Tag Archives: case study

Is it psychobabble? How better understanding can lead to better collaboration

By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th October 2015

Meet Diane and Tom

Diane and Tom are two colleagues who have been working together for some years now.  Their latest project is to make a new kind of widget.

Diane enjoys a good debate. She loves having new challenges to explore, opportunities to think ‘outside the box’, to break the rules.  She’s always very clear on what has to be done, will talk to others to find out what they know, and will happily delegate work to colleagues based on their skills and expertise.

MBTI extrovert

Diane enjoys a good debate

Tom is more reflective.  He likes to learn from experience, and it’s important to him that everyone’s views are taken account of.  He believes rules are important but may not always say so. He’s good at working out how something can be achieved, at weighing up pros and cons, and at ensuring that the ‘Ts’ get ‘crossed’ and the ‘I’s get ‘dotted’.

MBTI introvert

Tom is more reflective

You may recognise someone that you know, or that is similar in some respects, in one or other of these descriptions.  What is important for the purpose of this blog, is that Diane and Tom understand each other.  They understand the different strengths that they bring, as well as their blind spots, and how they can use this knowledge to complement each other and achieve great results, in this case in designing and making a new widget.

Is it psychobabble?

I write blogs because I love to explore new ideas and to turn them into something that others might find useful.

The disadvantage of putting my ideas into blogs is that I don’t know who has read them, and if they have found them of any use, unless they choose to tell me so.

Occasionally I do receive comments, sometimes they indicate that I have hit the mark.  Sometimes the comments suggest that I have not!  I received one of the latter category recently when a reader suggested that my blog was ‘psychobabble’ and did not offer him anything new.  I appreciate that he took the time to read and comment on the blog, and hope he will give me some further insights on what I could have said that would have been more helpful.

I also share my ideas in my training courses and workshops.  Delegates have usually opted to come along because they are also looking for new ideas.  Sometimes though they are skeptical, or have had negative experiences of psychometric tools.

So in this blog I am avoiding any explicit reference to psychology or to psychometric tools.  I’m simply using my two characters, Diane and Tom, to illustrate how people’s understanding of their differences can help them to collaborate more effectively.  They won’t always be as different as Tom and Diane, but illustration is perhaps most effective when the extremes are greatest.

Shall we talk or shall we think about it?

Diane definitely prefers to talk things through, with Tom, with other people who may have some useful ideas and information, and with the colleagues that she wants to help her get things done.

Tom likes to have time to reflect, to research, to plan and to evaluate.  Feedback is important to him too.  So Tom and Diane have learnt that they will be most successful if they talk to each other relatively briefly as they begin their work on the new widget, and then again once they have each done their research in their own way.

Should we focus on the what or on the how?

Tom is most motivated by working out how something is going to be done, the practicalities, comparing it to how things have been done in the past, and what he has learnt from that. He might also volunteer himself for several of the tasks.

MBTI sensing

Tom is motivated by practicalities

Diane is more focused on the goal, although she does enjoy exploring possible solutions to some of the bigger problems, and also thinking about who else could help them get things done.

So Diane will dwell on the ‘what’ they need to achieve for the new widget, and act as a sounding board, as Tom works out the ‘how’.  She might challenge Tom to think about new ways of doing things for this particular widget and to not take too much upon himself.

What happens if things go wrong?

Diane, like Tom, likes to learn from experience.  For her it’s all about understanding the root cause of any problem they encounter whilst designing and making the widget, and finding the best way to fix it so that it does not happen again.

Diane likes to understand the root cause of problems

Diane likes to understand the root cause of problems

She appreciates though that for Tom, it’s also about talking to the people involved, understanding their perspectives on the problem, and making sure that she or Tom have taken the time to explain why things are going to be done differently.

So what’s the deadline and when do we start?

Tom will be keen to start working on the design for the widget straight away. He knows how long this kind of project can take, and the importance of getting the various steps completed on time, especially if they want to deliver a good quality end product.

Tom knows the importance of getting key steps completed on time

Tom knows the importance of getting key steps completed on time

Diane knows that unpredictable things generally happen at some point in the project, new useful information or requirements may come in, and so she is used to helping Tom to adapt his plans as they go along.  Although she would be inclined to keep things more open and flexible for as long as possible, she has come to appreciate the fact that Tom at least has a plan for them to work from!

Tom on the other hand appreciates Diane’s calmness in the face of change..

The widget got made!

Their project was successful, and Diane and Tom are continuing to enjoy their collaborations.

Hopefully I’ve also managed to share some insights with you with a minimum of ‘psychobabble’!  (Though those of you familiar with psychometric tools may have spotted which ones I was working from..)

Do let me know if you’ve read all the way through, if you’ve gained anything from doing so.  And if not, please let me know what I could do differently.


Thank you to Nathaniel Spain for the illustrations.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

Engaging staff in operational excellence – a case study on the visual workplace

Managing cargo shipments in the Port of Felixstowe

I’ve been catching-up on my business reading.  I always find something fascinating when I do….

True to form, my efforts were quickly rewarded this morning, with a case study on digital signage at the Port of Felixstowe in the August 14th issue of Business Weekly. This article caught my attention for two reasons:

  • I’d been impressed, whilst sketching* on the beach during a late summer trip to Felixstowe, by the size and frequency of the cargo ships going across the horizon.
  • I’m always intrigued by how organisations engage their staff in a commitment to operational excellence.
Cargo ship and operational excellence in Felixstowe

Cargo ship on the horizon and operational excellence in Felixstowe

(*I’m a very recently initiated amateur! More about this for anyone interested in the July-August RiverRhee Newsletter.)

Collecting metrics is a step towards operational excellence

Most business teams collect metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on their performance.  It’s a requirement from management.  Variations on cost, time and quality – often expressed as frequencies, quantities, timings etc. – are dutifully collected and included in monthly reports.

We talk about these metrics during the RiverRhee training courses that I run on Lean and Six Sigma, and on Change Management.  Questions that are often raised are:

  • Are the right things being measured: will they give us meaningful and useful information on how we are performing in relation to our customers and our goals?
  • Is anyone paying attention to the metrics and using them to make decisions, to improve performance on a continuous basis, to monitor whether anticipated  benefits are being delivered?
  • Have we in fact got too many metrics?

‘Stand-up’ meetings and a visual workplace can make a real difference to engagement and results

One of the things I enjoy about working with multiple customers is witnessing the diversity of their approaches and hearing about examples of operational excellence.

One company uses ‘stand-up’ meetings at the start of the day and at lunch time (to catch people working on different shifts).  They update a white board in a narrow corridor with their key targets and up to the minute metrics on performance in relation to customers and operations.  The local manager or supervisor runs through the figures, celebrates achievements, asks for comments and suggestions.  One or two members of staff might also share an item of news or a good practice.  The narrowness of the corridor and the absence of chairs help to ensure that the meeting is very brief – it lasts 15 minutes at the most. Everyone is engaged, informed, energised and committed to the organisation’s aims and their roles within it.

Other organisations have more sophisticated white boards or electronic displays in more spacious locations that can be viewed as people go by as well as in similar ‘stand up’ briefings at key points of the day or working week.

Using ‘media screens’ at the Port of Felixstowe

The case study in Business Weekly features Anders+Kern (A+K) PADS (www.anders-kern.co.uk) and the Port of Felixstowe’s decision to use their ‘media screens’ to provide ‘real-time and relevant information’ to the approximate 75 per cent of their staff involved in operational roles and delivering services to their customers. (The Port of Felixstowe A+K case study is also available online.)

The article describes how the information communicated includes ‘progress against customer service targets’ and ‘changes to operational procedures’.

This is all very good to hear about.  It would be wonderful to get an inside view on the impact that this approach to the visual workplace is having on employee engagement and operational excellence.

How are you engaging your staff in operational excellence?  Do you have some form of visual workplace?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), APM (Association for Project Management) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

Failure modes and effect analysis (FMEA) a personal case study culminating in an aborted transatlantic flight

I have just spent a very comfortable night in a Heathrow hotel, after a 5 hour round trip spent in the air somewhere between London and Boston.  Although eating airline food, watching a (not very good) movie, and having a doze mid-air might be one way to spend an afternoon in May, it would not be my first choice!
It was the culmination of a series of misadventures that, viewed positively, provide an interesting case study on ‘Failure Modes and Effect Analysis’ (FMEA), or indeed Risk Management.

Failure Modes Effect Analysis – origins and applications

Put simply, FMEA is a technique that enables a team to identify what might go wrong and develop appropriate mitigation plans based on the probability, severity and ease of detection of the various ‘failures’.  The 3 metrics are assigned numeric values which, when multiplied, produce a Risk Priority Number (RPN).  The mitigation plans are prioritised based on the RPN of each failure.

The technique originated in the US army, and spread from there into various industries, including manufacturers such as Toyota and is now part of the American Society for Quality’s tool-kit.

This blog is written from the perspective of Lean and Six Sigma practitioners who use FMEA to evaluate current processes, and also potential solutions to the issues needing improvement.

Project Management practitioners’ Risk Management approach is also a variant of FMEAs.

My FMEA case study

I was due to catch a 3:00 pm plane from Heathrow to take me to Boston for a business assignment.  The journey involved catching a 10 o’clock train to London from my home village in Cambridgeshire, the underground to Heathrow, and then the plane.  My train and plane tickets were booked and I allowed plenty of time.  What could go wrong?  How did I end up staying in a hotel in London instead?

  1. Getting to the station.  I had to take my daughter into Cambridge, usually a 40 minute round trip which would get me home by a little after 9:00 am, so lots of time to walk to the train station.  However, there were some roadworks in Cambridge so that at 8:50 am we were still a long way from our destination.  Luckily I found an alternative route, dropped her off and was home by 9:30 am and so at the station in good time.
  2. Getting to Heathrow.  The train was on time. I picked up an underground train going to Terminal 3 straightaway. Check –in was from just after 1:00 pm, by about 12:10 we had passed Hounslow.  I could relax.  Not so: a defective train at Hatton meant that we had to go back to Hounslow and catch a bus to the airport.  By 12:40 the number of passengers waiting for the bus, and the scarcity of the bus itself, made this look impossible.  Some fellow passengers and I caught a cab, reaching the Terminal by about 1:15 pm.  No problem.
  3. Getting onto the plane.  The lady at the check-in desk patiently pointed out that I should have filled in an ‘ESTA’, the online equivalent to the ‘green form’ that I’d regularly filled in on previous flights to the US, but my last one had been about 4 years ago.  So, off to the internet lounge to fill one in.  Took me a little while due to my by then slightly agitated state, but got it done, and got checked in and to the boarding gate still in reasonable time.
  4. Flying to Boston.  We didn’t make it!  2 ½ hours into our flight time, the captain announced that a mechanical fault had been detected, and we were going back to London.  Everyone kept calm, and so after 5 hours, we landed safely, queued for our luggage, queued for our passes to local hotels, and there I am now, waiting to go back to the airport for the replacement flight.


  1.  Getting to the station.  We do the journey into Cambridge on a daily basis, and although it can be slow, especially if it’s raining, we still manage to get home by a little after 9:00 am. However, there had been some roadworks the previous evening and if still there, they could have caused problems, which they did.  So probability high, severity medium but detection high had I thought about it!  I could have prevented the delay by listening to the radio before setting off or simply taking a different route from the start.
  2. Getting to Heathrow.  Train problems are frequent!  So high probability, high severity, medium detection capability.  I checked the train live departure information on-line before setting off and everything was fine. Underground train performance is less predictable, however the information boards and announcements also indicated the Piccadilly line was running normally. I allowed an extra half-hour before the start of check-in, in effect 1 ½ hours before the close.
  3. Getting onto the plane.  Not knowing about the ‘ESTA’ was pure negligence on my part.  Especially as my son had booked a trip to the US quite recently, and had said something about it which I’d not paid attention to.  A lesson in checking requirements before flying anywhere as a matter of course, even if I’ve flown there many times before.  Perhaps if I’d booked my own tickets I would have spotted this…
  4. Flying to Boston.  I am sure there are statistics on the likelihood of something going wrong during a flight, though most of us probably would prefer not to know.  The severity will obviously vary depending on the nature of the problem.  Luckily the in-flight detection system worked.  The cost of this incident to the airline in accommodating us all in hotels and in arranging replacement flights is very high.  From a business point of view, and from their customers’ peace of mind, let us hope that they adopt a rigorous FMEA procedure of their own when preparing for each flight.

Closing thoughts

I hope you agree that this makes for an interesting FMEA case study.  I’ve certainly learnt some lessons from it.  I’ve gone on-line already to see if my ESTA is valied for today’s flight but can’t find it on the system – so will be going to the airline’s customer desk in good time to check on this and possibly re-do it.  Hopefully by this evening I will be in Boston.


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Tweets from 18 May NetIKX / CLSIG seminar on making the most of Sharepoint

The NetIKX chair, Suzanne Burge (@suzanne_london), gave me the idea of collating my tweets @ecgoodman for further reference.  So here they are, in original form, and of course to be read in reverse order!

#NetIKX49 another write-up of the #Sharepoint seminar @tfpl_Ltd http://ow.ly/50qBe

#NetIKX49 Write-up of #Sharepoint seminar by @Valskelton http://ow.ly/50qy0

Noeleen Schenk doing final wrap up. July seminar Risk Management, September AGM & Chris Collison on competencies, Nov Web 3.0 #NetIKX49

Charity sector gets a significant discount for use of #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Goal this year to use #Sharepoint for online planning by individual departments w/ defined workflows for sign-off by central team #NetIKX49

Learning from other organisations & adapting learnings to own organisational context = 1 of the keys to success with #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Taking Agile approach to #Sharepoint software & methodology development involving continual consultation with teams & individuals #NetIKX49

Customising #Sharepoint heavily to help facilitate access in low bandwidth areas given international use & possible local damage #NetIKX49

Goals in using #Sharepoint were to improve records management, IM / #KM process management and integration of systems #NetIKX49

Next case study James Andrews, Knowledge and Information Officer, British Red Cross using #Sharepoint 2010 internationally #NetIKX49

@hughon22 The change has been abrupt and total. Keys to this being make it look good, don’t overdo it, respond to the need #NetIKX49

@hughon22 People really love ability to create e-mail lists ensuring key e-mails are retained on #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Follow @hughon22 for more tweets from case study presenter Hugh O’Neill #NetIKX49

Deliberately used only half functionality available so could respond to user demand for new tools & give them sense of ownership #NetIKX49

Set up pre-set searches for each client to enable easy retrieval of all documents relating to them on #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Using #Sharepoint for #CRM: holds emails, broker reports, Google news feeds, links to their sites etc. #NetIKX49

One of largest users of #Sharepoint, partnering closely with MicroSoft #NetIKX49

Self-taught and advising colleagues on use of #Sharepoint as intranet (40 countries) & extranet with clients #NetIKX49

Now exploring case study from Hugh O’Neill Knowledge Manager in EMEA at Jones Lang LaSalle #NetIKX49

Expecting better integration & to do more things more easily with #SharePoint 2010 with less need to customise functionality #NetIKX49

Follow @b00kmark for tweets by today’s speaker & case study presenter Mark Field on #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Case study Mark Field introduction of #Sharepoint improved control & compliance for quality & retention in records management #NetIKX49

Break out groups started around 3 case studies on #Sharepoint with Mark Field, James Andrews, Hugh O’Neill #NetIKX49

Question from the floor and discussion around how to find suitable cloud to join for #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Importance of intimate user engagement for successful implementation #NetIKX49

Built support through senior sponsor, visible business case, champions including IT laggards, pilot projects in difficult areas #NetIKX49

Culture of DofE meant better to start with making things easier for users re: requirements of them rather than starting with #KM #NetIKX49

Importance of good content standards to enable vision of internal private cloud and external public cloud #NetIKX49

Evolution in #Sharepoint use for collaboration and innovation: user pull rather than IT / #KM team driven #NetIKX49

Established comfort with #Sharepoint for document management first; wikis, blogs, discussion threads, team calendars etc. followed #NetIKX49

Consider taking various parts of a business & turning them into a commodity that can be provided via cloud as a shared service #NetIKX49

Importance of gradually influencing behavioural change for effective knowledge management in use of #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Information Workplace Platform on #Sharepoint providing primary workplace for 2,500 people for EDRM, collaborative working etc. #NetIKX49

Business Solutions Unit started with Business Case for new intranet to improve service levels & reduce overall operating costs #NetIKX49

2nd joint #CLSIG @NetIKX on #Sharepoint kicking off – room very full with about half being new to @NetIKX#NetIKX49

Mark Field kindly stepping in for John Quinn to give a strategic overview of use of #Sharepoint #NetIKX49

Speakers and delegates gathering for today’s #NetIkX49 seminar on #Sharepoint

2nd Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices (1 of 2)

Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 (1 of 2)

John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Consulting1

This was the second of IQPC’s specialist conferences on this theme, and as last time2, many of those questioned by the authors were finding it of real value for learning about the specific application of Lean and Six Sigma in their environment.

The conference extended over 2 days, with pre-conference workshops covering a range of topics3. With the conference themes including strategy, change management, relevance to non-manufacturing environments, and innovation, it was obvious from the start that deploying Business Process Excellence was going to be about more than Lean and Six Sigma tools.

Business Process Excellence is not just about the (Lean and Six Sigma) tools

Martin Conroy, Director, Global Lean Sigma at Medtronic, kicked off the conference by reflecting about the pains encountered when moving to a continuous improvement culture and what can be done about them. He argued that Lean is an apparently simple concept, but one that can be difficult to ‘nail’: it’s not enough to have the tools, but they need to be used intelligently (with know-how), together and, especially, with the right mindset.  He also emphasized that continuous improvement is neither a ‘bolt-on’ nor something to be done once (quickly) before moving onto the next initiative: it is something that requires careful planning and integration within the business.

Linking continuous improvement to organisational strategy

Many of the speakers referred to the importance of taking a holistic approach to implementing Lean and Six Sigma and of linking this to organisational goals.  See for example Elisabeth Goodman’s4 presentation that included case studies on this.  Tom Cochrane, Head of Security Operations and Process Development, Napp, described how their charter supports a continuous improvement culture although Lean and Six Sigma are never explicitly mentioned.  Instead, they take a systems approach to the whole production process, and use statistical process control as an intrinsic continuous improvement tool across all disciplines, with cross-functional teams operating from the QA department.

Damian Morgan, Senior Executive, Accenture described how industry pressures and the Pharmaceutical Industry’s own responses were resulting in slowing growth and margin pressures.  He suggested a consequential increased reliance on Operational Excellence (in the sense of Process Excellence) for winning.  Pharmaceutical companies need to be agile, to be operationally excellent, and have differentiated capability.  Indeed a cross sector study has shown that those who ‘win’ make investments in people and processes and, although they may look worse than their competitors who make draconian cuts in the short term, they recover more quickly and their recovery lasts longer (for more than 5 years).

Sauman Chakraborty, President and Global Head of Quality, HR & IT, described “Dr Reddy’s Way” which is a 4 strand strategic framework combining versions of EFQM’s Business Excellence Model, the Balanced Scorecard, Policy Deployment, and a Strategy and Tactics Logical Tree and underpinning everything that they do.

Top-down, middle-out or bottom-up implementation

Elisabeth Goodman also explored the pros and cons of taking a top-down, middle-out, or bottom-up approach.

This was a theme that came up in the first panel discussion.  Responses centred on “Yes, leadership can be sceptical” or “just don’t get it”, but can be brought round if they understand, or more importantly, tangibly see the benefits.  The bottom-up approach can be used to generate examples that demonstrate value and approaches.  Middle-out must not be forgotten, and here champions and change agents provide a key influence.

The theme also came up in the second panel discussion, when Karsten Benzing, Boehringer Ingelheim said that their most successful project were those driven top-down by leaders.  A further thought was that a bottom-up approach only has a finite life as “you can only do something for so long without your boss’s approval”.

Engaging leadership: senior management need to be involved

It was suggested in the second panel discussion of Day 1 that there are two levels of leadership support – passive – “I’ll let you do this”, and active – getting involved and showing commitment.

Celia Banks’ (R&D and Medical BT CI Lead, Pfizer) initial work in Pfizer was as a contractor engaged to prove the benefit of a Continuous Improvement programme to a sceptical leadership (they were unsure how a “manufacturing programme” could be applied in R&D).  Some pilot projects were carried out, ensuring that they tied in to a strategic imperative, and the necessity of top-down support identified.  Celia also recommended the use of Nemawashi with senior management i.e. introduce ideas step-by-step (and involving them in developing), and not going to them with a packaged solution.

Engaging staff: it’s about improving people’s lives at work

The first panel discussion on day 1 included the theme of engagement of staff.  Delegates and panellists discussed the importance of using simple language, giving recognition, and ensuring that people’s lives improve.  The word “humility” was used in the context of recognising that managers “are non-value-adding” and that their role should be to ask questions and facilitate and look for their people to provide answers.

Chris Christodoulou, Head, Laboratory Compliance, MedImmune came back to this theme in his presentation when he described how Operational Excellence is introduced to new employees during induction, and yellow belt training is available to everyone, with a target of >80% take-up.  There is an emphasis on communicating successes to show measurable result, and showcase projects including small yellow belt projects.  All projects are expected to deliver tangible benefits.

The underlying message of his various case studies (management of consumables in the lab, analytical process simplification, 5S of the fridge, templates for writing up, and eliminating duplicate HPLC testing ) was to “do simple projects to make peoples’ lives easier and happier, and make things work better.”

The value of training everyone: organise training so that it is utilised immediately

The second panel were asked about the value of training everyone.  Chris Christodoulou said that this would result in everyone talking the same language and plant seeds [i.e. it’s part of the culture change].  David Hampton, Rath & Strong, “controversially” pointed out that training itself is non-value adding and that green and black belt training needs to be integrated with a project and support.

Celia Banks described how specific training was devised for Continuous Improvement leads – on-demand, on-line, rather than as a block in a classroom.

Charles Aubrey, Vice President Performance Excellence, Anderson Pharmaceutical Packaging, echoed the approach of integrating training into application. Their programme was initiated through 4 days of training with the Leadership Team (to create understanding) then a pilot project was carried out in order to get buy-in.  From there a comprehensive programme developed with the aim of everyone in the organisation having a role e.g. Yellow belts objective was to improve the way they work (they defined the 8th of Ohno’s wastes as that of the human mind).

The role of black belts

Martin Conroy was the first to raise the role of black belts in organisations.  He referred to them as experts parachuted in “behind enemy lines” and described the challenges that they face the biggest one being the need for people to recognise that continuous improvement is not about these experts “doing things to or for you”.

A panel discussion later in the day came back to the role of black belts.  It was generally thought that they should be full-time so they are more practised in the basics and have a wider set of tools, but there were mixed views on where their expertise should be applied.  One panellist’s view was that black belts can be a “nuisance” e.g. in causing processes to be reworked unnecessarily e.g. Kanbans, to achieve standardisation across an organisation.

Using consultants: bring in someone to help kick-start programmes

There was agreement in the first panel discussion, that building internal capability is essential, but external involvement by consultants can bring in lessons learnt and play a role in mentoring senior management.

Panellists in the second discussion suggested that consultants were useful for transformational projects, although a further guarantee of the success of such projects was that they would necessarily involve senior leadership commitment.

Notes and further reading:

  1. RiverRhee Consulting enhances team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting and about Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell
  2. Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech & Medical Devices – April 2010 – Key Themes http://wp.me/pAUbH-2u
  3. John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman ran a workshop entitled: “Communities of practice and other knowledge management techniques to implement and sustain continuous improvement”.  Please contact us if you would be interested in arranging a version of this workshop for you. http://slidesha.re/eoqKH5
  4. Elisabeth Goodman.  “Sustaining Effective Continuous Improvement In An Organisation: A Holistic View”. Presented at Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 http://slidesha.re/h2vVhN

Operational Excellence and Knowledge Management in an R&D Laboratory Environment

Reflections from IQPC’s 6th Annual Smartlab Exchange, Berlin, February 2011

ELNs, LIMS, and LESs

IQPC kindly invited me to speak on Operational Excellence and Knowledge Management at this year’s Smartlab Exchange conference in Berlin.  Although I have been responsible for Biological Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks in an R&D environment during the course of my career, that was some time ago now, and the concept of electronic laboratory notebooks or ‘ELN’s was in its infancy, and so it was good to catch-up.

LIMS or Laboratory Information Management Systems on the other hand have been around somewhat longer so I was more familiar with these.  The application of ELNs and Laboratory Exchange Systems (LESs) in the GxP regulated Development environment is the newest of all, and both John Leonard (AstraZeneca) and Ken Rapp (VelQuest) helped give us a very good understanding of how this could (and does) work.

Getting comfortable with business language in an R&D Laboratory environment

The conference delegates were at various stages in their adoption of Knowledge Management and process improvement techniques (or Lean and Six Sigma), but had some good insights on effective change management, and so this was an interesting perspective during the course of the two and a half day programme.

Alan Foreman (Accenture) encouraged people to ‘get comfortable with business language’ such as business cases and productivity, ways to reduce cost and review operating models.  Patrick Jeufraux (Areva) gave us an interesting overview of how his organisation is bringing the support groups for process management, quality and business improvement closer together and integrating them into the business units for the various forms of renewable energy as an illustration of this.

The challenges of integration and data explosion

John Trigg (phaseFour Informatics) who chaired the conference and led one of the Think Tank sessions highlighted these 2 challenges for practitioners in the ELN and LIMS space.  We debated whether the lack of standards in Research in particular may have been a handicap in the development of IT applications, and whether increased outsourcing in the Pharmaceutical Industry e.g. through CROs (Contract Research Organisations) and Open Innovation might drive or accelerate the development of standards.

Cameron Neylon (Science and Technology Facilities Council) challenged us to ‘think like the web’.  Rather than trying to force diverse data and information into relatively inflexible databases, we should consider adopting Facebook, Amazon or Google Reader type models to aggregate the information, assuming that each item has its own unique URL.  He suggested that we could then build databases on the fly to manage questions, rather than the data.  He based his suggestions on Jon Udell’s blog Seven ways to think like the web

Workflow, process excellence and productivity in R&D Laboratories

Ken Rapp’s (VelQuest) and John Leonard’s (AstraZeneca) case studies beautifully illustrated how an understanding of processes and workflows in the lab, and an exploration of how they can be improved provide an excellent foundation for effective implementation of IT systems.  Working with lab scientists and QA they achieved increases in productivity, reductions in cycle time and lowering of compliance risks.

Chris Christodoulou (Medimmune) described how the R&D organisation in the UK and the US have adopted Operational Excellence as an enabler and a mindset for achieving Medimmune’s goals, and how Lean and Six Sigma tools such as 5S are helping them to ‘do things right first time’ and generally save time and money.

Change Management or effective implementation of ELN and LIMS

John Leonards’ case study of implementing electronic laboratory notebooks to facilitate technology transfer from Research scientists to Development Manufacturing illustrated how involving end-users to understand their issues and requirements, and then to pilot the proposed solution in an iterative way, together with engaging QA in solution development achieved 100% user acceptance as well as significant business benefits.  In a conversation with me afterwards he also described how starting with enthusiastic champions, peer influence and senior management support, together with a committed and flexible supplier also contributed to the original 100% user acceptance from Research scientists.

Gary Bouwman’s (Dow Chemical) Think Tank also drew out the many factors for success in implementation such as having clear business goals, measurable benefits, being aware of other factors that may affect implementation and the importance of having people on the team who really know the process.

Knowledge Management in the context of the R&D Laboratory

My fellow speaker, Mary Jensen (Baker Hughes), and Andrew Barendrecht (Innovation and Knowledge Consultant), between them expertly reviewed the key components for an effective KM ‘ecosystem’: people, process, content or information, technology and business or strategy (as well as compliance).  Mary Jensen gave a case study of how this applies in the oil and gas industry, whilst Andrew Barendrecht described how intelligent ‘cloud’ collaborations can operate using people in an Open Innovation and web 2.0 / web style framework.  Andrew indicated Steve Flynn’s ‘The Learning Layer’ as a good source of information for this approach.

Putting Operational Excellence, Knowledge Management and Change Management together in an R&D Laboratory context

My presentation “Applying knowledge management to operational excellence in a laboratory environment” discussed how Lean and Six Sigma could be applied to processes and the physical environment in the laboratory.  I picked up Mary Jensen’s knowledge ecosystem themes to show how Knowledge Management can contribute to the success of Operational Excellence, and also conclude with the Change Management related critical success factors for implementation.



  1. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting: enhancing team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman
  2. For an overview of electronic laboratory notebooks and how to implement them see John Trigg’s “Getting started with an Electronic Laboratory Notebook”, Scientific Computing World and phaseFour Informatics, 2011


Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners

Employee involvement is of course fundamental to the success of any business process improvement initiative: without the close involvement of those who are involved in an organisation’s process, it would be futile to try to identify opportunities for improvement, let alone to try to implement them.  So it was with some interest that I read the results, in this Sunday’s business management article in the Observer : “Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service?” (22 August 2010, pp38-39) – commissioned research on how the FTSE 100 companies report on employee engagement, and of how they ranked the top 30.

The research on employee engagement and the findings

The full report carried out by Transparent Consulting, with assistance from Snap Surveys, Call Britannia and Tomorrow’s company is available from http://www.transparent-consulting.com/engagement-index/.  It evaluated the FTSE 100 companies’ annual reports up to June 2010, and compared them to the 2006 Companies Act requirements, which include the need for companies to report on their impacts on employees.

Amongst the report’s key findings are, that: “Companies and sectors which prioritise customer satisfaction are also the ones that seem to find it worthwhile to give attention to employee engagement.”  (Banks, insurers, utilities, telecoms and media were the highest-scoring sectors.)  Such organisations are thus addressing some aspects of the two key components for effective business process improvement: customer relationship management, and employee involvement.

The report’s detailed data make for an interesting review of the FTSE 100 companies.

Examples given of how companies engaged with their staff fell into the following categories:

  • Communication – 80% used company intranets or newsletters; 13% sent senior executives ‘back to the floor’ (e.g. Marks & Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury, Kingfisher); only 4% conducted exit interviews when employees left.
  • Employee surveys – nearly 70% conduct regular surveys, with 41% of the total conducting annual surveys, and some conducting quarterly ones (Lloyds Banking Group, British Airways, BT and J Sainsbury).

There are also other important aspects of employee engagement covered by the report such as diversity policies and Health and Safety practices.  Pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are also mentioned in the report.

Case studies on employee engagement and customer satisfaction from BT, Sainsbury and Centrica

The following extracts from the Observer article’s description of the case studies in the report speak to aspects of employee engagement and customer relationship management that could support a business improvement culture:

  • In BT, each manager gets a report on their team’s collated responses to the employee engagement survey, and is expected to work with their team to address the results.
  • Sainsbury operates a process for collecting ideas from employees and putting suggestions into practice.  They also have a “daily huddle” where employees talk directly to managers, and senior managers / executives are expected to visit their stores on a weekly basis to talk to front-line staff.  Sainsbury also have an online “community” to collect employee feedback.  Finally, they also conduct monthly customer surveys.
  • Centrica ensures that clients’ opinions about their service are fed back to their employees.

Closing thoughts

As Simon Caulkin points out in his aptly titled accompanying commentary to the Observer article: “Britain’s companies can’t afford to continue wasting the human capacity in their grasp”, it’s time for companies and financial analysts to think beyond economic efficiency, and recognize that “in a knowledge-based economy it’s worker’s ideas and inventiveness that matter most.”

Companies’ focus on employee engagement and on the tools to facilitate and measure this engagement are important, but will only work if the people involved are: doing the jobs that they enjoy; supported in the skills that they need to do them effectively; ‘empowered’ (or have control over) how they do their jobs and can improve them; and have a belief (endorsed by their managers) that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Although neither article, nor the report mention this, a strong awareness of what is important to the success of the organisation, including up-to-date information on the needs and views of customers, are all key complements to effective employee engagement, and to the success of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Knowledge management and creativity / innovation – valuable adjuncts to project management. A case study

Knowledge management and creativity/ innovation enhance project management.

I am a firm believer in the value of knowledge management to enhance project management.  I also believe that the use of formal structures, such as those advocated in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement), and project management, give people more rather than less scope for creativity and innovation.  Creativity and innovation in turn, of course also enhance the quality of our processes and projects.  So, I was delighted to read the Turner & Townsend case study in April’s APM (Association for Project Management) magazine: Project1.  Even more satisfying is that this feature article was the result of T&T winning the APM Project Management Awards in 2009.

Why would knowledge management and creativity / innovation be important to an organisation such as Turner & Townsend?

T&T is a project management consultancy, with more than 2,400 employees, 770 of which are project managers, operating worldwide across 59 offices.  So they are a prime example of an organisation that would benefit from effective knowledge management to ensure that employees can:

  • Learn from their successes as well as their mistakes – so that they neither reinvent the wheel, nor repeat the same mistake twice
  • Continuously improve the way they do things – in this case, the ‘art and science’ of project management
  • Tap into the whole organisation’s experience and insights when working with their customers, and so not only achieve customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty

Creativity is the precursor of innovation:  it generates the new ideas which if accepted and applied within an organisation result in innovation.  An organisational structure that encourages and supports new idea generation and follow-through, will not only enable continuous improvement of its processes, projects and resultant customer experience, it should also result in greater employee satisfaction, morale, personal development and ultimate retention.  A recent internal staff survey suggests that T&T is achieving this kind of result with 86% of staff feeling proud to work there, and 84% indicating that they would recommend it as a good place to work.

How does T&T enable knowledge management and creativity / innovation?

Fundamental to the T&T approach is the emphasis they place on a range of formal and informal communication opportunities, using both face-to-face and electronic media, across all levels of the business.  Examples of these include:

  • An ‘excellent ideas’ intranet portal – a platform for posting new ideas, suggested good practice, and tools / products.  Apparently more than 200 ideas have been posted since the initiative started two years ago, and 50% have been applied or are in the process of being so, with another 18% under review.
  • Knowledge breakfasts – an opportunity for junior staff to discuss specific project related topics and then present the outcomes to their teams.
  • Intranet feedback – an opportunity for employees to submit best practice and guidance for continuous development and improvement of technical and service knowledge and delivery.  The intranet thereby functions as an online knowledge base that is continuously improved.

T&T also have a strong infrastructure to support knowledge management and creativity / innovation.

These knowledge management and creativity / innovation practices are supported by the organisation’s emphasis on continuous development, with people being encouraged to participate in various training programmes.

1% of turnover is invested in research and innovation, resulting in new project management tools and techniques.

T&T also have a well-defined model or set of processes for their work with clients:

  • Assess and engage: understanding client requirements, building a business case, building strong working relationships with the client and key stakeholders.
  • Develop & improve: strategies and plans for implementing the project.
  • Project execution plan: i.e. the manifestation of the previous step.
  • Deliver & benefit: implementation for successful delivery

Although the article does not discuss this model any further, it is this kind of infrastructure that supports the identification and sharing of experiences, insights and new ideas that lies at the heart of knowledge management and creativity / innovation.


1. Head Turner. Project – the voice of project management, issue 227, April 2010, pp34-35

2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

Using surveys and other approaches for determining customer value in Medical Information

Understanding what your customers value is a key criterion for the effectiveness, and indeed the success, of any business support team.  It’s a criterion that Medical Information (MI) teams in the Pharmaceutical Industry understand well, as evidenced by the presentations and discussions in this year’s Medical Information and Communications track of the DIA’s 3rd Annual Clinical Forum in Nice, France (1)

Elisabeth Goodman, principal consultant at RiverRhee Consulting (3) was fortunate to be accepted by the Medical Information and Communications Programme Committee as a speaker on “Using surveys to understand what our internal customers value”, for a session on “Raising the Profile of Medical Information”.  Elisabeth took the opportunity to listen to what others have to say on the subject.  This article, with the kind permission of the speakers involved, documents what she learnt during the course of the conference.

Andrew Williams, Senior Director of European Medical Operations at GSK, has this definition of MI: “The production, maintenance and delivery of medical information content to unsolicited enquiries from healthcare professionals and consumers.” MI customers, as described by Jin Tompot-Vermaat, Manager Medical Information Center, Centocor, include the obvious external ones (HealthCare Practitioners (HCPs), Physicians, and Patients), but also internal staff (Medical Affairs, Marketing, Sales, Regulatory, Pharmacovigilance).

Jin Tompot-Vermaat also, in her description of the competencies needed by MI staff, nicely illustrated the qualities that any customer of a global MI team might also value: customer orientation, flexibility, an understanding of cultural aspects, ability to meet target timelines, verbal and written communication skills, bi- and tri-lingual fluency!  Other service qualities, listed in “The Certified 6 Sigma Green Belt Handbook” (2) that MI customers might value include: responsiveness, reliability, competence, access (to the service), credibility, confidentiality, accuracy and completeness.

Demonstrating the value of Medical Information to managers and other decision makers in the Pharmaceutical Industry is, according to a 2008 European survey of Medical Information managers, one of the top challenges that teams face.  Janet Davies, Director of International Medical Information for Gilead Sciences, and co-chair of the DIA Medical Communications Special Interest Area Community, shared other challenges that MI teams face such as: managing headcount, including ensuring efficiency, and defining competencies and roles within the team; responding to the parent organisation’s need for a global approach with resultant reorganisations and outsourcing / off-shoring implications.  Each of these challenges also in fact offers opportunities for better understanding customer value.

Dialogues around role definition, with internal customers such as Medical Affairs and Brand Teams have been very beneficial within AstraZeneca. Richard Jones, Medical Information Manager, shared some video interviews with these internal customers which demonstrated how regular interactions have enabled a better understanding of how MI can really add value to them.

Many MI teams are looking at ways of taking a more global approach to how they deal with queries from external customers.  Aaron Cockell, European Medical Information Director at Pfizer, believes that having a central platform to record MI enquiries will be an invaluable source of customer insight that can be used to influence company strategy.  Companies are approaching globalisation in many different ways, and Claire Laville De Lacombe, Medical Knowledge Manager, Sanofi-Aventis, described a range of models that they use, which take account of local cultures and ways of working both for the MI staff, and for their customers.

As a final note on this theme, Bob Winslow, Global Director, Medical Information Drug Safety and Medical Affairs, Quintiles, described the questions that MI CROs (Clinical Research Organisations) would want answered to support parent organisations effectively; these would be similar questions to those that a parent company would want to know to ensure that they are effectively supporting their customers.

As many of the above approaches show, there are various ways to determine what MI customers value.  Surveys need not be the default approach, and indeed should be used wisely given the extra burden that they put on customers, and that they won’t necessarily produce the best quality feedback.  Regular dialogue with customers, and analysis of historical queries will produce high quality insights, without extra demands on the customer.  Requesting feedback as a follow-up to completed work can also be productive.  Kirsten Rohl, Senior Scientist Medical Information in Lilly, described a telephone ‘spot survey’ that they conduct soon after a query has been addressed to check for customer satisfaction.

If surveys are used, care should be taken to boost the response rate.  Marco Migliaccio, Head of Medical Communication & Information (Neurodegenerative Diseases) at Merck Serono, gave a powerful illustration of how reminders can achieve this.  Nancy Hijmans, System Support Specialist & Manager at Centocor, also demonstrated how response rates to repeated annual surveys can progressively decline, although they are still achieving the accepted norm of around 30%.  There may also be cultural issues affecting the willingness of individual countries to adopt customer satisfaction surveys as discovered by Charlotte Wormleighton, European Medical Information Director, AstraZeneca, during an internal audit of their affiliate locations.

However, surveys do have some advantages over other methods for obtaining customer feedback.  Marco Migliaccio described how his organisation uses them to validate ad hoc views, provide important data for management, and differentiate between those MI services that really add value to customers, as opposed to the ‘nice to haves’.

Finally, Andrew Williams nicely summarised what MI customers might value: the right information to the right patient at the right time (in the case of external customers); and a scientifically meaningful discussion about products (in the case of internal customers).  It would seem that Medical Information teams have a wealth of approaches at their disposal to corroborate and understand the finer detail of what constitutes value to their customers.


(1) The DIA (Drug Information Association, http://www.diahome.org) is a neutral, non-profit organisation with about 18,000 members worldwide whose primary concern is the discovery, development, regulation, surveillance and marketing of pharmaceutical and related products.  Its vision is to provide a universally respected forum for the quality exchange of information.  It includes SIACs (Special Interest Area Communities), one of which is Medical Communications.  This SIAC has held annual US workshops since 1989.  The European group kicked off with a 1-day track in 2006, and has had a dedicated track in the DIA Clinical Forum since 2007.

(2) The Certified 6 Sigma Green Belt Handbook. Roderich A Munro et al. ASQ (2008)

(3) This article focuses on the first of RiverRhee Consulting’s 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

Follow the links for more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about principal consultant, Elisabeth Goodman.  To see a previous blog by the author relating to the DIA Clinical Forum follow this link here.

Deep Visuals Ltd – how Kodak’s knowledge assets did not quite ‘walk out of the door’

When Alan Payne, then Director of Kodak’s European Research team, found out that his 25 strong Cambridge unit was to close in early 2009, he spotted an opportunity that was to prove irresistible.  He suggested to one of the US business heads that they could continue the project they had been working on, outside of the Kodak umbrella, and do so at a lower cost. His US colleague had been very upset by the upcoming closure, and Alan’s suggestion made his day.  Alan’s colleague persuaded others in the US, and, before long, the contract was signed and in place.

I met Alan at one of Cambridge Network’s events, and when he told me about this, I asked if he would be willing for me to put together a ‘case study’, as a response to some of the comments I had received to an earlier blog: Knowledge assets have been walking out of the door – is anyone taking note?’ Alan kindly agreed, so here then is the rest of the case study.

Kodak’s European Research team had itself been the result of substantial organizational change when, in 2005, the umbrella organisation decided to consolidate the previous teams in Harrow, North London, and in France, to create the Unit in Cambridge. More than 200 people had been cut back to just 25 when the new Unit opened in January 2006.

The Cambridge team had been instrumental in introducing a new culture as a result of the transition from film to digital images. Whereas Kodak had previously been one of only a few companies in the world with expertise in film, they were suddenly vastly out-numbered by all those with digital expertise.  Alan, and the previous Director of the unit, Sam Weller, convinced Kodak Research to adopt what became an example of the ‘open innovation’ model.  As Alan describes it, the model is like a pair of scales: you give some of your technology away, but this is vastly outweighed by the expertise that comes in.  Although the US really liked this model, they could not afford to continue funding it, hence the closure of the unit.

Now Alan, and Peter Fry, each with more than 30 years experience at Kodak, co-own Deep Visuals Ltd, and run it with 2 other members of the original team, as well as a 5th team member that they’ve recently taken on.  They provide Kodak with an invaluable worldwide perspective on their client base and on product design and development – an important counterpoint to Kodak’s otherwise strong US focus.  They draw on a wide network of consultants, many from Cambridge University’s student population.  And they use a strong user-centered approach for product design, an important strategy where large organisations often risk relying too much on a technology-centered approach.

Kodak is very supportive of Deep Visuals current attempts to broaden their client base and strengthen their financial footing.  One area that Alan is exploring is museum collections.  He sees parallels between the challenges that we as individuals face in managing our personal historical photographic collections and those that museums have in making their vast collections of artifacts accessible to the public.  He is applying for grants to research the museum sector and to develop demonstrations of what might be possible.

This latter is in itself an example of Knowledge Management: an area that Alan also previously championed within Kodak.  He and his then colleague John Trigg believed that Knowledge Management was all about culture and people.  They were cognizant that people’s knowledge could be easily buried and lost and they promoted the use of electronic Laboratory Notebooks (eLNBs) as a way of making their knowledge more accessible.  Additionally, when the European Research team was due to be closed, Alan and his peers in the US set up a few interview sessions between the UK and US staff to enable sharing of knowledge.  They also ensured that all work in progress was fully documented, and of course that the eLNBs were available.

Finally, the existence of Deep Visuals Ltd itself, has obviously ensured that their invaluable ‘knowledge assets’ continue to be available to Kodak.

For Alan, the experience has been very liberating.  Like many who have spent most of their working life in the corporate world, he assumed that it would be very difficult to start up his own company.  With encouragement from his friends, and the support of Business Link, Alan was encouraged to go ahead, and was amazed at how easy the whole process was.  The hardest thing was coming up with a unique name!  Now, Alan is keen to ensure that the development of his staff is not overlooked.  He is beginning discussions with individuals to understand their technical and personal goals, and to ensure that Deep Visuals continues to be an exciting place to work.


This case study is one of a series that I am pulling together along my company’s, RiverRhee Consulting, 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

If you would like to share a case study relating to how your organisation is addressing these topics do please get in touch and I would be happy to discuss documenting it in one of my blogs.

You may also be interested in taking advantage of one of my complementary monthly Friday afternoon clinics

You can find more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about me, Elisabeth Goodman, Business and Information Consultant, on http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman, and in the Cambridge Network directory, http://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk