Interested in Growth? Beef Up Systems and Project Management

December 17th, 2015
Growth Concept

Though businesses want growth they’re not often ready for the challenges that accompany it. Having a solid systems infrastructure and project management in place is the key to managing growth.

Companies are in growth. Every single client is growing – many quite dramatically while others a bit slower, yet growth just the same. Although rapid growth is exciting, it can also be one of the most challenging. Systems can provide the perfect tool to leverage for success – and project management is your ticket to ensure success.

Growth can be challenging for companies both large and small. Whether the client is still relatively small and concerned with cash flow or whether they are much larger and trying to purchase buildings and machines, growth will bring growing pains. Customers do not care what you have to do to service them, whether they are large or small. They expect you’ll have what they need where they need it and when they need it. For example, Amazon has next day, same day and Sunday deliveries as options. E-commerce capabilities and mobile-friendly apps are expectations for all types of companies. Thus, a solid systems infrastructure is not only valuable but a requirement for survival to support growth.

Similarly, larger companies also can benefit from systems. One of the best ways to gain new customers, develop and sell new items, and to expand your product line by cross-selling is to upgrade your capabilities. You’ll need to leverage systems to be successful and efficient with these endeavors. There are a few reasons why: 1) Volume. 2) Best practices. 3) Automation.

Systems will provide access to volume. Certainly, one of the key advantages of growth is the ability to leverage additional volume over the same or minimally larger infrastructure. This brings profit to the bottom line. A system does not care whether you perform ten transactions (or calculations) or 10,000. A person does!

Systems also provide the ability to leverage best practice processes. These processes can be embedded in the system.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen clients (and people) who have the latest and greatest technology available to them yet they fail miserably. The reason this occurs is that they do not take the time to think through the optimal processes the system can utilize. One way to think about this is “garbage in, garbage out”. A system will only calculate errors faster if you don’t focus time and attention on your processes. How can you set up your daily, weekly and monthly routine to best support your business? Build these into your system, and your system will become invaluable to growth.

Systems provide the opportunity to automate. There are countless opportunities to automate in every business. I’ve yet to walk into a new client without significant potential to take steps out of processes by having the computer perform steps and calculations within a set of guidelines. For example, instead of manually calculating what you need to purchase in order to meet your customers’ needs, an ERP system will figure that out for you and provide you with a recommended plan for review. Then, our job becomes managing exceptions and adding value instead of performing routine tasks.

Solid Project Management Ensure Systems Success

As valuable as a system can be in supporting growth, it will be meaningless if not backed by solid project management. Certainly, I’ve seen more issues arise in implementing and leveraging systems than almost every other type of project. Thus, it is of utmost importance to focus on the critical project management techniques required to ensure systems success.

Reviewing those successful systems implementations, upgrades and projects to further leverage existing functionality, the vast majority have these tenets in place:

  1. A strong project leader – it must begin and end with leadership as my HR mentor used to say. Interestingly, the best projects with weak leaders fail whereas the weakest projects with strong leaders succeed.
  2. A well thought-out project plan with a clearly defined critical path and milestones – it is easy to get lost in system implementations; thus, simplifying the focus to the critical path is essential to success.
  3. Tracking mechanisms – it is too late to discover an issue once 50% of the project has elapsed. Instead, find ways to build checkpoints into the project plan. Make sure there are plenty of short tests so that you can rapidly discover issues and plans can be adjusted.
  4. Senior leadership support – similarly to project leadership, no matter how strong the team and plan, it will fail without executive support. Undoubtedly, a conflict will arise that will require support from senior leaders. Be prepared upfront for this need.

There are countless reasons to consider implementing a new system, upgrading your system or further leveraging your system to support growth. First and foremost, consider whether you want to grow by 5% per year using your current infrastructure and systems or whether you want to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Many of my clients have opportunities to grow by 20%, 50%, and 100%.

Next, why not increase cash flow and maximize profit while growing the business? Since it is often a no-brainer to further leverage systems, make sure you are prepared for success. Beef up your project management and success will follow.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to become a Systems Pragmatist:

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Go-Live: ERP Fundamentals

December 15th, 2015
ERP implementation

To have a smooth transition implementing your ERP system, be sure to follow the supplier’s go-live process but don’t forget the fundamentals.

Since one of my clients is going live tomorrow on a new ERP system, I’ve been thinking about go-live. Every software supplier has their “go-live” process and typically touts it as “best”; however, what really matters is the fundamentals.

In the last few years, I’ve been supporting many clients select the “right” ERP system to best support their business needs, and I’ve been sticking with them to ensure success with the design and to support the process from an expertise standpoint. A few of the keys include:

  1. Checklists: Remember the blocking and tackling steps. Having a checklist of items that have to be complete is cornerstone to success. It is easy to get side-tracked without a checklist.
  2. Cut-over: The cut-over process has to be planned well. Are you stopping all movement during the process? Certainly this is the easy way to success; however, it is not possible during most go-lives as customers will not wait. Make sure to have clean cut-off points. Reconcile. Balance. An accounting mindset can be a definite advantage.
  3. Support: Whether you think you’ll need it or not, make sure you have plenty of support on hand. Ask employees to be flexible during go-live. Have extra experts available to run ideas by and to answer questions. Worst case — you’ll have paid for insurance. As someone who had her house burn down, I highly recommend it!
  4. Training: Make sure to accompany go-live with plenty of training. No matter how much you think you know the process steps, you’ll realize you don’t know how to back out of mistakes or you’ll forget a critical step. Training at go-live can accelerate your progress.
  5. Communication: This almost goes without saying but it is ridiculous how often communication can be forgotten as you get into the nitty gritty of go-live tasks. Assign someone to keep the communication flowing.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to become a Systems Pragmatist:

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December 14th, 2015

supply chainMy close friend’s step-mom is a sharp-witted, amazing storyteller, and one of her famous lines is “interpret”. Whether she said something completely wrong or somewhat close to what she wanted to communicate, she simply says “interpret” with a smile. Somehow with her, it works every time. If I tried it, somehow I doubt I’d have quite as much luck!

However, she is correct. I was listening to my nephew ask questions about his homework project, and he seems to think that if the exact situation hasn’t occurred before, he wouldn’t know the answer. It is a learning process as he is still young, but it reminds me of some work colleagues as well. Don’t give up if the situation or problem isn’t one you’ve experienced exactly the same previously. THINK and INTERPRET as Marjorie says. Take a 94-year old’s wisdom to heart.

One tip to implement this week:

The next challenge you come across, interpret. Meaning, don’t give up. Instead, think about how you could get the answer. Break the problem into pieces. Most likely you know at least one piece. Start there. Look on the Internet for an answer to the 2nd or 3rd piece. Ask a colleague. Soon, you will likely have enough of the problem understood to interpret successfully — and find your answer!

If you don’t know why the system did what it did, stop and think about possible reasons. If you don’t know why Shipping is requesting a change or concerned about the product you delivered to the warehouse, think about possible reasons. If your customer poses a challenge that seems out of your area of expertise, don’t respond without thinking about whether it relates if you can break the problem down into smaller chunks. In essence, think before you leap to “no”.

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…”


Is Inventory Management Dead?

December 11th, 2015
inventory management

You can’t expect manufacturing or distribution success without securing base fundamentals such as inventory management.

I received a note recently from one of my newsletter subscribers asking if inventory management is dead.  He stated that he didn’t think there was a single session on inventory management at APICS 2015 and wondered if the topic was dead. The answer is NO….at least not for successful companies!

Interestingly, I was asked specifically to talk about inventory management by the APICS Ventura chapter as their programs chair said that their members were interested in fundamentals topics – what really matters to success in the workplace. That is the reason why inventory management will never go out of style – similarly to the fact that your house will not stand up long term without a solid foundation, your company will not stand up long term without solid inventory management practices.

Start with the base fundamentals. You must start with systems transactions – timing, accuracy and separation of duties are all important. I’ve been called into significant messes including failed system implementations that I’ve been able to resolve largely stemming from these types of foundational elements. It is well worth paying attention to them! Next look at inventory levels – optimize the level of inventory, your supply chain network structure, your lead times, customer service levels, efficiencies and margins.  The right mix will result in business success – and optimal inventory and cash flow levels. For more advanced topics, evaluate collaborating with customers, suppliers and other supply chain partners to take inventory management practices to a new level only achieved by looking at the end-to-end supply chain. If you’d like to discuss options to dramatically improving your inventory management practices, contact me.

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Sticking to Priorities

December 9th, 2015

supply chainSticking to priorities is always important; however, it can be especially challenging during the holiday season as there are so many demands on our time. For example, today I had a key priority that had to be completed for a client. I knew it would take substantial time, and I had been working on it for a while. I had postponed it in order to address personal priorities, and so I knew it had to be #1.

There were countless distractions, seemingly important tasks and conflicting priorities. However instead of being deterred, I stuck to my priorities, completed the project, and then went on to the numerous other demands – including this newsletter. This sounds much easier than it is to accomplish – what are tricks of the trade to stick to your priorities?

One tip to implement this week:

The great news is that most of us have far too many priorities; thus, picking an important one shouldn’t be difficult. Once we’ve chosen a top priority (do not worry about perfection; the worst case scenario is that we’ll pick an important priority vs. the most important priority), take a step back to think about your plan to complete/address this priority. If it includes a task, plan it into your calendar. Talk is cheap; instead, start taking action.

Consider scheduling something you enjoy at a key milestone in the process. For example, I enjoy eating lunch outside, and so I might take an hour out of the schedule to go to one of my favorite restaurants as I reach a morning milestone.

Communicate your goal verbally. I committed to a particular deadline and communicated that to several folks. If I started to go off-track, not only would these folks likely help steer me back on track but they also would help hold me accountable. Find partners. Business is a team sport!

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…”