Don’t Let Your Summer Slip Away

August 28th, 2014

Take time to recharge your batteries and enjoy summertime. Creativity and problem-solving may just need a little sun and sand inspiration to make your business shine.

As summer is quickly winding down, I thought it appropriate to take a step back and think about a few ideas to wrap up the season:

1. Rejuvenation – no matter how busy, it is vital to plan time for rejuvenation. No one can go 24/7 – you’ll be more productive after a bit of rest and rejuvenation.

2. Creative vacations – even if you cannot get away or take time off, find creative ways to take a mini-vacation or stay-vacation. Have you spent an entire weekend reading in bed? Do something to get you out of your routine.

3. Appreciate family & friends – especially in times of volatility, there is nothing more important than your support system. Appreciate and value them.

4. Provide value – instead of thinking about what you’ll receive, start each day with how you can help someone else. Smile and be pleasant to an overwhelmed service employee. What can you do to help?

5. Take a walk outside – exercise can achieve wonders, and what better time to try a brief walk than during the summer (except perhaps in Arizona; however, a midnight walk might be an option).

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Lean: Uncommon Common Sense

What Sort of People Culture Do You Need for Lean?

August 26th, 2014
do you have the right culture for lean

Team attitude, knowledge, skills, and resources will make or break the successful implementation of lean. The best managers prepare the company culture for a bumpy but rewarding ride.

It just so happens I’ve been working closely with a few lean gurus in the last 6 months, and I’ve been partnering with clients to implement lean processes, stemming from traditional operations to critical administrative functions such as order management and planning. None of these efforts will achieve anything if they aren’t backed by the “right” people culture. A few items to think about if you are going down this path:

1. Culture of innovation – Contrary to how most companies operate, a lean culture dictates that mistakes are good.  In essence, if you don’t try anything new, you won’t make a mistake. Thus, you have to allow folks to try and fail (even when it affects your bottom line) – and encourage it!

2. Bottom up – The people at the bottom of the pyramid are the most powerful. Executives and management are there to provide support, tools, mentoring etc.; however, the people who will make or break lean’s success are the people doing the work.

3. Involvement – Of course, you must involve the people. This is not a cursory meeting to update folks; instead, it means you have to be willing to do something you think might not be as perfect as you’d like in order to take their input into account. Are you willing to do that?

4. Education – You must invest in your people and their education. Bring in lean experts to teach your folks to fish instead of catching it for them.

5. Metrics – Many companies fail when they say they support lean but their metrics dictate the opposite. Make sure what you say and what you do are in sync. 

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Lean: Uncommon Common Sense


Are You Prepared for a Systems Failure?

August 22nd, 2014

supply chain

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, the U.S.’s largest drugstore chain Walgreens had a database glitch and customers were unable to fill prescriptions.  The database issue hit 8200 pharmacy locations.  Some customers were inconvenienced while others might be waiting in excruciating pain for the system to be fixed.  In this case, the culprit was a system upgrade; however, it could have been any number of potential causes. No matter how unlikely, in today’s business environment, customers expect high service levels and are less likely to stick by you when issues occur.  Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law will occur somewhere down the road.  Are you prepared for a systems failure?

One tip to implement this week: Think about what would happen if your system went down. What is most critical?  Do you have a backup process in place?  I found out the hard way that a simple backup can be a lifesaver! Don’t delay! Beyond that, think about your most critical files and functions of your system. How can you make sure they stay up?  You don’t have to be a whiz yourself.  I.T. service companies can help. Most importantly, make sure you and your teams are trained on how to perform manual processes. Understanding the processes enough to perform them manually can also be a win-win as ideas emerge for improvement. Go out and ask a few questions. Find out if your business would come to a standstill or if you’d be able to help your competitor’s customers if both of your systems were down.

Overcoming Project Bottlenecks

August 21st, 2014
clear path of obstacles

Every manager juggles several projects at once, some more troublesome than others. Clearing your path of obstacles is a constant burden but with preparation, calm, creativity, and decisiveness, you can dodge roadblocks that obstruct project success.

Have you ever seen a project without obstacles? In my hundreds of projects over the last 20+ years, I never have! Yet every one of my clients over the years has multiple projects running as they are cornerstone to success. Project results are considered essential – improve service, increase margins, accelerate cash flow, implement or upgrade an ERP system without a hiccup, etc. Thus, it is wise to consider how to overcome obstacles upfront. Prepare for success!

How do we effectively do that and deal with obstacles? 1) First, prepare to avoid them. 2) Remain calm. 3) Think about options. 4) Evaluate.

1. First, prepare to avoid them! – Well, of course, it is easier to overcome an obstacle if there is no obstacle. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Easier said than done”. No doubt, as I’ve said that too; however, I have found that with a little thought, you can avoid several obstacles.

My best practice for accomplishing this goal is to stick with what’s simple. First, don’t worry about every obstacle. If it doesn’t matter to the project if you overcome an obstacle, don’t waste your time.

Focus only on those that will make a difference – certainly those affecting the critical path! Then, take 5 minutes to think. What is likely to go wrong? Can I live with that potential result? If not, is there something I could do to prevent it? Follow this process for your top 3 potential obstacles for all critical priorities. Soon, you’ll have far fewer obstacles to overcome – and you’ll likely become more effective by default since you can focus on fewer issues at a time!

2. Remain calm – Again, much easier said than done. Yet I’ve found this can be the most essential ingredient to success. Although it’s a natural tendency to stress or feel bad about the situation, refrain as much as possible. We think more clearly when not stressed. Instead of thinking of all the ways we screwed up to make this occur or worrying about what the worst-case impacts might be, take a deep breath. Most likely, it is not a life or death obstacle. Although it might require damage control, it is likely that it will not end your career. So, why waste energy? Instead, let’s put whatever energy we have to good use by figuring out a solution.

3. Think about options – In my experience in working with all types and sizes of organizations across multiple industries and globally, the best way to overcome an obstacle is the same across the board – think about options. Don’t waste time determining what caused the obstacle at this point (unless it will help in the resolution); instead, focus attention on options to overcome the obstacle. There are always numerous ways to overcome an obstacle. Don’t worry about the merits of each of the options until you’ve brainstormed a list of options. Ask your team members for ideas. Talk with colleagues. Even ask unlikely sources. I’m constantly surprised by what I learn from unlikely places. Project management is a team sport.

4. Evaluate – Once you have several potential ideas to overcome the obstacle, evaluate the top few. How likely are they to be successful? What downsides do they have? Which have other negative impacts? Typically it’s best to take resources out of the equation upfront so that you find the optimal solution as folks often get tied up in thinking of what they think is achievable vs. the ideal solution. Why would you want to miss out on a perfect solution because you aren’t sure how to staff it?

Now, it’s finally time to add resources into the mix. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Keep it simple: Determine a ballpark amount of time and resources the option will require. Determine to what degree it will resolve the issue or improve the situation. Is there anything else that would have to happen to ensure success? Will it likely be approved?

Then, when you’re 80% ready, GO! In today’s new normal business environment, speed matters. Thus, a 2% improved solution is not worth sacrificing a week of time (or even a day in most cases).

I run into countless obstacles. Whether I’m successful or not has little to do with whether I run into an obstacle; instead, it has to do with how I address the obstacle. Become quicker and more effective, and you’ll surpass your competition.

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Turning Data into Dollars 

Systems Pragmatist:  6 Essential Ideas to Drive Business


Data Mining for Dummies

August 19th, 2014
data mining

Maneuvering in today’s fast-paced business environment requires actionable information, which data mining provides. Locate your data to make your next strategic move.

As I’ve been putting together a SIOP (Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning) executive meeting presentation, it made me think about data mining. In this case, there is very little information available – in comparison to other clients, the ability to retrieve information is in the bottom 20%, yet I was still able to put it together. Thus, it made me think about a few tips: 

1. Base reports: So long as the company uses a system, there will be some data you can access. Even the worst case scenarios, which make the ERP experts shudder, have untapped information. Find it.

2. Manual information: I’ve yet to go into a client who didn’t track some sort of information. True, it is often too much of the wrong information; however, they are tracking something. Find those people and understand what they track.

3. Accounting: Again, every company has to have financials. Thus, worst case, start with the Accounting team.  They might be leery to provide it but if you involve them in the process, you’ll likely be successful.

4. Track it yourself – To get ballpark estimates for some metrics, you can take a sampling approach and go out and track it yourself.

5. Report writer – Every system (even the most fundamental and surprisingly inexpensive ones I’ve seen for smaller companies) have some sort of report writer or the capability to integrate with a report writer such as Crystal Reports. Pursue this path!

6. Hire IT experts – I’ve seen countless times where folks who are good at retrieving data can glean information even from the worst systems.  At one client, they called him the “Data Ninja”.  I loved that term as I’ve run into data ninjas at many clients (although I have to agree, he was the best!), and those who don’t have one can bring on a temporary Access expert or SQL expert etc.

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Turning Data into Dollars