Understanding the Power in a Cycle

Unlocking the value of an operation starts with understanding the power of a cycle. A cycle is the slice of a process that defines the foundation for improvement. A cycle is an experiment that is continuously executed over and over, providing an endless supply of data about problems that arise and potential improvements.

Bank of America said it best in a commercial for its ability to process billions of checks without error:  “We don’t look at it like processing a billion checks correctly every year. We look at it as processing one check correctly and repeating that process 1 billion times.”

A cycle is powerful for three specific reasons: 1.) it starts where it ends – it is a circle; 2.) it is a fresh start every time; and 3.) it can be standardized to drive learning.

It Starts Where It Ends – It is a Circle

Understanding the power of a cycle starts with understanding how to see a cycle. The key to seeing a cycle is that it starts where it ends.

In manufacturing, it may look like this: load the part in the machine, push the button, the part is polished, unload the part, pack the part in a box. The next step is then right back to the beginning: load the part in the machine.

In the service industry is may look like this: take the drink order, deliver the drinks, take the food order, deliver the food, check back to see if the customer likes the food, remove the plates, deliver the check. The next step is then right back to the beginning: take the drink order.

The power of seeing the cycle is the ability to now define it with such clarity and specifics that problems are immediately obvious or improvements can be tested to see the impact.

If we load the machine and push the button and the part is not polished, that is a problem. When you add time, it becomes even more diagnostic.  If the part should polish in one minute and it took two minutes, that is a problem.

If we take the drink order, deliver the drinks, and the table of patrons is not ready to give their food order, that is a chance to improve. What if we add: deliver the drinks and bring some bread?  Would the table be more likely to be ready to order?

It is a Fresh Start Every Time

The beauty of a cycle is that it is a fresh start every time. Every cycle is a chance to get it right or improve. Successful organizations see the value they can unlock by taking advantage of every fresh start. What can we learn about the problems with the last cycle? What can we test on this next cycle to see if we can improve the process?

It Can Be Standardized to Drive Learning

Standardizing work creates a learning environment. We can reduce variation by having everyone perform the task the same and we immediately see problems if the work cannot be carried out as standardized. If someone has a better way, we improve the standard.

The very foundation of standardized work has to be a cycle. The powerful learning that comes from standardized work comes from the repetition of the cycle, a validation of the hypothesis the standardized work is forming.

Periodic Work

One note of caution – almost every cycle has periodic work. This is work that is done “periodically.” For example, periodically we have to cart away a pallet of boxed parts or change the keg of beer before we deliver the drinks. The key here is to make one person’s periodic work another person’s cycle.

Help your organization find cycles in your operations. Standardize those cycles very specifically for the work content, sequence, time, location, and expected outcome.  And then observe, learn and improve!!

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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