Spicen up your Project Management

February 22nd, 2012

It’s clear that project management isn’t the most exciting topic around executive roundtables and Board meetings yet it can make or break almost any critical corporate objective. Often, I hear, “Leave it to the project teams to implement”. Although that makes sense, it doesn’t receive nearly the interest as implementing a “new program” such as lean or scorecarding or whatever is perceived as the latest and greatest “fix” to all ailments. Thus, the project teams drudge along but don’t have the same level of recognition and passion for accelerating progress and delivering results.

A partial answer to this dilemma is to promote your project. Generate the interest. It’s amazing what can be achieved through executive interest and enthusiasm alone. I’ve written an article on how to promote and market a project to ensure success. Read a few tips here.

Hottest Supply Chain Jobs

February 21st, 2012

I read an interesting article in an APICS publication which cited research by Michael Koploy of WMS Guide about logistics jobs. I’ve seen the same trend with these positions within my clients. If you are an employee, how can you gain the expertise and stand out in the crowd? If you are an employer, how can you stand out as the employer of choice to get the best talent?

The top jobs include:
1. Demand planning analyst
2. Procurement manager
3. Distribution center supervisor
4. Supply chain consultant
5. 3PL business development manager

Develop a Talent Edge

February 21st, 2012

If there is one common recurring theme with my clients, it’s that those companies who find and retain the best people will thrive while their competition struggles to remain in the game. In my experience in working with executives across multiple industries and globally, those who create a talent edge not only deliver bottom line results but they also quickly develop a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

In today’s new normal business environment, sales are lackluster, cash is hoarded and customers continually demand more for less. We’re in a new ballgame. We must elevate performance exponentially to succeed in the new normal. Thus, the #1 way to ensure success goes back to your people. Will your team beat your competitor’s teams? You must develop a talent edge – and fast! What are the keys to success in developing a talent edge? 1) Recruiting is not an afterthought! 2) Retention is not about benefits. 3) People must become your #1 asset.

1) Recruiting is not an afterthought – HR should NOT lead the recruiting effort! They are a valuable resource in the process LED by the business leader. Business leaders must consider recruiting as a critical priority. How else will you ensure you find the best talent for your organization? It’s easy to get caught up in the process and hire the wrong person. Unfortunately, I’ve made this mistake more than once.
So, how can we learn from our mistakes? Be involved. No matter how busy, it must be a top priority. Trust me, if you hire the wrong person, it will not only lead to poor performance but it will also absorb countless hours of time. Involve several key leaders in the interview process. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your “must haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” in a candidate. And most importantly, references and referrals are vital. I’ve found that some folks can seem like they walk on water in an interview yet fail miserably. Why not find out before you hire them?

2) Retention is not about benefits – Interestingly, I’ve found that there are many companies who will prioritize recruitment but forget about their current star employees. What could be more important than ensuring that your star employees are retained?

Salary and benefits will not retain star employees. Of course you must be in the ballpark but it will be useless as a retention vehicle. Instead, it’s all about leadership. Do your stars feel valued? Do you provide challenging opportunities? Or do you dump others’ work on them because you know they’ll get it done? Do you have frequent conversations to understand how you can help them be successful? As easy as this seems, how often does it happen? Or are you stuck spending your time with poor performers and daily issues?

I often times come across star employees while working with my clients as they are the ones who will “get it done”. It is obvious as to which leaders truly value their stars, and it relates quite closely to the engagement level of the stars.

3) People must become your #1 asset – Whether you say people are important or not, it’s irrelevant if what they see doesn’t add up to what they hear. Those leaders who believe their employees are their #1 asset will see more importance with solid performance management systems and leadership development than with their most costly piece of equipment. Much easier said than done!

For example, if your new, million dollar ERP system or piece of machinery has an issue, will you still prioritize a conversation with your star vs. problem solving if you have to make the choice for a 30 minute window?

Prioritize developing a talent edge and everything else will follow. It isn’t capital intensive and doesn’t require precious cash so why not give it a try?

Lessons Learned: ERP Failure

February 13th, 2012

ERP system implementations fell off the grid during the recession; however, I’ve seen resurgence in the last year. Companies are thinking about investing again. However, although businesses are picking up, they are by no means out of the woods – every dollar invested must provide a solid return.

Implementing a new ERP system can provide you with upgraded tools to run your business or it can devastate your business – it all depends on the effectiveness of your ERP selection and implementation processes. It is not nearly as simple as it seems. Unfortunately, in my experience, 80% of the time, it fails to achieve the expected results. Worse yet, I’ve seen some horrific customer service impacts. Thus, when you choose to implement an ERP system, it’s worth taking into consideration the lessons learned from failures.

After being involved with many system implementations including several ERP implementations across multiple industries and globally, I’ve seen what works and have compiled lessons learned from failures. As I could go on for days on this topic, I thought I’d pick three top lessons learned from failures to discuss: 1) It’s all about culture change. 2) It’s not black or white. 3) KISS.

1) It’s all about culture change
One of the largest and most commonly repeated mistakes is to forget about the culture. It doesn’t matter if you’ve purchased the latest, best, world-class system; if you haven’t considered your culture in your selection and implementation plans, you can count on failure.

As system implementations always involve some aspect of culture change, it is vital to think about it in advance. What are your culture norms? Are you planning to change the culture? Are you thinking you’ll change the culture by implementing a new system? I hope not, as it won’t work! Instead, you should consider how to integrate the new system and work processes into the culture in a way that will benefit the organization.

If you incorporate culture change into your plans and stick by them (a plan that is communicated but not executed is worse than no plan at all), you’ll be able to leverage the system implementation to achieve significant results. Remember successful culture change requires exceptional leadership.

2) It’s not black or white
I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen ERP implementation teams forget common sense – what will “work”? Instead, as these types of projects tend to be massive, they will throw out random rules such as “no changes to the way the system is designed”, “we’ll do a conference room pilot but we cannot make changes”, “we’ll keep the same number of people in xzy function as we cannot afford to increase staffing” (regardless of whether it would stay the same overall but needs to be adjusted by functional area), etc. Instead, we need to think in terms of guidelines and allow for common sense.

For example, one of the most frequent rules thrown out is “no changes to the way the system performs the function” – we’ve spent a boatload of money on this system, and we need to use it as it was intended. I loved one comment, “xzy system is set up for best practices; use them” (even though these best practices were not aligned with the industry requirements and would lead to disaster). Of course, these statements are reasonable overall and can be a common sense guideline; however, it can lead to disaster when viewed without consideration for the circumstances. Allows for a few tweaks, and I’ve seen companies dig out of customer service nightmares and achieve 98-99% levels.

KISS (Keep it simple stupid) – I was reminded of this by a former mentor recently. Why is there such an inclination to get complex and convoluted so quickly? I find that it is best to continually review the plans, progress and system utilization for simplicity. There is no reason you need to implement all of the system functionality, even if you purchased it. Instead, think about what will add value to your business. Look at it from a lean point of view – what is waste? And keep it simple. Of all of the system implementations I’ve seen or participated with, those which kept it simple turned out significant better than those who wanted to leverage all the complexity the system had to offer on day one.
In today’s new normal business environment, it is not only essential to improve the bottom line but it is also vital to provide exceptional service levels. Do not let your system implementation transition from a tool to leverage for success to the noose around your neck weighing your business down. Learn from others’ failures and continually remind yourself to focus on culture and common sense.

Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc., is a senior supply chain and operations executive and management consultant. To learn more about her, read her bio:

Prominent Business Trends in 2012

February 6th, 2012

As 2011 winds down, it is an opportune time to evaluate this year’s progress and to think about strategy for 2012. I find that in order to get ahead of the curve (NO longer a nice-to-have in today’s new normal business environment); it is vital to incorporate the latest critical success factors for thriving in the emerging business environment.

In my 20+ years of experience as an operations executive, business consultant, entrepreneur and trade association leader, I’ve found a common element of success which spans industries, geographies and company size – synthesizing emerging trends and incorporating into core strategies and tactics. Thus, my persistent focus is in identifying trends and uncovering hidden opportunities. The top three business trends I’m focusing on for 2012 include: 1) Create a customer service edge. 2) Excellence in execution. 3) Become agile.

1. Create a customer service edge – Undoubtedly, the game has changed. New sales no longer occur by answering the phone. Instead, similar to consumers, customers want “more for less” and “now”. In essence, providing customer satisfaction is no longer enough, as it is expected; instead, you must stand out from the crowd and create a customer service edge.

For example, I worked with a client during the recession that was severely impacted by the housing market crash to evaluate their supply chain model. After we freed up cash by bringing down inventory levels, it seemed readily apparent that if sales were 50% of pre-crash levels, we had to reduce the supply chain footprint. Yet it’s never as easy as it appears!

Instead, we discovered that creating a customer service edge was worth its weight in gold, as customers in this industry prioritized customer service. If you could consistently deliver a 5% shorter lead time with solid service and reasonable pricing, you’d win the business. Thus, although we reduced the footprint where it made sense, more importantly, we designed a supply chain network that could deliver a customer service edge.

2. Excellence in execution – Execution is back in style! I’ve always seen the value in execution and so I’m thrilled it is making a comeback. Thinking back to creating a customer service edge, how can we do that if we aren’t reliable? We can’t! Therefore, execution is essential.

Also, how we can deliver “more for less” without losing margin? No easy feat! Yet if we re-think our definition of what is valuable to the customer and focus attention and resources on just those which are most valuable while delivering flawless operational excellence, we’ll have addressed margins.

How do we accomplish excellence in execution? In essence, go back to basics. Blocking and tackling wins the day. Focus on culture, people, processes, and systems. Leadership is essential. Follow up. Ask questions.

3. Become agile – Last but not least, we must become agile. Volatility is the new norm. We cannot afford to be unprepared for the new norm yet we can’t afford extra resources and costs just in case. Instead, we need to work smarter; not harder. Build flexibility into your people, processes and systems. If a critical customer asked for something which didn’t follow standard protocols, would you be able to deliver without creating havoc and excessive cost? Creating agility is much easier said than done. Leadership is again vital to success.

Think about how these trends could impact your business, department or role. How can you get ahead of the curve? I have no doubt that those who incorporate what makes sense of these trends to their business rapidly and effectively will have the opportunity to leapfrog their competition.