Lessons Learned from Failure

February 4th, 2012

Why do failures generate so much interest? Perhaps as students, we had it pounded into our heads that mistakes are bad – avoid failure at all costs. What can we learn from failure?

1. First, failure isn’t fatal – not only is failure not fatal but it also is critical to success. What?!? Yes, the only way to innovate is to try new things, which ensures failure somewhere down-the-line.

2. Leverage failure – If you’re going to fail, don’t hide under a bush! Instead, find out what happened so that you can leverage those lessons in your next attempt.

3. Ask questions – One of the best ways to discover the “small things” which are the difference between success and failure is to ask questions. Leverage the talent of your team, peers, and experts.

4. Leverage strengths – It might sound odd to look for strengths in failure but typically something went well, even if the task, project or experiment failed. See if there’s a way to better leverage your strengths.

5. Look for trends – As Edison failed countless times before his significant success, it is important to look for trends. Is there a trend of what’s working or what’s not working? Anything different or unique from one attempt to the next? Trends can be enlightening.

Top Strategies to Ensure Success in the New Year

January 31st, 2012

As we start the New Year, I thought it was worthwhile to discuss critical yet often overlooked blocking and tackling maneuvers that ensure success. As most are debating New Year’s resolutions and how to reengage after the holidays, why not get a leg up on the competition by excelling at what most know but do not use? Execution discipline.

Can you imagine your favorite football team going to the Super Bowl without practicing? Preposterous? Then, why do we think we can skip foundational elements of success? Instead, I find that those people and organizations that excel at the basics succeed every time. What are those top strategies that ensure success? 1) Organize. 2) Prioritize. 3) Plan & Execute.

1. Organize – There is no way to succeed if you don’t know what’s on your plate. You must organize! How will you find what you need when you need it? Have you categorized? For example, if my client has 1,000 customers, 200 suppliers, and 10,000 parts, how likely is it that something will be needed every day? Quite likely. And how likely is it that my client will be able to quickly understand how to find or where to look up information and/or whether it’s important to address quickly? It depends….how organized are they?
For example, are customers segregated by size, type, geography etc.? Does everyone know where to find notes on previous supplier meetings? Are part numbers segregated by product family, machine, customer, etc.? Organization doesn’t require rocket science but it does require thought.

2. Prioritize – Frequently, I’m finding that my clients could accelerate results simply by prioritizing. Not surprisingly, firefighting is common. After all, if an executive sees a fire break out (such as an angry, top customer or a demanding Board member), he or she will jump to put it out. The problem arises when we stay busy on a daily basis solely fighting fires.
Instead, we need to prioritize. I’ve been amazed as to how much progress I can help my clients achieve by assessing their situation and recommending priorities based upon what’s most critical to achieving the top company objectives.

For example, I helped a company who was struggling with a recently implemented ERP system to assess where to focus attention in order to rapidly restore service levels. Since there were thousands of issues to address (which can be common with system implementations), it became a real challenge for those fighting daily fires to climb out. In another example, I helped a company who struggled with lead times assess their supply chain network to determine which of the many potential process improvements to begin with in order to have the most significant and quickest impact.

3. Plan & Execute – Although vital to success, I find that my clients who do an effective job of organizing and prioritizing are twice as likely to have a playbook and are successful in achieving the touchdown when they need it. Yet the reminder is always welcome: Plan the work. Work the plan. As easy as these sounds, it is not often done. You can stand out in the crowd simply by developing a plan and executing the plan. Follow up and follow through.
I’ve consistently seen these top strategies “work”. They don’t require a degree from Harvard or vast resources and capital to implement. What’s holding you back from “blocking and tackling” in order to ensure success in the New Year?

What are the latest supply chain trends?

December 15th, 2011

How can we not only “get through” today’s new normal business environment but THRIVE? In my 20+ years of experience as both an Operations Executive and as an entrepreneur and business consultant who has worked with multiple companies ranging from start-ups to multi-billion dollar enterprises across varied industries and geographies, there are a few common keys to success. One of them is to leverage trends. Watch for key trends, spot changes or deviations and adjust and/or leverage these hidden opportunities – long before your competition even sees them coming.

Thus, my focus is on partnering with my clients to take advantage of this often overlooked strategy and deliver bottom line results. As I recently returned from speaking at and attending the Association of Operations Management (APICS) International Conference and had lengthy discussions with a book editor on these topics, I thought it was a good time to highlight the latest supply chain trends. The top few include: 1) Demand driven MRP. 2) Supply chain risk. 3) Supply chain sustainability. 3) Supply chain fundamentals.

1. Demand Driven MRP – A game changer! Let’s start with the basics – this is the new, fancy name for what I’ve always found to be the optimal yet often controversial solution for optimizing inventory planning results – reducing inventory levels, improving service levels, increasing operational efficiencies, reducing multi-level bill of material complexity, etc. It supports what is obvious to exceptional inventory planners – traditional planning methods don’t work (MRP). If that wasn’t bad enough, even the “latest and greatest” concepts don’t work: TOC (theory of constraints) and Lean.
Instead, demand driven MRP is a combination of MRP, Lean and TOC, and it “works”. Yet no system supports it fully, which is why it is often times extremely controversial. In my early days, I was thrown out of meetings and even roles for speaking a bit too loudly on this topic. Could I really be saying that I wanted to perform a critical function with Excel or Access (only utilizing system data) instead of fully utilizing a multi-million dollar system? I must be insane!

Imagine how excited I was when I saw a name and process put to what “works”! There’s no doubt – if you’re interested in results, use logic for inventory planning (demand driven MRP). My track record speaks for itself – consistent 50%+ reductions in inventory levels, dramatically improved service levels to the high 90%’s, improved operational efficiencies etc.

2. Supply chain risk – Supply chain risk has skyrocketed in the last several years. We’ve extended our supply chains. Gone global. Added complexity. Experienced natural disasters. Had conflicts (ports, wars, etc.). Suffered dramatic swings in currencies. Seen increased regulation. It has become a staggering effort to minimize and mitigate supply chain risk yet it’s vital to success. Those who figure out how to simplify profitably and mitigate supply chain risk will have the opportunity to leapfrog their competition in the new normal business environment.

3. Supply chain sustainability – My alma mater (UNC) is a leader in this field, which isn’t surprising as UNC is an innovator and ahead of the curve with leading-edge topics. Although I view much of this topic as common sense (again combining what makes sense of best practice manufacturing concepts, lean, green, etc.), there is an increased interest and heightened awareness in today’s new normal business environment as it achieves the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit.

4. Fundamentals – I typically stick with 3 core points; however, this one is too important to overlook – those companies who block and tackle better than their competition will outpace their competition and grow market share when everyone else struggles to remain flat – or even in business at all.

Think about how these trends impact your business. Since my brothers used to be heavily involved in ice hockey, one of my favorite analogies becomes applicable here: How can you skate to where the puck is going instead of skating to where it is?

Inventory Management Best Practices

December 8th, 2011

Does your company have effective inventory management policies? It can make a significant differences to not only your cash flow but also your customer service and productivity. I’ve worked with many businesses across multiple industries and geographies to implement best practices in inventory management. All-in-all, it boils down to a few keys to success. To hear more about these inventory managment strategies, listen to my video – click here.

How Do We Create a Customer Service Edge?

December 6th, 2011

In today’s new normal business environment, providing exceptional customer service is paramount as customer not only want “more for less” but they also will jump ship to who they can rely upon to deliver consistent, reliablye and exceptional customer service.

Check out my video on how to create a customer service edge. I discuss three strategies I’ve found successful in creating a customer service edge. Please watch it here.