I've since completed several projects with companies to “release their potential” or make major improvements to their operations. I did this without really having a “formula” to speak off well that’s what I thought. The one day my wife said, what do you actually do what process do you follow. I looked into what I had been doing and it appears I was following a 4-point plan. This I want to share with you as it could help you and your business improve.
It's important to note that you don’t need to have a deep understanding of a business to implement changes, lots of business owners think you do. Here is an example
I went to complete some work for a company that refurbished vending machines.
They were 4 weeks away from losing an 800k customer due to inconsistency quality results.
I was asked prior to the assignment:
“What do you know about vending machines what experience do you have”
“I put money in the top and take an item from the bottom”
See my view is and always has been business are about 2 things
PEOPLE & PROCESS
Identify areas of improvements in these areas and the business will improve
So, therefore, an in-depth knowledge of the product or service is frankly the concern for the business and its employees.
My reply may have been bit flippant, but I was there to look at where their issue lay and sometimes it better not to have a preconception of the product or service, you heard the saying “A fresh pair of eyes”, it means I ask a lot of questions.
So your reading this for the 4 areas so here goes
4. Own It
We hear talking about the journey when discussing business and plans and yes it’s important. However, let's remember before we set off on a journey we may know the destination but we need to know where we are starting.
The difference between where we are and where we are going is the GAP.
So before I start any improvements we need to gather some data that why we can begin to see what needs doing. I would start with a high-level process map to understand what happens start with 4 to 5 steps
a. When customer orders and how
b. How fulfilled order is fulfilled
c. How it gets to customer
d. Invoicing payments
You can go deeper in each area in this example the issue was in b fulfilment so a further process map of that was required.
I had identified that order fulfillment process needed looking at further and this process was mapped out further.
The company already had a lot of information on service performance, install & failures. Which was great however like a lot of companies they were trying to resolve every single problem. The result of this approach is firefighting and compounding the issue and frustration.
To remove the confusion take all the data and then sort it into worst to least incidents, you’ll normally find that there are one or two big issues with a long tail of one-offs or smaller incidents. You could apply the “Pareto Principle”, where 20% of the incidents will be 80% of the overall problem. Therefore focusing on the 20% will have a massive impact.
Therefore the strategy was to focus on the top 3 problems and ignore the rest, this can be met with resistance and the “All the problems are important”. I cannot agree with that statement as this is what gets people in the mess in the first place.
Once we have our 20% problems then we can drill down into why this is happening before generating a solution.
We found 3 separate components that had recurring issues, these were not only causing problems to the end user but causing inefficiency and lost time in the operation, this put further pressure on to rush things through and further exacerbate the failure rate. So this was the focus area.
Now before we rush off changing things we have more steps. seriouly wait
It's been a recurring thing that business, operations or sites with issues there are boulders. Imagine a stream flowing and you throw a massive rock or boulder into it, what happens ?. The water can not flow freely and has to find another way around. So by removing the boulder water can once again flow.
These boulders normally come in the form of individuals or departments not willing to change or innovate and develop, they are happy with the status quo and resist change. In business, this could even be YOU!, unwilling to adapt change or scared of the unknown. It could even be a lack of confidence. You may also identify stuff you are not good at or don't like doing , so either get training or outsource it then get on with what you are good at .
So we need to identify the boulders what's stopping the change, in the example, we are reviewing one individual was reluctant to change and was, in fact, damaging preventing the team from implementing potential solutions. In this instance, we need to either get them on board or you guessed it remove the boulder. This business lets remember was weeks away from losing its biggest customer and therefore risk going under. So we moved the individual on to another project same grade same responsibility just a different department.
If you are only one or two people take a step back and do a swap analysis. Take a sheet of paper divided it into 4 boxes and write
map these out be honest, or even get someone you trust to work on this with you. Be honest though or you won't identify the potential solutions. (see Boston Matrix at bottom)
This is my favourite part of the process it's where I get a real buzz.
So we had our 3 main problems and knew we had to improve them, we had got to the why these were causing a problem. So now we needed the solution not a sticking plaster but a real solution that would remove either totally or to an acceptable level.
I find the best way to do this is getting a team from the operation they employees that do the job not just the leaders but the doers.
outline the data what the problems are, what impact this is having and then look to brainstorm a solution.
I like to use a post it note brainstorm (if there is only you get someone else to help). get the individuals to write down potential solutions or where the issues may be. By doing it on post it notes then the others are not influenced but other answers if just shouted out.
the gather those post-it notes, group them in relevance, then look to remove the least relevant or those solutions that may prove uneconomic. If the solutions are to cost an unrealistic amount then it's simply a non-starter.
The solutions to the three areas where outstanding, the team had an idea for a very simple and easy to make testing equipment they could implement as one of the main issues. This was amazing as once used the problems were removed within a short space of time and wasted rework hours were also eradicated.
4 Own It
Once this process is done it's not done that may sound crazy, but remember we only focussed on the top 3 problems, so now we have 3 more top problems to focus on. These may have less of an impact but still we can remove or focus on them.
So it's important the company/department keep updating the data and keep revisiting the issues for continual improvement.
You find that by involving the team or you having someone else help you through the process, owning the solutions will become more natural and sustainable, why because "you - they" developed it, feel part of it and responsible. it's pretty powerful stuff "Empowerment".
Now the danger is we complete all this work and shy a relief and back peddle or worse focus on the wrong or less important things
Stephen Covey author of
"The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People," says:
"Keep the first things first"
As humans, we can be reactive or focus on the less important things because we enjoy them more, we are all guilty of this.
Take a piece of paper and split into 4 boxes (Boston Matrix)
on the bottom left write Urgent and top left write not urgent
across the bottom in the left-hand corner write Important and the bottom right, put Not Important.
now keeping first thing first and being proactive not reactive means spending as much time in the Important but not urgent sections.
As an example, you may have a peak in sales say in the summer, it's now winter so planning staff, extra stock etc is not urgent but it's important. So if you focus on that action or business need when the break comes you won't be firefighting panicking and messing up orders or failing customers.
but all too often we find ourselves in the urgent but not important box, these could be other people's needs, emails, social media, talking to friends or family when you should be working on your plans and tasks.
It's not easy there is so much noise in our modern life which no doubt will get even noisier and distracting. Try to put "first things first"