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The Year of Return — An Efficiency Review

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

A couple years ago, I did a week long training in preparation for a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification. Lean Six Sigma principles are all about improving efficiency in business processes and operations: minimising errors and eliminating waste, reducing costs and maximising value for customers. More than useful, they’re continuous refinements that transform organisations — and ultimately improve customer experience.

Last December was the culmination of the ‘Year of Return’: a call to action for the African diaspora to return to and invest in Ghana. Activities brought in over 237,000 additional visitors (as of September 2019) and thrust Ghana into the spotlight as a top tourist destination.

Having recently relocated to Ghana, I jumped into the Year of Return activities and joined friends and family from abroad to visit and participate in several “unmissable” events.

As a patron, I had a fabulous time re-discovering the magic that is Ghana and sharing that experience with fellow festival goers. As an operational excellence professional, I couldn’t help but spot several opportunities to transform inefficient processes, reduce waste (!) and ultimately offer a better customer experience

In this article I share some of my observations of waste, during the celebrations, from a Lean Six Sigma lens. Disclaimer: in proposing solutions I’m making some major assumption that what I observed was an indication of the problem. In a true process improvement scenario, I would spend time with clients to do a comprehensive deep dive of their processes. This ensures that the real issue is being addressed instead of just a symptom of the issue. An analogy I often make is; when you have a cold, a symptom is usually a sore throat. Strepsils will relieve the pain, but won’t cure your cold.

The Food

As a self proclaimed foodie I’ll start with my favorite topic: food! While I love a good meal, I have the weakest of stomachs, so I avoid street food entirely. Imagine my shock, nine hours after having breakfast with some friends at a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Osu, when all three of us displayed symptoms of food poisoning! We had all ordered the pancakes, with deleterious effects.

This is an example of a defect with devastating consequences to customers. Unlike the manufacturing industry, in the fast food industry it’s harder to spot defects post-production. It’s therefore critical to put measures in place to protect the quality of the raw materials (read: ingredients) before going into production. 

Ensuring food safety requires in-depth knowledge of the quality of food suppliers. How are ingredients stored and transported before they are delivered? It also requires rigorous hygiene rules for employees as most food contamination occurs post-production – so, how are ingredients stored post-preparation? In Lean Six Sigma, this assessment is referred to as SIPOC: Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Output and Customers. When working with clients, I use the SIPOC approach to identify all aspects of the end to end process, which can be improved. 

The Stay

A friend booked an apartment for a 4-day AirBnB stay for our group. Since she was arriving in Accra one day earlier than I was, she booked a different, smaller room for one night (via, in the same building. While her one-night stay was fine, no one contacted her to check out the next morning, and she hadn’t heard from our host about checking in to the other room. When I arrived at the lobby of the building, it was clear from the angry mob of guests that the building had overbooked its rooms. I did some research and discovered their rooms were under multiple management companies on different sites: a defect that snowballed into the building keeping paying guests waiting while they solved for those without rooms.

As an AirBnB Co-host, I know that the platform allows hosts to sync their calendar with calendars on other sites where hosts are listing the same property. This would be an easy way to achieve a central view of all bookings across multiple sites, manage bookings and reduce the likelihood of overbooking.

Overbooking rooms and flights (especially during a period of peak travel) is not uncommon — it’s simply airlines’ and hotels’ traditional way of tackling underutilisation when some customers inevitably cancel. An alternative way to maximise utilisation and minimise the risk of not having enough rooms would be to partner with other accommodation service providers as a back-up, or adjust the booking policy during peak periods to guarantee bookings in advance.

Establishing controls to monitor operations and procedures to deal with periods of high demand, contribute to operational excellence and are just some of the services offered at PK Sigma Consulting.

The Shows

Large-scale event management requires top-tier planning, and the entertainment for the Year of Return was no different. After splurging on VIP tickets for a 4-day music festival, we found out on Day 1 that there was no VIP section that night. The barriers hadn't arrived on time. Imagine the frustration for VIP ticket holders: a clear defect and a deterrent to customers.

For events of this magnitude, set-up is usually done in advance of the first day of the event. There are usually walkthroughs with checklists, soundchecks etc. While these all sound like great preparations, by Lean Six Sigma principles they’re actually all lagging (reactive) versus leading (proactive) indicators and therefore need to be paired with back-up plans when these set-up checks fail.

Let’s assume the issue here was a delayed delivery by the barrier supplier company (definitely a symptom of a bigger issue, only a full analysis would confirm this ). A solution could have been back-up suppliers for the major equipment, or even an alternative means to demarcate and limit access to the VIP section.

When outsourcing parts of an organization’s projects or operations to vendors, tools like previously-established checklists and service level agreements help to ensure that the output meets the team’s own execution standards.

This article touches on just a few of the types of waste that negatively impact a business’s operations. When working with clients, I use a three-phased approach to identify areas of waste, work with the relevant business units to implement solutions, monitor them for effectiveness, and continually improve processes to achieve target performance.

If you’re serious about improving process efficiency at a low cost to your business, while maximising value to your customers, contact me at Let’s invest in your potential for operational excellence!

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