Project Success Is All About the People

August 18th, 2016

Project success starts and ends with people. Give your project a head start with a top leader to guide the cross-functional tasks along the way.

In reviewing project successes and failures, it turns out that project success has little to do with the technical aspect of projects. Instead, it is all about the people.

Within the last year, we’ve been called by clients struggling with issues ranging from poor delivery performance to sagging margins, while other clients want to ensure they are prepared for strong revenue growth. Every one of these clients required some sort of project to deliver the intended results – growth, profits, margins, cash flow, and efficiencies. Company sizes ranged from $7 million to $50 million to $250 million dollar facilities of multi-billion dollar companies. Industries ranged from building products to aerospace to food. Project scopes ranged from SIOP (sales, inventory, and operations planning) to a dramatic improvement in customer service levels to ERP selection to support the company strategy. Yet despite these differences, every project boiled down to people.

It is commonplace to think that project success has everything to do with whether the technical elements “add up” or whether best practice processes are utilized. Although these can be important, they are not the key driver to project success. Instead, it boils down to people.

Recently, we went into a new client to evaluate a group that was perceived to be struggling so that we could straighten out the challenges. Although there is always something to improve, this group alone was not the root cause of the challenges. There definitely were some technical challenges to resolve; however, the 80/20 related to connections and perceptions – in essence, the people element.

In another client, we have been working on an ERP project with multiple parties. It certainly hit some bumps in the road along the way. Some are typical bottlenecks with these sorts of projects, and some were atypical. What is sure is that 100% of the challenges resulted from the people equation, even though it was a technical project. Miscommunication and the lack of communication abound. Thus, our role became one of connector among several diverse roles and people. Again, the people aspect drove the “80/20” of success.

So, what are a few strategies to keep your project in the “green” when it comes to people?

  • Project leader: Since success begins and ends with leadership, start here. Project leadership is always harder than is originally thought and can be a thankless job. Be upfront and stay in front of this danger!
  • Don’t bother creating a team: Radical but true. A true team will sink or swim together. Unless you can affect each individual’s salary, bonus and workload (which is an extreme request in 99.9% of projects as they are cross-functional in nature), don’t expect your group to work as a team with the expectation that everyone has the same goal from their day-to-day manager. Instead, find a way to use these diverse backgrounds to your advantage. Bring the group together on specific tasks, engage individuals in a way that works for their particular situation and day-to-day manager.
  • Communicate the why: No matter what else happens, the number one priority should be to communicate the why behind the project. One way to bring this group of individuals together for a common purpose is to make sure the purpose is crystal clear – and the why behind the project is understood and energizing.
  • Follow up selectively: Since we know that cross-functional project teams run into many conflicting objectives and challenges, it is important not to waste precious energy on non-essential tasks. Focus selectively on what will move the project forward and ensure success – in essence, ignore everything but the critical path.
  • Celebrate successes: Don’t wait for the project to be completed successfully. Instead, look for wins along the way. If success or failure boils down to people, it is wise to think about what will keep people motivated. Ignoring them while they overcome daily obstacles might be commonplace but it won’t equate to success. Catch people doing right.
  • Get rid of poor performers: One of the most important things a leader can do is to address poor performers. It gives your top performers hope that you understand what’s required for success and that you appreciate top talent.

Without people, there are no projects. Since projects can drive substantial results, it is worth figuring out how to stack the odds in your favor. And, the great news is that there is no deep, technical understanding required to lead a project effectively. Instead, your ability to ask good questions and lead people are the keys to success as a project leader. Give us the best leaders with mediocre technical skills any day vs. mediocre leaders with excellent technical skills. Undoubtedly, the project will deliver dramatic improvements to your business instead of continually struggling.


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

Employee Performance: Do Not Ignore Your Stars

People, People & People


The Largest Newspaper Operations in the U.S. – The L.A. Times

August 17th, 2016

supply chain

Last week, I went on a fascinating tour of the L.A. Times operations. It was quite impressive — and massive. Did you know the L.A. Times has the largest operation in the U.S.? They print for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others in addition to the L.A. Times.

LA Times

The equipment and automation was simply amazing. Obviously the L.A. Times knows how to run operations — and specializes. That’s why they distribute much more than the L.A. Times. Do you know your area of expertise? How do you leverage it?

One tip to implement this week:

I don’t subscribe to the “specialize or die” mantra that some marketing folks pronounce as best. After all, one of the ways you can be an expert in your specialty is to be a generalist in several areas surrounding your area of expertise. However, knowing your area of expertise is similar to knowing your strengths. I guarantee you’ll be more successful focusing on strengths and your area of expertise than worrying about your areas of weakness!

For your career, take a step back this week and think about your best area of expertise. What is it? How can you utilize it more? Ask your colleagues for feedback. Think about how you can help others with your area of expertise.

For your company, think about your company’s best area of expertise. What differentiates you from your competition? What do you do better than anyone? Start by brainstorming all of the areas of strength. Don’t evaluate them. Just identify them for now. Once you have a list, get your team together. Rank them. Which can you build upon? There will always be a multitude of ways to further utilize these unique factors.

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…”


Resurrecting a Struggling System Implementation

August 16th, 2016
struggling system implementation

Take the necessary steps and dedicate resources to review processes and think more broadly about specific steps and functions before the purchase of a new ERP system.

We received a call this week from another frustrated CEO who is struggling with a system implementation. What we hear frequently from executives is the following: “It took more time and more money than I ever imagined!” And, worse, sometimes we hear that customers are being lost or are in danger of slipping away. Enough said as we can’t imagine anything worse!


Over the years, we have helped several clients with these types of situations. We are not experts in any particular software (although we know most of the popular ones) yet we are able to help clients with these issues. Little has to do with being an expert in the particular system. Instead, based on our experience with these types of projects, several of the pitfalls to avoid include:

1.  Lack of process understanding – just understanding system steps is not enough. What if those system steps don’t add up with the daily processes? What if we know all the system steps but have no idea how to perform our job function? This is one of the most common causes of mass frustration and ERP system issues.

2. Thinking in a silo – almost everything “works” if you are in a silo. If you are thinking about what you need the system to do and not aware of impacts on anyone else, it can appear that the system is functioning just fine when it isn’t. For example, if you enter production and are able to move the inventory to the next step in the production process, all seems good. However, we’ve seen that two steps further in the process, the last production step cannot be performed or the item cannot be shipped if certain fields were not checked or steps followed. Unfortunately it creates havoc later on, and it might not be caught until it is too late. Unscrambling this mess can be tricky.

3.  Lack of education – notice I did NOT say lack of training. 99% of my clients start by telling me the issue is a lack of training. Although additional training might be required, it is rarely the issue. Instead the lack of education can be a problem. Education includes training on specific steps and functions but it is a broader topic. Do you understand WHY you are performing these steps and what they mean?  


Upgrading or implementing a new system can be a significant undertaking that will greatly impact your business and your resources — in a positive or a negative way. It is your choice. Don’t underestimate the importance and complexity of this process. Dedicate the appropriate resources and focus to the undertaking, and success will follow.  


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

Common Pitfalls to ERP Project Success 

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Inventory Accuracy Pitfalls

August 15th, 2016
inventory inaccuracy

The most common inventory accuracy pitfalls stem from minor problems but will snowball into bigger headaches if the root causes aren’t caught and resolved.

Why do so many companies run into issues with inventory accuracy?  After working on hundreds of projects with companies spanning many industries such as aerospace, building products and food, I’ve found these pitfalls are the most common:

  • Transaction timing issues – although they might perform system transactions, they are not completed on a timely basis. Thus, the system gets all mixed up – with the best case scenario.
  • Transaction quantity issues – who hasn’t had fat fingers and keyed in 10000 instead of 1000? I’d be hard pressed to think of a client who hasn’t experienced that issue. In addition, there are transpositions of numbers, incorrect counts, etc.
  • Transaction sequence – even if everything is perfect with the quantity and timing, there are countless problems with transactions being completed in the incorrect sequence. Unfortunately, systems are rarely forgiving with this issue. Typically, they would need to be backed out and start over.
  • Transaction training – often, there isn’t a full understanding of how to perform the transactions. How to undo problem transactions is especially important but rarely understood.
  • Count and adjust mentality – there are many companies that “count and adjust” to keep their inventory accurate. They miss the critical step of reconciliation and root cause analysis. Actually counting and adjusting can lead to even larger inventory issues because root causes are never getting addressed and the inventory gets worse and worse over time.
  • Other inventory adjustments – other inventory adjustments often get in the way. For example, if we change one part number into a different part number and there isn’t a production entry for the transition, it is often done through an inventory adjustment. That can be fine; however, these inventory adjustments, timing and process needs to be understood and incorporated into the cycle counting process.
  • Virtual warehouses – these can create havoc with inventory accuracy. They are often used for quality hold, to “save” product for customers etc.  Keeping track of transactions related to these is important and will have a profound impact on the rest of your inventory accuracy.


Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to be the Strongest Link in your organization:

Why Care about Systems Transactions?

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Staples & the Power of Customer Service

August 11th, 2016

supply chain

When I’ve needed customer service the most, Staples has been there! A while back, my house burned down. When that happened, the manager of the local Staples went WAY out of her way to help dig up old invoices to assist with the arduous accounting process. However, the reason I’m thinking about Staples now is because they came to my rescue again.

Last weekend, I attended the APICS district meeting in Newport Beach. After Friday’s Presidents meeting, I went to dinner with two colleagues. I left my laptop sitting on the desk in the hotel, knowing I had to write a proposal upon my return. When I got back to the room, my laptop was DEAD. I tried all sorts of things to make it work, looked up solutions on my phone, etc. It was hopeless. Thus, instead of writing a proposal, I was searching on my phone for a new laptop and sending emails to IT support resources to try to get help. Of course, my laptop would crash on Friday night with no provocation.

I have to say, several of my IT trusted advisors responded Saturday morning (nice to work with the best!); however, I couldn’t do much more until Monday. I planned to miss a session on Saturday to find a Best Buy. I looked out the window in the morning and saw Staples.

The tech guy at Staples (who was also an Assistant Manager but he came to help because the regular tech guy was tied up) was EXTREMELY helpful and tried all sorts of things to get my laptop working. He went over and beyond and made me feel much better. Although he couldn’t fix it while there, he set me up with the right hardware and people to save my data and work next steps. And he charged me $0. I left with a broken laptop — and happy.

After the meeting, I stopped at the Ontario Staples on the way home to pick up an interim laptop I purchased. Unfortunately, it turned out, it was in Ontario, Oregon; not Ontario, CA, but they were so helpful and made sure the LaVerne store was prepared for my arrival the next day that I felt good about my experience anyway. They even offered me free items for my trouble. Next, the LaVerne tech guy actually found the magic formula (that no one thought existed) and got my laptop working — same day, on a Sunday. More than the laptop help, they shined when it came to customer service. I will be back!

One tip to implement this week:

None of these folks were technically in customer service yet I will return to Staples because of their customer service. They were exceptional. They made me believe that my laptop troubles and helping me with my problem was their most important item of the day. Do you make your customers feel that way?

If you are in customer service, sales or an executive, you are on the front lines with your customers. Believe me, they always have a choice. Customer service will help you stand out from the crowd.

If you are in any other support position, you still have customers. For example, if you are in production, you probably have shipping and warehousing as your customers. If you are in production planning, customer service, operations and accounting are your customers. Everyone has customers. Do they want to work with you? This is certainly something where you can make an immediate impact. Think of how you want to be treated. What would stand out for you? Pass on the goodwill.

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…”