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Lean Six Sigma in Field Service Organizations – Identifying and Eliminating Waste

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You have no doubt read various examples where Lean Six Sigma was used to identify and eliminate waste in both manufacturing facilities and service companies (i.e. financial institutions and hospitals). Most of us can quickly see how concepts such as inventory reduction and improved product quality are applied to physical objects or documents. But what about Field Service Organizations where the primary product (a completed service request) is often vaguely defined and the main component (technical expertise) is intangible? How can we apply the same techniques to obtain the same results (increased speed, reduced costs, and improved quality)?

In this article we will focus on just one element of Lean Six Sigma: Waste Reduction. While service managers may intuitively suspect that there are many areas of waste within their organization, they may not realize that the same tools used to streamline production assembly lines can be used to improve field service processes.

Let’s begin by comparing the fundamental activities performed in both a manufacturing facility and a service field organization:

System Inputs

  • Manufacturing: Product sales order is entered directly into the MRP
  • Field Service: Phone call or e-mail manually entered into SMS

Scheduling

  • Manufacturing: MRP checks parts stock lead times, current inventory, etc. before sending detailed demand to plant floor.
  • Field Service: Typically SMS only checks technician availability before dispatching (with limited detail).

Process Activities

  • Manufacturing: On plant floor – fabricating; assembling; testing.
  • Field Service: At customer site – replacing parts; troubleshooting; adjusting.

Completion

  • Manufacturing: Final QC inspection; Ship; Invoice.
  • Field Service: Customer Sign-off; Forward info; Invoice.

Although the specific tasks are different (along with the terminology), you can see that there are many parallels within the two processes. And, being similar processes they often are subject to similar sources of waste. Below we examine the most common areas of waste that are normally targeted by Lean Six Sigma projects.

Processing

Processing waste is often the results of over processing in both manufacturing and service. In manufacturing this refers to making products at higher (and more costly) specifications than required by the customer.

In a field service organization you can over-service a customer by exceeding the contractual Service Level Agreement (SLA). For example, you may provide an average one-hour on-site response when the SLA only specifies an average 4-hour response. While it is usually better to over-perform than under-perform on SLAs, it still represents waste as you are not matching the customer demand requirements – which can lead to higher costs or missed revenue opportunities.

TIP: Measure your actual response times separately for each service area and compare to the local competition. In some areas you may have a competitive advantage (e.g. lower than industry standard response times) that can be leveraged by your marketing team.

Transportation

On a manufacturing floor, products are transported from station to station throughout the process. When these are mapped and measured carefully, you will often find the product moves great distances throughout the facility, and represent potential opportunities to reduce waste.

Transportation waste in a field service organization takes the form of miscommunication. Service request information is transported (communicated) from the customer to the call center, from the call center to the field technician, and (often in paper form) from the technician back to a central billing location. If you have a separate dispatching or triage help desk, there are even more handoffs. Each handoff represents an opportunity to introduce delays, errors, and non-value-add activities.

TIP: Create a pipeline report that shows the number and average age of service requests in each stage of the process (Opened – Not Dispatched; Dispatched – Not Started; Started – Not Completed; Completed – Not Invoiced; Invoiced). This will help you to identify bottlenecks that are caused by transportation delays within the process.

Motion

There are several Lean Six Sigma tools that focus on creating effective work areas by, among other things, reducing the unnecessary and awkward movements an operator may experience while performing their activities.

Perhaps ironically, motion waste in a field service organization is often the result of an attempt to improve quality. For example, if a Dispatcher needs additional clarification of a SLA requirement, they may physically walk over to the Contracts area to retrieve a paper file. Likewise – especially during an end-of-month billing frenzy – the Invoicing team may run to the Finance area to find a “live” person to check credit status.

TIP: How often do you observe call center personnel walking around the office while speaking to customers over their wireless headphones? Consider physically rearranging the work areas and/or creating electronic data marts where customer account information will be easily accessed by everyone in the office.

Inventory

Spare parts inventories in either central warehouses or technician vehicles are often subject to management review and scrutiny. In fact, this may be the one area where you have already applied Just-In-Time or other Lean Six Sigma techniques.

However, inventory can also be thought of in terms of unutilized field service hours. These hours are typically non-productive and non-billable. Since Field Labor cost (excluding overtime) is essentially fixed, even minor productivity gains will have a significant impact on your bottom line.

TIP: Revenue-by-tech is an often-used and sometimes misleading measurement. Technicians can boost this metric by replacing more parts or increasing repair times. While your company may benefit from short term revenue, customer satisfaction and overall profitability will suffer. Technician productivity (hours billable / hours available) is a key metric for any field service organization and should be measured continuously and reported daily.

Waiting

Just like a worker on the production floor or a teller at the bank window, field technicians are generally paid even during idle times. But beyond this obvious cost concern, delays within a field service process are typically passed directly and immediately to the customer – leading to increased frustration and lower satisfaction.

There are multiple opportunities for waiting in a field service process including: Dispatching (technician waiting on service requests), Parts Shipping (technician waiting for parts to arrive at site), Invoicing (billing personnel waiting for completed paperwork from field technician), and Contract Administration (waiting for site audit information or pricing to enable contract set-up in SMS).

TIP: When measuring Time-To-Dispatch, make sure you measure from the service request Open time to the technician Accepted time (not when the call center first relayed the request to the field). This ensures you are measuring delays that impact the customer, not just when calls are “thrown over the wall” to the field.

Defects

Most manufacturing facility closely monitors product defects throughout the production process. The goal is to identify and correct defects before they are passed forward to downstream operations.

You are probably aware of (and currently measure) two of the most common and visible product defects in service organizations: Call Backs and Re-bills. But note that these are end-point defects, that is, they are often the results of other errors passed throughout the process. For example, the Call Center may mistakenly identify the wrong piece of equipment when the service request is entered into the Service Management System. This defect could lead to assigning/dispatching errors and/or the technician arriving to the site without the proper replacement parts. If the technician then returns the completed paperwork without correcting the product information, the Invoicing team may apply the incorrect pricing and payment terms. The same defect is passed through multiple operations causing multiple errors.

TIP: As a general rule, you should divide Call Backs into a least two categories: with and without parts. If parts were used, you may need to review stocking practices and policies. If no parts were used, it may indicate a technician training issue (insufficient troubleshooting or other repair skills).

Overproduction

Producing too much product is easily visible as excess inventory in a factory setting. But how does overproduction affect field service? Remember, your finished product is a completed service call. While it may seem counterintuitive that you could have too many completed service calls, you must consider this in terms of scheduling. For example, a technician may have four Preventive Maintenance (PM) visits scheduled over the next two days (two PM visits each day). If the technician completes all four PM visits on the first day you may feel you have gained some advantage. But what if these PM visits are performed at the expense of other non-PM service requests? What about the schedules of the other technicians in the same service area? Were their PM schedules affected as they covered the non-PM workload of the first technician? Did the service office as a whole experience more overtime expenses as the team scrambled to meet customers commitments?

Smoothing out field service production is as important as a manufacturing floor. Not only does it make you a more efficient organization, it also reduces the stress on the Dispatch Team, Field Management, and (most importantly) the customers by reducing the need to constantly adjust and communicate ETAs.

Tip: Segment the each field technician’s labor hours by Time-of-Day, Day of Week, and Service Type (PM, non-PM, Install, etc.). Then compare this information among technicians working in the same service area. If the hours-distribution varies significantly among technicians it could indicate a scheduling or performance issue.

The items noted above represent just a few examples where waste could be found throughout the field service process. There are many, many more – each which could have a significant impact on your service business. Also, you may have noticed in the comparison above that manufactured products are typically subjected to various quality checkpoints throughout the production process. This helps ensure defects are not passed to the next work station (an important Lean Six Sigma objective) or, even worse, to the customer. However, field service events have no final inspection – except by the customers themselves. This factor alone should encourage you to consider using Lean Six Sigma to proactively identify waste and other process issues.

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The Rise of the Global Boutique Production Company

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Production companies working with film and photography have seen the industry change over the course of the 20th century. Once relegated to the mega-studios or individual advertising companies, now it is common to find a production that is small enough in size to serve the individual needs of each of its customers, but able to do so on a global scale. With modern technological advances and partnerships with the right niche contractors around the world, these companies handle every digital branding need for businesses large and small.

Global Impact, Local Service

As industries grow, it’s been common for businesses to evolve into massive corporate entities, with huge staff and presences around the world. While this made it effective for these companies to handle a volume of work, each individual client that they served often lost out on that personal touch that is so necessary to effectively building and maintaining a brand presence. For example, a company looking to target customers overseas may find that working with a large company means they never know who they will be talking with at any given time, while instead, finding a German production company will help them develop the exact right materials to target that market, all with a devoted staff guiding them through each stage.

Able To Handle The Largest Jobs

The benefit of these smaller-scale production companies is that they can handle just about any needed job, wither in-house or through a network of related partner contractors. For example, in the above scenario, the German production company would know the right people – from casting directors to camera operators – to film a video job in the country, without the client needing to leave their home base.

A single boutique production company can handle any print media elements that may be needed for a campaign or event, including ad campaigns, catalogs, and even published interviews or editorials. If it comes to a special cause, a company can help put on an event from start to finish, even something as unique as an art exhibition or fashion show.

Not to mention, a company means that clients are able to access Hollywood’s resources. Whether the goal is to have a particular celebrity endorse a product or an ad, or to cast a group of actors for roles in a promotional video, the production company will have all the means to handle every single aspect, from start to finish.

Size Matters

It can’t be said enough that one of things attracting large-scale clients to smaller, boutique production companies is that they can have more or less of a role in the entire branding or marketing process. Some clients prefer to be entirely hands-off, in which the above resources can be utilized to take care of every aspect. Or, if a client prefers to attend castings or visit locations, a smaller team will be more than happy to accommodate requests.

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What is PABX System?

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So, in such cases, installing business phone systems is great option. Not only does it save you time and money in the office, but also prevents you from losing out on potential business, even when you are away. One such office phone system is the PABX system, which stands for Private Automatic Branch Exchange.

PBX

PBX is an acronym for Private Branch Exchange and it stands for a telephone exchange that is used in business or the office as opposed to one that is used as a common carrier or telephone company that operates for many businesses or for the general public.

PBX is also referred to as PABX-Private Automatic Branch Exchange and EPABX-Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange.

PBXs are used to make connections amongst the internal telephones of a private organisation, which are usually business oriented. They are also connected to a public switched telephone network (PSTN) through trunk lines. As they incorporate telephones, modems, fax machines, and many more parts, the general term “extensions” that is given is referred to the end point on the branch.

PBXs are differentiated from the key systems in which the users of the key system manually select the outgoing lines, whereas the PABX phone system selects it automatically. There are some hybrid systems that combine both the features. In the beginning, the main advantage of PBXs was the cost saved on internal phone calls, handling the circuit switching and thus locally reduced charges for the local phone service. Over the time, as PBXs increased in their popularity, it started offering many more services than the operator network, like call forwarding, extension dialling and hunt groups. In the early 1960s, there was a simulated PBX known as Centrex, which provided many similar features as the central telephone exchange.

How it all began

There were two significant developments during the 1990s and it led to new types of PBX systems. One of the developments was the immense growth of the data network and the increased understanding in the public about packet switching. Companies needed packet switched networks for data and to use them for public telephones was very tempting and with the global availability of the Internet, the system made packet switched communication became even more attractive.

These factors then lead to the development of the VoIP Phone System, which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Another development that leads to the hosted PBXs was that most companies realised that they did not have the core competence to handle the telephony of their companies and they required it to be done by someone else. Thus, in a hosted PBX setup, the PBX is situated and managed by a telephone provider and the features and calls are delivered through the Internet. The customer has to just sign up instead of buying the hardware. But today there are many companies that are setting up their own PBX systems, which are available with companies like ITT Communications.

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Play Poker With Online Casinos

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There is this inherent desire in every human being to earn loads of money and that too, as soon as possible. However, it is hard to refute that there is no shortcut to success. With the introduction of online casino games and poker, there finally seems to be a way to play online poker easily.

Why is online poker so popular?

Online poker seems to be the buzzword among both die hard gamblers and novices who are simply thrilled by the rising popularity of this game. In fact, most of the students in USA prefer playing poker rather than engaging themselves in summer jobs for their allowances. Although, online poker games might start as a hobby for most of the people, it soon goes on to become a source to earn some easy money instantly.

Most of the people seem to be welcoming the concept of poker games. However, critics slam it as a fraudulent and highly risky game which could backfire on the player at any point of time. Although a large number of professional players bet that their success rate is cent percent, another fact which needs to be understood is that playing poker with online casinos still hasn’t been able to receive legal sanction.

Are parents fine with it?

Most of the parents seem to be sceptical of their children who invest large amount of their time, energy and even money while playing online poker. However, certain parents are also completely comfortable with the idea of their children playing poker in order to provide their tuition fee themselves.

Though it cannot be ignored that there are mammoth amount of failure stories where people have lost huge amount of money while playing poker, winning is not fairly common. Professional players who play poker for a fee claim that it is important to learn certain gambling moves in order to master the game. One can only learn these moves when they have practiced the game again and again, therefore mastering it. It is advisable that novice gamblers who do not have a thorough knowledge of online poker should not risk investing too much amount while playing online poker initially.

On the other hand, professional poker players seem to be more cautious than any other kind of player. This is because these individuals are supposed to play on a limited amount of sum and claim their win as well. The best advice which can be doled out to any novice who is about to venture into the world of online poker would be not to invest their amount in one go. It is better to increase or decrease the amount of sum invested on the basis of their performance in them game.

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Finance

Relationship Withdrawal – Why You Feel Like You’re Going to Die

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You have just broken up with your boyfriend/girlfriend and you can’t eat, sleep, feel panicky, disoriented, can’t focus at work and feel like you’re going to die. Maybe you feel nauseous, have headaches, feel depressed, can’t function at home or at work, have cravings for the person, have thoughts of suicide, feel shaky, forgetful, or a host of other symptoms that make you feel horrible.

Welcome to relationship withdrawal. Yes, the symptoms you are feeling are the same symptoms a drug or alcohol or any other addicted person feels when their “substance” is removed from their lives.

How can this be so? And why is it so intense?

I have written several articles on the effects dopamine has on the brain. Dopamine is the “feel good” transmitter that our brain produces in response to something that triggers it. The trigger can be positive: exercise, falling in love, being surprised with some wonderful gift from a loved one; and it can also be triggered by something negative: spousal abuse, an unexpected response or event, drug/alcohol abuse.

The bottom line is this: Our brains like dopamine and they don’t care what we have to do to supply it to them, as long as they get their “fix.”

When we find ourselves out of a relationship with someone, it does not really matter to the brain whether it was a healthy or destructive situation. As long as the brain was getting its dopamine needs met, it felt okay. But once that supply is gone from our lives, the brain gets cranky and starts to flood us with all sorts of physical and psychological symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms are so bad, that we will voluntarily return to whatever the supply was that we left, including horrible and painful relationships, just to get that dopamine level met and thereby quiet and quell the dreadful withdrawal. This is one of the reasons some people can’t leave a bad relationship. It is also the reason we feel like we are dying when we get dumped from what we thought was a good relationship. It is like being on a treadmill running 5 miles an hour for a long period of time and then suddenly the treadmill is turned off. We are still in motion, even though the treadmill is no longer running us. Instead of the euphoric dopamine production, we crash and burn in a dysphoric state.

The brain knows there are many ways for us to get our dopamine “kicks.” But as creatures of habit, we will seek the same thing over and over until it destroys us; or we may instead switch addictions and leave the drama filled relationship and do other things to get our dopamine needs met. With each bout of addiction comes the need to up the ante because the brain will need more and more as it gets accustomed to the ever increasing levels of dopamine. The pattern becomes a disease of the brain which is constantly talking to us and telling us to feed it more and more. This explains why people literally feel as if they are going into withdrawal when they get out of a relationship. The brain is begging for a fix.

Anyone who has ever been through drug or alcohol rehab knows that it takes time to go through the withdrawal. Time has an elegant and eloquent way of calming us down if we allow it to. If you or someone you know is going through relationship withdrawal, share this information with them. Be as supportive as you can and if you are going through it yourself, don’t isolate. Isolation will magnify the symptoms and prolong the recovery. Get active and stay busy in something positive. Start to walk, jog, volunteer to work with animals, work out at the gym or take a class so that the dopamine levels in your brain can be positively activated. And do this every day whether you want to or not. If you wait for your feelings to catch up with you, you will never get there! Get a notebook and journal about your feelings each day, then put the notebook away and get proactive doing something positive for yourself. Allow yourself only 5 minutes twice a day to cry over it and then get on with your life in between the crying spells. Seriously, schedule and time out your crying spells. Then get on with it. Learn from the relationship and make a solid plan for what you will do, won’t do, will allow, won’t allow the next time you are in a relationship. Know that in time, you will look back on your stint in withdrawal and it will be over…for good.

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Internet Speed: How Fast Is the Internet Across the Globe

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The Internet has grown exponentially in the last years. More and more people are now connected and have access to the internet. Considering that people now rely on the internet to perform their daily tasks and even interact with their peers, it is now a must to have Internet access wherever you go.

But not all places have the same Internet speed. The internet speed differs in many areas because of a lot of factors. It can be the infrastructure of the service provider or even how you set it up in your home.

You would think that the US has the fastest Internet Connection on the globe as it is considered a first world country and has the means to create a better infrastructure for this. However, the country with the fastest connection is found on the other side of the globe, South Korea. Having a speed of 39.41mbps, it is considered as the country with the highest internet speed. And they are still on the quest for more!

Here is the list of the countries with the fastest Internet speed in the world.

1. South Korea

Apart from having the fastest speed, the country holds the most wifi spots. If you always want to stay connected, then South Korea might be the best country to live in.

2. Latvia

The main users of internet in Latvia are from ages 16-24. Given that number, you can easily assess that most users are the millennials and are always using social networking sites and other modern apps.

3. Lithuania

They have fast internet, that’s a given. However, the recent study shows that a lot of internet users in Lithuania are experiencing security problems last year.

4. Aland Islands

Not only a place worth to visit because of its great landscape, it’s a perfect spot if you are looking for a speedy internet connection.

5. Romania

This might come as a surprise but Romania is a hot spot for companies that would like to set up their web host. Thanks to the fast internet speed for that.

If you are still interested to know some of the countries that have the fastest internet speed, then you can find them here. At least you will know what to expect if you are about to visit these places.

(Netherlands, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, Andorra, Singapore, Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Denmark, Hungary, Ukraine, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Finland)

Internet speed in these countries is between 13 mbps to 39 mbps. It just shows that the internet speed does not depend on the economic status of the country. Every year, the speed increases roughly around 10% which just shows the hunger for speed of the global users. With the fast-paced lifestyle we have now, the internet would also need to keep up. Do you think it will?

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Mobile Document Shredding Services – 10 Good Reasons to Hire a Professional Paper Shredder

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Thanks to new laws passed by the government, creating a document shredding plan has become a part of doing business. This is to keep non-public information handled by businesses and organizations secure and to prevent identity theft. However, some companies still shred paper themselves. In this article we’ll look at 10 good reasons why it is a good idea to hire a mobile document shredding company to handle this work for you.

  1. Ease of Use – Mobile shredding companies provide clients with secure locking containers. When sensitive materials need to be disposed of, they can simply be dropped in the locked console, rather than having to shred them individually. Forget removing staples, paper-clips or bindings…With high volume capabilities, you can toss huge folders of paper work into shredding trucks and they are shredded beyond recognition in seconds!
  2. Cost Efficiency – Shredding trucks shred paper faster and have much more capacity than any regular in-house shredding machine can provide. If you were to assign an employee to do this task, it would cost your company more than hiring a shredding company. It is even more cost effective than having a minimum wage employee do the shredding, let alone someone who gets paid good wages. Why waste the time of talented employees by making them stand over a shredding machine? Also, shredding machines are not cheap, and can require repairs if used a lot.
  3. The FTC Safeguards Rule of the GLB Act mandates that private data be monitored for destruction.

    Most mobile shredding services have observation screens where you can watch the papers being shredded. You are also provided with a certificate of destruction. Other services, such as recyclers can easily lose your papers on the way to the recycling plant. They pay little attention to the security of your data. Why increase your legal exposure and risk huge fines for improperly disposing of private data?

  4. It’s An Ethical Business Practice.

    Do you really want papers your customers’ or clients’ non-public information blowing in the wind? Think of how bad you would feel if your customer data was stolen because you were too lazy to take simple precautions…Not to mention the huge PR damage your business could take.

  5. With A Shredding Service, You Get Major Help From Pros

    Let’s face it…Compliance with all of the various shredding laws is not always simple. There are many laws and it can be hard to decipher all of the various sources of information. When you hire a shredding company, you get years of experience behind you.

  6. The Environment.

    It’s good to know shredded paper is baled and ends up in paper products like those coarse paper towels you wipe your hands with in public bathrooms. Many shredding companies sell the the bits of paper to paper mills and it is recycled into new paper products.

  7. Better Than ‘Off-Site’ Destruction

    On-site shredding is way more secure. You can actually see the paper being shredded first hand before it leaves your property. By having it done on-site, you eliminate all of the possible risks of exposing your data in it’s complete form after it leaves your premises.

  8. Self Interest & Competitive Advantage

    Many business secrets have been lost to improper handling of important information. Keep your competitive advantage by keeping your data private! Corporate dumpster divers have cost companies millions. With a secure mobile shredding service, you can eliminate (or minimize) risk of competitors and make more money.

  9. Organization

    By organizing your papers and creating a shredding schedule, your home or business can become more efficient. Shredding papers saves tons of storage space and frees up room for more important office equipment.

  10. Peace of mind – Without the proper safeguards, information ends up in the dumpster where it is readily, and legally, available to anybody.

To learn more about how to choose a shredding service and to find a company near you, visit The Document Shredding Directory today.

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