Overcoming Obstacles

January 30th, 2015
facing challenges

No matter how much you plan, you’re going to face challenges. But learning to hurdle obstacles effectively will save you valuable time and a lot of grief.

As I’ve yet to run across an executive without obstacles, learning how to effectively deal with them has to be a top priority. Often times, we are caught up in fire-fighting mode – every day, we plan to call that customer, read that report, train that employee, or put together long-term plans. And, every day, the day whizzes past with too few of our priorities addressed. Thus, the more adept and quick we become at addressing obstacles, the more successful we’ll be.

So, how do we effectively deal with obstacles? 1) First, prepare to avoid them. 2) Remain calm. 3) Think about options.

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 if you overcome an obstacle, don’t waste your time. Focus only on those that will make a difference. 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 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.

Brainstorming isn’t a solo sport. Ask for ideas from even unlikely sources. I find that I’m constantly surprised at what I can learn from unlikely places. Once you have several potential ideas to overcome the obstacle, evaluate the top few. 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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It Begins and Ends with Leadership

January 27th, 2015

Employees trust and follow proven leaders — those that motivate, communicate, and know what they’re talking about.

As a tribute to my HR mentor who recently retired after a long and successful career in organizational development and HR (congrats, Debra), I have to tip my hat (if I wore hats) to her for being 100% correct – success begins and ends with leadership.

Undoubtedly, my successful clients can have mediocre strategies, plans and even people; however, if they have great leaders, I guarantee they will be more successful than the reverse. The most talented and dedicated employees will become frustrated and leave if saddled with lousy leaders. Some might stay if particularly loyal; however, they will eventually “give up” temporarily – until a new leader arrives.

To the exceptional leaders out there, THANK YOU! It is much appreciated. I heard about one of these leaders tonight from a former colleague at a key client. She said this leader is so respected that if he said, “trust me” even if his plan didn’t seem solid, everyone would follow – without exception. Even as a VP, she mentioned the value he created by seeing his employees as valuable assets, regardless of position. He would talk with “the little people” and see how they were doing and ask for ideas. Not surprisingly, they will follow him but not the current leaders who seem to care solely about their personal career paths.

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Why Doing It Right the First Time is NOT Always Right

January 26th, 2015

supply chainWe commonly hear the phrase “Do it right the first time”. Of course, generally speaking, who wouldn’t want to do that? Waste is bad. However, I’ve found that there is a time when doing it right the first time is NOT the path to success – when you hold off for perfection as your view of “doing it right the first time”.

We’ve all been there; however, for the future, think about following a new plan: “When you are 80% ready, move”. I heard my consulting mentor phrase it this way, and loved the simplicity! This week, one of my clients is experiencing a few challenges because he places an immense amount of value on doing it right the first time. Believe me, he is not alone. Think about this example: if you were to have to repeat a training session in order to start with “what is available” and follow-up at a later date with the optimal solution, it wouldn’t be doing it right the first time. However, if you would be addressing a critical gap in the process with a short-term solution so that you kept customers happy until the optimal solution was ready, would you do it? I’d celebrate the opportunity to do it twice!

One tip to implement this week:

Think about a decision you need to make where you are waiting for additional data or input. Do you have 80% of the critical information required? (Notice I didn’t say 80% of ALL information desired.) If you do, make a decision and move on. You’ll find that you’ll be much more successful. The last 20% requires 80% of your time with little to no improvement in the quality of the decision. On the other hand, waiting for the additional information can bring an undesirable result! 

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”


Are Check Points Required to Deliver Project Results?

January 22nd, 2015
check points in project management

Since most managers juggle multiple projects, knowing where your team stands on each project is critical for the successful execution of each.

Effective project management has become cornerstone to business performance. Although we are largely in a recovery, none of my clients have gone back to the days of having more than the required resources “just in case” yet project demands are ever-increasing as profitable growth is key to success. In essence, if you want to thrive in today’s new normal business environment, you will not only execute flawlessly but you’ll also innovate constantly. Neither will deliver results without flawless project execution. Based on my observations, 90%+ of my clients and contacts struggle to resource projects and overcome obstacles quickly enough to ensure success. What should we do?

For example, one of my key clients has at least 7 critical project priorities in process simultaneously. This alone is problematic enough as it’s been proven over and over again that people can only multi-task so far. In my experience, anything beyond 3 priorities will suffer. However, in addition to this burden, they have resourced these projects with people who already have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not uncommon.

Of course, my first priority with these situations is to work with the client to take a step back and re-focus in on fewer priorities. Once the first few are completed successfully, we’ll move on to the next set of priorities. In 100% of the cases, I’ve seen this tactic achieve significantly greater success. However, whether we follow the smart path and focus on just 3 priorities or try to keep track of all 7 at once, we must implement check points from the start to have a chance at success! A few keys to success include: 1) Understand milestones. 2) Think about evidence of progress. 3) Develop a check point process.

1. Understand the milestones: Although it might seem basic, it is the most often overlooked critical variable to success in my experience. Do NOT start performing tasks; even if it seems like a critical task, stop yourself before jumping in. Instead, develop the project plan. Take a step back and review the project plan. Does it seem complete? Are there too many tasks? Can some be combined? Which are dependent on which other tasks? Do you know the difference between dependence and sequence? If not, circle back and start again. Have you added fluff to your task times? Why? If everyone adds just 1 day cushion to every task, it will have greater than a 20% impact on almost every project and a 50% impact on the majority.

For example, if you know that you cannot improve your on-time delivery metrics if you don’t improve inventory accuracy, it might be tempting to start addressing that issue immediately. Although it is undoubtedly one of the tasks required to improve on-time delivery, there is no way to know its importance vs. the other tasks without taking a step back. What if throughput had to be increased by 50%? This task would be more important because no matter how accurate your inventory, you can’t do anything with half of your orders if you cannot get them out the door. Also, what if throughput is dependent on another task which doesn’t seem that important in isolation? Typically I see clients ignore that task completely yet it is the most critical task of the three mentioned because it must be completed prior to throughput increasing!

2. Think about evidence of progress: Once you have your project plan outlined and milestones identified, the next step is to make sure you are making progress on these milestones. First, take another step back to identify the critical path. The critical path will tell you where to focus. The milestones on the critical path are the ones which deserve 80% of your attention as they’ll give you 80% of the result with 20% of the effort.

Your critical path milestones are your check points. If you are achieving these critical milestone check points, you’ll be successful. It can be as simple as that! Of course, it rarely is that simple because we veer off the critical path and spend time on items our boss asks us about or those items which seem interesting. None of these paths will yield success because they are not check points to the project success. Stick to the critical path. The great news it that in project management, the critical path provides the check points whereas in many other areas, you must decipher the check points. If you are in this situation, just ask yourself the question: What would tell me I’m making progress? What would I have to see, hear, and/or have as evidence?

3. Develop a check point process: Last but not least, you must develop a check point process. What does this mean? In the simplest format, it means you develop a communication and tracking method to follow up on the critical path check points. I’ve seen many different processes “work”. The key is in the follow-up and the leader’s ability to ask the right questions at the right time and his/her willingness to address the “hard” issues.

For example, one of my clients developed a brief weekly project review meeting to go over the critical milestones. Issues with project tasks were not discussed as they should be incorporated into regular project management cycles. Instead, the meeting was focused on which critical path milestones were achieved, which are coming up, and whether there are roadblocks affecting any critical milestones. There are many communication vehicles and formats. Choose whichever works best for you and your culture.

In today’s new normal business environment, delivering project results is vital to success. Thus, although it has always been the lifeblood of project success to make sure there are check points to tell you whether your projects are on track and where to focus attention; it has a direct correlation on bottom line business results today.

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6 Process & Systems Trends for Success

January 20th, 2015
process & systems trends

Business processes should evolve as the business climate changes by keeping an eye out for emerging trends and finding opportunities to pull ahead of the competition.

As we start a new year, it seems an opportune time to discuss systems and process trends. I find that those clients that pay attention to trends and find opportunities to leverage them often surpass their competition.

I’m working with a diverse portfolio of manufacturers and distributors ranging from $6 million dollar, family-owned businesses to $100 million dollar facilities of multi-billion dollar, global companies. When I see trends that cross company-size, geography, position, etc., I take note. If you can apply the “right” best practice to the “right” situation at the “right” time with the “right” people, you can dramatically increase the value of the business.

Several of the latest process and systems trends that pop to mind include:

1. The value of common sense processes: A few months ago, I wrote an article on uncommon common sense, and I have to say that my most successful clients by a long shot are those that employ common sense best practice processes. This does NOT necessarily mean they are lean gurus, Six Sigma black belts, systems gurus or even Harvard grads. Instead, my best clients involve their people, listen for ideas, leverage collaborative relationships and utilize what makes sense.

For example, I’ve had several clients with unsung heroes working in their midst. One planner could turn straw into gold in terms of optimizing operations, inventory levels and service levels but was largely overlooked because she didn’t “talk the talk”. Another client had a data ninja who was a superstar in developing common sense best practices in leveraging data for management decision-making but he was not fully appreciated. Another had a transportation wizard hidden in the background because he didn’t “talk the talk”. In each of these situations and countless more, I have helped my clients achieve significant goals by finding these already-existing stars and asking for common sense processes that will be effective.

2. Simple process visuals: Again, I often find my clients and contacts getting carried away with the latest and greatest processing mapping techniques. Of course, these can often times be useful; however, what really brings results is simplified process mapping and process visuals. In essence, break the process into manageable chunks and steps. Make it understandable to the masses. You’ll be surprised what you find when you simplify and clarify. For example, one of my clients told me earlier today about a great success she had in operations efficiency by shortening the production line so that she could “see” the process gaps. Simplicity works.

3. Excellence in project management: Undoubtedly, those clients who are expert in project management succeed. The best plan with poor execution will fail whereas a mediocre plan with exceptional execution will likely succeed. I don’t see this as a conflict with lean concepts. To me, Kaizen events just bring the right parties together to focus time to understand processes, review gaps, brainstorm improvements and implement whatever is achievable within the Kaizen window. Actually we could go back to point one – uncommon common sense! As one lean guru told me, the ideal Kaizen is set up to be a chunk which can be fully completed during the event. With that said, the same types of project management skills are needed – period.

4. Business intelligence: The value of rapidly sifting through mounds of data, finding the right data and analyzing the data so that information is available for strategy setting and decision-making is becoming cornerstone to success. Those clients with a data ninja should hang on to him/her for dear life! It is not as easy as it looks to achieve; however, there are tools available to make it more achievable.

Many ERP systems have business intelligence type tools with drill down capabilities. If you have an ancient system, there are always options available to add-on or simply utilizing Microsoft Access can be sufficient. One of the data ninjas I worked with in my career prior to consulting was a MASTER wizard with Microsoft Access and data. This article reminds me of several fun people I’ve worked with over the years….one of my first clients was a huge trade association that wanted to select the right business intelligence software to support their business and customer base. There is power in leveraging data!

5. E-commerce: E-commerce has become an assumption. In almost every ERP and systems selection project I partner with clients to complete, e-commerce is an expectation. If it is not an immediate requirement, it is a “must-have” in terms of business growth. Manufacturers and distributors are having to either compete with Amazon or are having to live up to Amazon-like expectations whether or not Amazon will ever become a competitor. According to my research study on the Amazon Effect, building out technology infrastructure including tools such as e-commerce is key to meeting customers’ expectations.

6. Leverage smart technology: In essence, everyone should NOT use the same technology. Since I help clients identify and leverage systems and technology to support their business growth and to elevate business performance, I often run across a common theme when it comes to leveraging technology – a race to the fads! Instead of worrying about keeping up with your neighbor or competitor and use the same latest and greatest technology or system they use, take a step back and determine what would help your company achieve its strategy or strengthen its competitive advantage. You’ll spend a whole LOT less yet you’ll be FAR more effective.

Pay attention to trends for opportunities to grow your business, become more efficient, increase margins and the like. I’m launching a new service, the Profit Chain Accelerator Program to identify and leverage these types of opportunities. Email me for more information.

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