
  • It’s currently hard for your team to collaborate on processes
  • Your processes cycle times are too long
  • You are leaving processes incomplete

Let’s look at a case study: The Will-Burt Company

“Unifize has been a game changer”
Tedd Carr – Director of Quality
The Will Burt Company, Orrville OH

The Will-Burt Company is a 350 person manufacturer for the military, commercial construction, general fabrication, and aerospace segments based in Ohio. The company is over 100 years old and does $100m in revenues.

In 2017, the Will-Burt leadership decided to upgrade their quality management systems from a variety of home grown Excel sheets and in-house databases.  They had been unable to meet their continuous improvement objectives and needed a better system.

Tedd Carr, their Director of Quality, spent two years researching over 30 of the most popular eQMS systems on Capterra, G2 Crowd and extensive Google searches.  However, he ultimately found them all to be ‘too complex, too boilerplate, or too expensive’.

He was introduced to Unifize late in 2019 and quickly realised that it would be a better fit than anything he had ever seen or evaluated before.

In March 2020, The Will-Burt Company went live with over 90 people in his organization. The results were almost instantaneous.  By using Unifize, the Will-Burt Company was able to:

  • Implement & adopt in less than 1 day with no involvement from the IT team
  • Achieve single point accountability across 8 collaborating teams
  • Increase engagement on quality processes from 5 people to 90+ people
  • Reduce quality process cycle times by 75% in less than 30 days
  • Increase visibility into 6 core quality processes by bringing everything into 1 place
  • Enabled remote-work internal audits during the COVID-19 crisis
You can read the full case study by clicking here.

    You can also check out some other case studies here:

    • LaundryTec – 100% visibility and elimination of 3 systems for distributed teams
    • TD Power Systems – Reduced coordination time by up to 4 hours a day for 5 teams
    • Prestige – Reduce response times on customer issues and complaints by 90%

    1 of 2 companies selected out of 220 applicants to participate in the Airbus BizLab Accelerator in Toulouse

    1 of 10 companies selected out of 1500 applicants to participate in the Techstars Bangalore Accelerator

    1 of 10 companies selected out of 400 applicants to participate in Target’s Retail Accelerator based in Minneapolis

    So if you use Unifize, here’s some benefits you could see within just 30 days:

    How it works: Getting started with Unifize in less than one day

    Unlike traditional database-driven systems, Unifize eliminates consultants, long training periods and painful implementations.

    We help you simplify your process by removing the friction your team is used to.  We work with teams that have existing eQMS or homegrown systems to enable or improve compliance to ISO, GMP, SQF, IATF, Lean, TPM and other frameworks.

    Getting up and running with Unifize is easy. We do all the heavy lifting, because we know you don’t have any time. Our simple 3-step process get’s your team using Unifize within a day.

    Unifize guarantees your outcome forever! 

    You get a free 15-day trial after you go live to decide if it’s working. And we work with you forever to make sure we keep delivering value.

    Conclusion

    For any manufacturing company, fast tracking continuous improvement is never easy but those that do can expect to see extraordinary results.

    However, you will first need to make it easier for your team to follow your processes. By following the simple 10-step process I have highlighted above, you can humanize your processes.

    Unifize is a cloud-based platform that’s made for quality / continuous improvement teams at manufacturing companies. It helps these teams get 10x continuous improvement by humanizing their processes. 

    We have been dedicated to humanizing processes at manufacturing companies for the last 4 years – and the results are extraordinary.

    At the Will-Burt Company in Orrville OH, Unifize has been a ‘game changer’ by increasing engagement, visibility and accountability.  It was implemented in less than a day across a team of 90+ collaborators.

    Next Steps

    Since we offer an outcome guarantee, we can’t work with every organization. 

    To find out if Unifize can help your company build a culture of continuous improvement, please take this quiz: https://www.unifize.com/quiz

    So what’s the catch?

    Risk-free trial period: We map your processes for free, and we take your team live on day 1 of your free trial. You will then have 15 days to make sure that your software works for you, or we refund you any deposit you’ve paid until then.

    Post-trial: And after your free trial, we guarantee the outcome forever. If you aren’t satisfied with our services, we won’t hold you to any long term contracts.

    Limited offer: If you want to realize these benefits right now, we can extend your free trial period to 30 days. But you have to commit to going forward within the next 2 weeks. Remember, it is entirely risk-free.

    FAQs

    I have an existing system and old data. Will you help me migrate that data?
    Yes, we can help migrate that data for free most of the time. If it’s a massive data set, or needs cleaning up, it might get complex enough to charge – but not much.

    What if I don’t have a good process? Can you help create one?
    We’ve got templates to help you get started. And our process experts have run manufacturing businesses themselves. They will be able to help create something easy that gets you started.

    What kind of security does your software offer?
    Unifize is a cloud-based software hosted on the Google Cloud Platform. We offer data encryption and a host of other security features (click here to see more). Reach out to us if you have any specific requirements.

    How much does your software cost? What kind of licensing model is it?
    We usually charge $40 per month per user and we bill annually upfront. We can also work out different pricing models depending on your needs. Contact sales to learn more. Call +1 888 872 8870, or email [email protected].

    I believe that it’s ok to take time to do things, why do you want everyone using the software on day 1?
    The sooner that your entire team is using the platform, the better your chances of discovering issues with it. And if everyone is happy to use it, you will get instant buy-in. If it’s a logistical challenge to get the entire user base involved on the first day, you can start with a core set of users, and add people as you go. Our team is always available to help at any time with anyone.

    My team is only 11 people, does it make sense to use Unifize?
    Absolutely! We’ve worked with team sizes of 5 to 500.

    Can you help me move from an email + excel based system?
    We’ve done this a number of times. Even at very large companies, we’ve found that some processes are handled by email+excel. And that’s totally fine!

    What is wrong with consultants? I’ve used them before and it’s worked for me…
    I’ve worked with consultants numerous times in the past. Some of these consultants can be very helpful. However, we don’t believe that consultants should be paid by the hour, but by outcomes. If they can do that, then great!

    I’m worried about risking my reputation again. How does Unifize help?
    Three ways. First, when we map your processes, we are happy to do a live demo with your team/management. Second, we offer you a risk-free trial period, normally 15 days after you go live. You’ll be able to cancel or change anything you need to during that time on us. Third, we keep meeting you and other stakeholders to make sure any issues are resolved. We actively look at adoption and usage data to find out who might be having problems with the transition. And then we proactively reach out to them to help.

    I already have an eQMS. How does Unifize compare?
    eQMS are built on the premise that managers need data to manage processes. They suppress collaboration to the extent that most of the work happens on different systems. But some of them do try to incorporate collaboration as an afterthought. 

    Unifize is built from the ground-up to help teams get their work done collaboratively. That means that conversation comes before data. We also help managers get their data – we also have some cool charts and tables 🙂

    Unifize is also the only platform that helps you build a culture of continuous improvement by humanizing your processes.

    I’ve never heard of you. How long has Unifize been around?
    Unifize has been in existence since 2018. However, our founding team has been implementing software solutions and running manufacturing operations for a combined 30 years.

    Unifize is incorporated in Delaware with teams in the US, UK, and India.

    Are there any long term contracts?
    We offer discounts on contracts of more than 20 seats that are paid in advance for more than 12 months.

    How do I justify the cost to my company?
    On the demo call, we’ll walk you through a detailed ROI justification.  We’ll also record the call and give you other materials that you can forward on for them to review.

    Ben Merton is CEO of Unifize, a continuous improvement platform for manufacturing companies. He is also a contributor for various publications on business, technology and entrepreneurship, including the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Business Standard.  You can get in touch with him directly at [email protected]

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