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  • Writer's pictureArpit Shah

15 Easy-to-use Techniques for Better Operations

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

As much as I enjoy writing on Mapping or Operations-related topics which could be interesting for the readers, there is a considerable amount of self-learning that goes along with it which makes the whole process all the more engaging and something which I look forward to every month.


The topic of this article gave me a perfect opportunity to revisit my 'Notes' from my postgraduate education completed seven years ago. Most of the core subjects (Supply Chain, Logistics, Operations) were crammed into a four-month Trimester (Quadrimester, to be exact) towards the end of the 1-year program. So yes, while the professors were proficient and the learning was immense, the ability to retain that knowledge and to recognize its utility was sometimes a challenge. Therefore, if I were to think of it, much of what I had learnt was quick to dissipate, much like a charming fragrance. What has remained embedded though are some Frameworks & Techniques which I use on a daily basis at my mapping firm or have used to good effect at my consulting projects previously. These constitute a significant part of this article.


The real world / corporate life here in India is much like this, in so many ways. There are simply a hundred things to do and rather than focusing on patiently addressing problems one at a time, we are compelled to prioritize, multi-task and deploy '80-20' methodology routinely (which turns out to be '50-50' eventually) to accomplish objectives. Which is why I'd like to draw your attention to the word highlighted in bold earlier - 'Notes'. I had this operations professor who used to 'strictly emphasize' on thorough documentation. To make it a standardized learning experience for all, he used to take multiple prints of each topic he was going to cover and circulated them in class after every session. These had to be paper-punched and find their way into a neatly organized folder. This seemed an odd practice to several of my MBA classmates who wanted to be spared, in what they felt was, 'a childish treatment best reserved for school kids', but it is this folder which has proven to be the most important material of reference for me after all these years, much more than the PowerPoint decks shared by other faculty or my own illegible notes, for that matter.

 

P.S. - I do tend to write an elaborate context; you can jump to the main section or choose to read any particular tool covered directly from the sub-section links below -




 

While some topics could be very technical (and I hope to gather the conviction to write about these someday), in general Operational concepts are based on simple, practical applications of knowledge. 'Structured' & 'Persistent' are two words which embody the essence of sound operations for me. 'Structured', because much of what Operations entails is based on organization and the approach of performing processes, whereas 'Persistent' because usually one has to pursue the method in a dogged & a disciplined manner to be able to extract its utility.


In print, electronic and social media - some of the frequently used statements from leaders of 'high-performing' Indian organizations tend to be - 'We have these advanced manufacturing equipment', 'Our factories are state-of-the-art', 'We have distribution presence and service network across the country', 'We deploy AI & ML to derive cutting-edge results', 'We've received funding for X million dollars', 'We have these many employees', 'We are poised to double our turnover in the next few years' and so on.

The reality is not that rosy, though - and I say this with reasonable conviction - the emphasis on rapid growth & 'results' often comes at the expense of sound operations management at these very same organizations.


If I were to pose a question to the readers here on what they think are the characteristics of high performing, operations-centric organizations, I'd wholly expect to receive responses such as - 'Those who manufacture X units in an hour' or 'Those who deliver the service in under Y minutes' and so on. While undeniably these are true, do reflect on the following questions the next time you were to evaluate an organization -


- How readily & accurately can its staff summarize a project or a workflow? - with dates, timeline, flow, points of contact, current stage and subsequent plan of action?


- How many times do you have to explain, follow-up or chase a particular person or a department to obtain the necessary response, feedback?


- How complicated is it to effectively implement new policies, methods or processes across the organization?


- While procuring a product or a service, does its procurement team have to routinely drop emails and place calls to the vendors to 'clarify', 'revise' and share 'additional information' about their quotations?


- How often do you have to deal with personalities, hierarchy, and power centers to push your proposal through?


- Is there a noticeable discontinuity in effectiveness whenever a new joinee replaces the departing employee despite a large notice period and extensive knowledge transfer during that phase?


- Do you feel that you have to 'repeatedly' share inconsequential information before your matter is correctly and effectively processed?


Based on my own experiences, few organizations fare well on these counts. Operationally, these are not very complicated tasks to do, but the general inability or unwillingness to do so is very perturbing. To some organizations, these do not even matter so long as the customers buy their product and the cash-counter keeps on clinking.


No wonder, the corporate culture prevalent in our country today reeks of self-aggrandizement. The decision-makers at leading organizations do not mind paying millions to loathsome scamsters masquerading as 'top tier management consulting' firms and whose contribution is very questionable. Yet. they hesitate to give adequate compensation to sincere, disciplined staff and relentlessly haggle with desirous suppliers to seek undue favors from them as if they are their slaves.

Instead of asking, 'How can you work with us to address this problem we're facing?', the question usually posed is 'How can your solution clean our mess?' (Oh, and we are ready to buy it only if your solution comes at a lower price than the one which created the mess in the first place).

In the paraphrased words of a renowned and unabashed OM professor and practitioner, Mr. Boman Moradian - all it takes is an agile, more operationally adept competitor to come in and knock the living daylights out of such elephants.

 

Without further ado, below are the 15 handy frameworks, methods, tools & techniques which you can use to understand and improve your organization's operations to good effect. You can also download the diagrams and templates from the link mentioned below the model images.


(Much thanks to my alma mater & its professors whose knowledge I was able to use and adapt to make this article a reality)


TECHNIQUES FOR IMPLEMENTATION PHASE


1. AIDAS Theory of Selling - Funnel approach for mapping sales operations


AIDAS Funnel Approach - Operations Improvement
Figure 1. AIDAS Funnel Approach

AIDAS / Funnel approach involves keeping a tab on 'each stage of a customer's journey with your organization'. Doing so helps to understand where the focus areas lie, where bottlenecks occur and set actionables for each phase. Widely popular among Marketing professionals, AIDAS is a simple, yet highly effective approach to enhance the Sales Operations as well.


In case some of you are wondering, it is shaped as a 'funnel' because the number of prospects/customers reduce at each juncture of the selling cycle. For example, If Raj emails his marketing brochure to 100 prospects to draw their Attention / generate Awareness (A) about his products, only 20 respond expressing their Interest (I) to know more. After a presentation and demo round, only 10 express a Desire (D) to buy and float a Request for Quotation. Out of the 10, only 6 eventually Act (A) to purchase the product. 2 customers receive defective products and opt for returns, so only 4 customers are Satisfied (S) with their purchase.


There are multiple variants of the Funnel model - AIDA, AIDCA, AIDCAS etc. But that is beside the point. If you were to closely observe the sales operations of your organization or any organization for that matter, you'll be easily able to split it into 3 to 7 distinct buckets which would resemble the funnel even if they are not called by the same names in your daily parlance.


Below you'll see a visual representation of an AIDAS-based Reporting sheet which I had prepared and used at a particular client organization based on their Sales Operations workflow. You can download the template (link below the image) and modify it as per your requirements.

AIDAS-based Reporting Sheet - Operations Improvement
Figure 2. AIDAS based Reporting Sheet

The key to highly effective sales operations, in my opinion, is to inculcate the disciple to 'document' the sales operations stages in sufficient detail, monitor it at regular intervals, and to formulate, revise the course of action in accordance.


Read more on AIDAS Theory of Selling here. Access template here.

 

2. Process Chart - to delineate and measure time spent towards productive activities


Not to be confused with Process Flow Chart which is an expanded, diagrammatic view; Process Chart involves 'the measurement of sequential business processes as per its central characteristic which can be broadly categorized as either a) Operation, b) Transportation, c) Inspection, d) Delay or e) Storage (OTIDS)'.


Think of 'Operation' as when the process directly enables the Input-Output conversion process whereas the 'T', 'I', 'D' & 'S' activities are necessary, yet ancillary or non-significant or wasteful in a strictly 'productive' sense. These do not directly contribute to the Input-Output conversion process.


The visual below depicts a template of Process Chart. Instead of 'tick marks', one can also use the traditional Charting symbology on the right to mark a process as per its central characteristic.

Process Chart Representation - Operations Improvement
Figure 3: Process Chart

PCE (Process Cycle Efficiency) at the bottom of the visual is a vital metric to understand what portion of the business processes are 'productive' in the operational sense of the word - its computation being: Total Operations Time divided by Total Time (Summation of OTIDS Time).


The objective for an operations-focused organization is to continually improve its PCE by reducing the time spent on non-productive processes, finding better alternatives to it, combining processes, or finding a way to do more (operations) in the same time etc. Read more on the possible methods of doing so, in the SCAMPER section.


You'll note that Cost implications are not considered in the Process Chart, only Time is measured. Usually though, the cost involved is directly proportional to the time spent. Hence, minimizing the denominator (total OTIDS time) without decreasing the Operations time is likely to lead enhanced productivity at lower costs.


Read more on Process Chart here. Access template containing example here.

 

3. Project Charter - to prepare a broad, yet exhaustive, summary of what is to be done

Project Charter for Operational Excellence
Figure 4. Project Charter

You'll discern from the visual above that a Project Charter is essentially an 'authoritative summary of the Project scope, objectives, risks and the people involved, among other relevant details'. Once signed & stamped, it can also be considered as a legal agreement.


While the technical definition of a Project Charter can be accessed here, the method of developing it and the content to be included as part of it can vary - here's a useful guideline document which you can refer. The template above was shared by my professor - Mr. Arvind Subramanyam and I use it regularly to this day, not only to outline consulting projects but also as a means to respond to RFQ's (Request for Quote). The Project Charter is a neatly structured document which captures and details virtually all points necessary to be conveyed, so as to leave little room for doubt and/or misinterpretation.


Read more on Project Charter here. Access template here. If you choose to use it, do print it on its default A3 size as it is much more readable and impressive in a larger frame.

 

4. RACI Chart - Matrix to assign responsibility and authority at work


RACI Chart is a stimulating way to map 'who's in charge of what tasks, processes, activities at work' conventionally known as a Cross-Functional Roles & Responsibility Matrix (R&R). Sometimes, at larger organizations or even those organizations which are scaling up very quickly, one can often witness a lack of accountability at one extreme and clashing responsibilities among personnel at the other extreme. This matrix also helps clarify individual roles and helps alleviate these issues.


The Chart itself is not complicated to build although it should be done with a fair amount of planning and stakeholder consensus may also be needed. Nonetheless, the output tends to be quite illuminating once the charting is completed. Firstly, all unique tasks at work must be identified. Thereafter, the designation and/or name of the personnel involved in it are to be mapped to it based on their unique roles, namely -


R - Responsible: Who actively participates and contributes towards successful execution of individual parts of the work. Generally, this is the process owner(s).

A - Accountable: Who is ultimately responsible for the results.

C - Consulted: Who has the relevant expertise or information & who should be consulted during the course of the activity.

I - Informed: Who may not participate directly, but should be kept informed of decisions & development.


Typically, all process blocks are listed vertically & all personnel/designations are listed horizontally. Thereafter, RACI is mapped as indicated in the visual below-

RACI Chart for Better Operations
Figure 5. RACI Chart Output. Source: https://www.wrike.com/project-management-guide/faq/what-is-responsibility-assignment-matrix/

I modified the RACI in one of my projects to include Organisation Chart, Process Owner, Process Time Taken and Process Dependencies in an attempt to make the output more wholesome (Refer to the visual below) -


RACI Template for Operations Documentation
Figure 6: Modified RACI Template

Read more on RACI Chart here. Access modified RACI template here.

 

5. SIPOC Map - to document processes and its key elements


SIPOC is a macro-level mapping framework often used in Project Management & Six Sigma workflows where S stands for Suppliers, I for Inputs, P for Project Steps, O for Outputs & C for Customer. Those who read the SIPOC will get a broad overview of the process and understand its context in terms of people and processes involved and therein lies its utility.


There is a recommended method while creating a SIPOC Map. It entails-

- setting a name for the process

- defining its starting and ending point

- listing key outputs of the process

- define the customers i.e. those who would receive the key outputs

- arrive at distinct process steps. Decisions and / or feedback loops should not form a part of it

- listing key inputs of the process

- define who supplies these inputs


Refer to the template's visual below. The Customer Acceptance Criteria is generally not documented in a SIPOC Map, however if done, it helps to visualize the organization's understanding of the project as well as the preferences of its customers. Thinks of it as those aspects where failure to comply could very well result in rework and additional costs.

SIPOC Diagram Example
Figure 7. SIPOC Diagram example.

The SIPOC Diagram also helps in knowledge transfer apart from process improvement. For example, it can be used to train the new joinees on the workflow and stakeholders involved. Being a high level document, SIPOC lays the base for more detailed workflows such as the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) and Process Flow Chart.


Read more on SIPOC Diagram here. Access template here.

 

TECHNIQUES FOR MONITORING PHASE


6. Postponement Possibilities Framework - to delay product differentiation based on demand


Postponement happens to be my most favorite topic in the whole of Supply Chain Management. I find the concept to be very profound and I evaluate organizations from the prism of how effectively they use Postponement in their Supply chain.


Demand Variability or Volatility is a leading cause of issues arising across the Supply Chain. The Bullwhip effect is a testament to the adverse impact that variability of customer demand has across the system. Therefore, operations-centric organizations strive to a) Monitor and predict demand accurately (this is difficult to do in practice) and / or b) redesign their manufacturing to move from a Push-based to a Pull-based system in a methodical way.


To explain what Postponement is in a simple manner, think of it as the playing style of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni is his popular role as the 'Finisher'. Just as he used to bide his time and hang in there till the last few overs, keeping the required rate within reach during this period regardless, before unleashing his shots towards the end to dominate the bowler and win the game, Postponement strategy is all about waiting for the customer demand to accurately materialize before committing to product manufacturing or differentiation. Biding time before initiating / completing production helps to minimize overproduction and resulting waste (Refer to the 7 Forms of Waste - TIMWOOD section to know more).


I am personally a big fan of 'Pull-based' supply chains - these are much more efficient and generate much less waste than Push-based systems. Although practically it is not possible for most organizations to switch to Pure-Pull (Engineering to Order) and Push-Systems also do have its own set of advantages (Make to Forecast lies at the other end of the spectrum i.e. a Pure-Push system). However, Postponement is an effective strategy to gradually move towards a more Pull-based system as the effort to map customer demand accurately slowly fructifies.


The framework in the visual below titled 'Possibilities for Postponement' vividly elaborates the various options a manufacturer has to move from a Push to a Pull-based system. There are seven types of manufacturing systems (from Pure Pull to Pure Push in that sequence) and which functions can be postponed in each system are highlighted in Yellow boxes.

Procurement Possibilities Framework - Operations Improvement
Figure 8. Procurement Possibilities Framework. Adapted from Yang & Burns (2003)

My personal preferences aside, it is not necessary or advisable for all organizations to move to Pure-Pull Systems. Rather, they must strive to find their 'right fit' basis a) the nature of their industry, b) the characteristics of their supply chain and c) the needs of their customers. The Postponement Possibilities framework suggests the options to re-align the manufacturing system based on the customer demand patterns should the need arise, especially given the VUCA world we live in.


Read more on Postponement here. Access Framework diagram here.

 

7. Product Ranking Model - to know 'What to sell?' using the Theory of Constraints (ToC) concept


I think most of the readers would agree if I were to say that a) the primary goal of any organization which is not into social service is to 'maximize its profits' & b) All else - eg. the number of customers, level of customer satisfaction, number of employees, number of factories, number of SKUs etc. would hold little relevance if the business isn't profitable.

Q: So operationally, what should be the goal of any organization which wants to maximize its profits (minimize its losses)? A: It should maximize its Throughput. Throughput is defined as 'the rate at which a product is moved through a production process and is consumed by the end-user, usually measured in the form of sales or use statistics'.
Product Ranking Hypothesis - Theory of Constraints
Figure 9. Product Ranking Hypothesis - I

Let me explain to you with an elaborate example. Imagine a situation where you are a business head of an organization which sells 10 types of office chairs in the market. You are monitoring, reviewing the performance of your business towards the end of the financial year.


I present this data to you (study the visual to your right).

Is this information sufficient for you to categorize products 1) to sell more of, 2) to develop further 3) to abandon completely?

Not really, because while we have the products' selling prices ranked, we don't know the cost of goods sold and the profits associated with it.


Let me add some more information - refer to the visual below.

Product Ranking - Theory of Constraints
Figure 10. Product Ranking Hypothesis - II

Now that you have the Contribution margin per product i.e. the Selling Price minus the Variable Expenses (material cost, packaging cost, delivery cost etc.), is this sufficient for you to arrive at the categorization?


I believe some of you will say 'Yes' - the products which rank high on Contribution Margin (CM) should be given priority. Some of you may say that because the CM is positive for all products, none of them should be abandoned while some of you may even utter - 'Hold on! let's include the Fixed cost besides the Variable costs'.


These are reasonable but not the right answers.


Remember the core Theory of Constraints principle - you will only maximize your profits (minimize your losses), only if you are maximizing the Throughput. The visual above does not contain critical pieces of information to arrive at the categorization. Refer to the visual below now-


Theory of Constraints (ToC) based Product Ranking Model
Figure 11. Theory of Constraints (ToC) based Product Ranking Model.

I've added two more sections of information -


a) the Production Rate / Day. (Assume that the Production Rate = the Consumption Rate. All that is produced is sold i.e. no Inventory or Returns)


b) The 'Fixed' Plant Operating Expenses as well as the 'Desired Profits' from the business.

(The latter is very consequential)


To explain-


Throughput / day = Production Rate (Consumption Rate) * Contribution Margin. Rather than just focusing on Sales, we are also now focusing on the organization's ability to produce that product as well.


While the 'Throughput Rank' column gives us valuable insights, to arrive at our categorization we would actually need to factor in 'Fixed expenses' and 'Desired profits' as well.


So essentially, what we are querying in the 'ToC Rank' column's formula is-


- If Throughput / Day exceeds Fixed Costs + Desired Profits - mark the product as a Winner (To sell more of)

- If Throughput / Day breaches Fixed Costs but not the Desired Profits - mark the product as So-So (To develop further)

- If Throughput / Day is unable to breach even the Fixed Costs - mark the product as Resign (To abandon)


These three statements may appear relatively straightforward, but once you think of it carefully, find counters to it and test your counters by introspecting, I'm sure you'll find the Theory of Constraints concept to be as illuminating as I did while learning it for the first time.


To expand on the model's output-


- If the organization wants to maximize its profits (minimize the losses), it should focus on selling the products categorized as Winners because these are favorable both sales-wise and production-wise.

- The So-So (to Develop) category of products are those which could be continued with because it still enables the organization to recover its fixed expenses which is critical in terms of business continuity.

- The Resign (to Abandon) category of products' Throughput is not sufficient to recover even the plant's fixed costs. These products may have been introduced to add a new flavor to the product mix but operationally speaking, these are more a hindrance than a benefit in terms of the organization's ultimate objective - which is to 'maximize its profits'.


Some of you may argue that 'as per business strategy, Product E & H helps us to cultivate new markets, boost our innovation, learn new technology' etc. and therefore it should not be done away with.


These are fairly reasonable counters and you may choose to pursue it. Remember that we are focusing on the business from an Operations lens, though. Be rest assured that at their current production capacity, these products are harming your operations than aiding it and as a result, more importantly, they are adversely impacting your organization's ability to achieve its Desired Profits.


Resources are not infinite but have to be prudently allocated. Instead of focusing on E & H, your organization and its shareholders are better served by focusing on making and selling more of product B & D. Strategies should be thought of, if at all, for the So-So (to Develop) category of products only.


Read more on Theory of Constraints here. Access template containing example here.

 

8. SCAMPER Technique - to redesign business processes


SCAMPER is a useful technique to brainstorm new ideas as a means to solve problems but its importance in Process Redesign is just as immense.


The visual below elaborates the technique - it contains SCAMPER's components, definition & trigger words in an operational context.


Practitioners prefer to extend the Process Chart, which already lists down the processes and its measured timings, with SCAMPER columns. In this way, one can not only see the As-is i.e. the Process Chart Timings but also brainstorm using the SCAMPER technique to see how the processes can be redesigned i.e. the To-be, in the organization's quest for improving its operations.

SCAMPER Technique for Business Process Improvement
Figure 12. SCAMPER Technique explained.

Read more on SCAMPER Technique here. Access the Technique diagram here.

 

9. Seven Wastes of Lean - TIMWOOD Concept


TIMWOOD is a mnemonic which captures the '7 Forms of Waste' - a concept widely used in Lean Manufacturing. Essentially, organizations striving to be Lean (be it manufacturing or service) must continually aim to reduce and eliminate waste from the system.


The concept was developed by Taiichi Ohno (father of the famed Toyota Production System) and helps give perspective about what types of waste could exist in the system and lays ground for tools and techniques which could help eliminate these. This concept is particularly useful for operations improvement activities.


TIMWOOD helps us to be conscious of the various forms of waste and enables us to spot it. 'Overproduction' waste is deemed to be the most serious waste as it tends to be the root cause for the other wastes and leads to bottle-necking across the system. In the visual below, each waste has been defined and some of the causes behind its generation have been mentioned.

TIMWOOD Concept for Lean Six Sigma
Figure 13. The 7 Wastes of Lean - 'TIMWOOD' Framework Explained

Read more on Seven Forms of Waste here. Access framework diagram here.

 

10. VATI Analysis - to understand the pattern of material flow at manufacturing plants and its implications


Just as the NTCP Model utilizes a shape (that of a Diamond / Rhombus) to map a Project's key characteristics, VATI Analysis framework utilizes 'Shape of Material Flow' in a production environment to help us understand the operational characteristics of the plant. The shapes of Material Flows could be multiple, but broadly resemble the shapes of the letters - V, A, T & I respectively. These shapes indicate to us where the potential areas of focus and bottlenecks may lie in the plant. In essence, the efficiency of a plant is determined by the fluidity of its material flow.


Certain indicators of fluidity are quick processing, limited WIP inventory, shorter equipment setup times, limited wastage and so on and these are not to be looked at in isolation, rather, a systems-view has to be taken to see how these moving parts function and impact the whole production process.


The underlying fundamental is that of the Theory of Constraints (ToC) - which indicates that to attain the objective (which is to improve the Flow), one has to ease out the most limiting factor (bottleneck) in the process. The four visuals below represent V, A, T & I shapes, its characteristics, where the points of differentiation tend to occur and where the points of focus could lie, along with an example or two.

V-Flow Plants - VATI Analysis - Operations Design
Figure 14. V-Flow Plants in VATI Analysis
A-Flow Plants in VATI Analysis - Operations Design
Figure 15. A-Flow Plants in VATI Analysis (Diagram Credits: Amy Seth - Intelloc Mapping)
T-Flow Plants - VATI Analysis - Operations Design
Figure 16. T-Flow Plants in VATI Analysis (Diagram Credits: Amy Seth - Intelloc Mapping)
I-Flow Plants - VATI Analysis - Operations Design
Figure 17. I-Flow Plants in VATI Analysis (Diagram Credits: Amy Seth - Intelloc Mapping)

To do VATI Analysis, you'd have to diagrammatically map the material flow at your Plant with an emphasis on areas of 'convergence' and 'divergence' i.e. where there is considerable change occurring in the processing steps - either a 'coming together' or a 'drifting apart'. The shape that you'll create will resemble the V, A, T or an I topology and once you discern the resemblance - you can utilize the body of knowledge to schedule and control the material flow to boost fluidity.


For example, in a V-shaped plant (eg. 'one-to-many' such as Oil Refineries), where the basic input is singular, where the process gets branched out during the production flow, and where the type of finished goods produced are multiple, it is common to have issues pertaining to high amounts of WIP (work-in-progress) inventory and Finished goods inventory in comparison to that of the Raw material.


The opposite holds true for A-shaped plants ('many-to-one' such as auto assembly lines) where key Raw material shortages may lead to the Assembly line halting and excessive amounts of other Raw Material inventory & WIP inventory piling up.


In a T-shaped ('many-to-many') plant, furniture for example, the point of differentiation tends to happen much later in the production process and, among other zones, issues may tend to concentrate occur in scheduling Out-bound logistics.


I-shaped plants (one-to-one or few-to-few) such as confectionery often face issues at the intermediate stages of processing where equipment & resource sharing issues could arise especially when there is high demand-variability in the industry.


Read more on VATI Analysis here. Access VATI diagrams here.

 

TECHNIQUES FOR PLANNING PHASE


11. Affinity Diagram - to organize ideas for further exploration


The Affinity Diagram way of documenting brainstorming output is very straightforward - its utility lies in its simplicity of use. Essentially, the output of brainstorming over methods of improving operations - i.e. the ideas - have to be categorized under an overarching 'theme'. At this stage, there is no analysis or critiquing to be done - full freedom is given to the participants to convey as many ideas - good, bad, naïve, costly etc. to achieve the goals & objectives of the organization. Thereafter, the responses are grouped under a theme and studied, discussed and used in subsequent change-management workflows.


I can tell from personal experience that this method is routinely deployed at a leading management consulting firm right at the beginning of their millions of dollars-worth cost reduction / business transformation projects. The themes become independent work-streams which have consulting resources allocated to it. The ideas under the theme are dissected and debated among the consulting and client resources. Once key, viable ideas of improving the operations are shortlisted, these are used as a basis to define the objectives of that work-stream and how it will contribute to the project, overall. The ideas are thereafter quantified, a client task-force is created, process owners are nominated and the consulting team works with the client team to convert the idea into a reality.


Traditionally, this brainstorming activity is done at a physical meeting with paper, sticky notes, marker pens etc., but nowadays it is convenient to hold an effective session virtually with people from across teams and geographies being able to participate at a short notice. 'Breakout rooms' on video-conferencing apps offer segmented discussion options, all within the confines of a single meeting window. The visual below contains example of an Affinity Diagram for an operations problem statement -

Affinity Diagram for Operations Planning
Figure 18. Affinity Diagram Example

Read more on Affinity Diagram here. Access example here.

 

12. Gantt Chart - to schedule project workflows effectively


The Gantt Chart is one of the oldest project scheduling tools available to us and its utility is still appreciated. I presume a majority of readers would have used it in some form already. While there are several modified Gantt Chart formats going around - which include some more data points, better design, and even easy-to-use Gantt Chart makers online, I prefer to create and use a simple version on Microsoft Excel as I find it easier to manage and modify at will.


In professional use, the Gantt Chart is also clubbed with other Operations frameworks such as Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) & Network Diagram.


For those unfamiliar with Gantt Charts, it is basically a calendar-based system of tracking timeline and progress. It involves listing down the Tasks / Process steps / Plan of action vertically on the Y-axis and having the Timeline placed horizontally on the X-axis. Thereafter one marks & color-codes (in blue in the visual below) the timeline of a particular activity based on its expected start and end date.


As the process begins, activities which are completed on time can be color-coded in a particular way (in green below) whereas those which are moderately or extremely delayed can be color-coded in a different way (in yellow and red below). Comments pertaining to the percentage completion, revised schedule, reason for delay can be made within the cells. These can be reviewed and revised as per the monitoring cycle.


Proves to very effective calendar-based scheduling system indeed!

Gantt Chart for Operations Planning
Figure 19. Gantt Chart Template

Read more on Gantt Chart here. Access template here.

 

13. NTCP 'Diamond' Model - for project planning & to compare 'how the project went' with 'how it should have'

NTCP Diamond for Project Planning
Figure 20. NTCP Diamond Model

The NTCP Model's diamond-shaped output, as seen in the visual above, is an effective way to map a new project's characteristics using four dimensions -


a) Novelty - How new is the Product in the Market?,

b) Technology - The uncertainties involving the Technology used for the Project,

c) Complexity - How complex is the System Scope of the Project &

d) Pace - How Critical is the Time Frame involved in the project.


Basically, any project has to be plotted across all the four dimensions. A Project can be categorized within the 'Pace' dimension as either 'Regular', 'Fast', 'Time-Critical' or 'Blitz'. For industries where there innovations are rapid and new product launches happen quickly (eg. Mobile Phones), the diamond will intersect the 'Fast' section in the 'Pace' category.


Mapping the project's characteristics across the four dimensions helps decision makers to know whether the project is right to pursue given the company's strategy and its existing capabilities, what are the risks involved, the resources that would be required, the processes that would need to be used and the management style to be deployed. Not only this, while the project is being executed or during post-project monitoring, the model helps to demonstrate gaps between how the project 'should have been' and 'was being' managed.


I personally haven't had the chance to utilize the NTCP model in a work-context thus far, but I really appreciate the 'Diamond' framework as such. Just as a 2*2 matrix is useful to categorize so many business models, the Diamond framework can be used extensively when one needs to compare and contrast scenarios which have 4 broad parameters.


I had created a semi-automated Decision Diamond Framework to compare how a company's Job Description (JD in Placements) fared in comparison to my ideal and minimum preferences for a similar role. You can download it here and perhaps modify it to suit your own personal or business projects.


Read more on NTCP Diamond Model here. Access the model's diagram here.

 

14. Product Costing Model - to structurally arrive at an estimate of product cost


While planning for a new project, it is important to arrive at a reasonably accurate product cost(s). This is both for the internal function (cost to manufacture the components) as well as for external function (cost to procure the components). The entire structure of operations is dependent and determined from this and hence, arriving at product costing is a vital step and this simple model helps us to do so. The Product Costing model, captured in the visual below, comprises four broad cost categories: Direct Costs, Indirect Costs, External Procurement Costs & SGA (Selling General & Administrative) Overheads.


Direct & Indirect costs are further divided into these cost buckets - Material, Labour, Equipment & Others. Together, the cost of all these components, when combined, would result in the Product Cost Estimate. Fairly straightforward and effective method to arrive at the Product Costing.

Product Costing Template for Project Management
Figure 21: Product Costing Worksheet

Read more on Product Costing here. Access template here.

 

15. Your Custom Creation - Develop a compatible framework or technique for your organization


Finally, we come to the end of this long article and no, I do not intend to be cheeky here. I genuinely believe, espouse and practice 'Create your own method' approach for operations improvement based on what I intend to document, measure or capture keeping the stakeholder, organization and industry dynamics in mind.


Sometimes I adapt existing models, which you'd have already witnessed a few times across this article, while on other occasions I tend create a new framework altogether taking the client and/or work objectives and expectations into consideration. Of course, there is a level of intellect involved here, so you must read up on advantages and disadvantages of existing techniques and frameworks before designing a unique one for your organization. Poorly designed methods and frameworks will cause more harm than benefit. Not only will it complicate the process but also waste valuable time and lower the morale of the workforce.


To unearth points of references for creating a new framework, I can suggest you to 'Document' & 'Measure' as many operational steps your organization undertakes in a structured manner and inculcate this disciple across your workforce across departments. Observe the documented steps and measurements closely. overlay it with your sector-specific insights and customer preferences and I'm certain this would trigger compelling avenues to develop and utilize a framework to treat key focus and bottleneck areas.


Once a framework is developed and put to use, ensure that it is monitored at regular intervals and preventive and corrective measures to improve the process are identified and 'implemented', above all. Finally, ensure that the output of these operations improvement exercises are recorded, reported and shared with the right stakeholders in your organization in the form of a Management Information System (MIS).

 

Hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it to be informative. Do access the complete list of templates for the methods discussed above, here. In case you have any queries and/or suggestions, please feel free to connect.

 

ABOUT US


Intelloc Mapping Services | Mapmyops is engaged in providing mapping solutions to organizations which facilitate operations improvement, planning & monitoring workflows. These include but are not limited to Supply Chain Design Consulting, Drone Solutions, Location Analytics & GIS Applications, Site Characterization, Remote Sensing, Security & Intelligence Infrastructure, & Polluted Water Treatment. Projects can be conducted pan-India and overseas.


Several demonstrations for these workflows are documented on our website. For your business requirements, reach out to us via email - projects@mapmyops.com or book a paid consultation (video meet) from the hyperlink placed at the footer of the website's landing page.


Regards,

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