Lesson Learned #28
Twenty years ago, very few consulting firms wanted to implement their recommendations. This was seen as somehow "pedestrian." Since then, Y2K and various ERP system advances have pushed many IT-based consulting firms into actually implementing their IT systems. In addition, clients have become more demanding of actual measurable results. These changes have made implementation a buzzword in the consulting industry. But what exactly does "implementation" mean?
Over the past two decades, we have seen and worked with most MRP, ERP, CRM, SCM and whatever other three-letter acronym systems have been developed. Here is what we've learned: Most of the systems mentioned were cleverly designed and programmed. They were obviously developed by very smart people, who knew their particular area of expertise very well. And none of them worked the way they were designed.
All the systems mentioned are fundamentally "scheduling" systems. They are designed to help a company match and balance its resources to demand. When companies "implement" new systems, they physically install the hardware and train people to use the software. Where implementations of these kinds almost always fail is that they don't help improve scheduling. The primary reason is that they take corrupt data from the old system and "cut it over" into the new system. The issues are always the same: the standards are not trusted or up to date; infinite capacity planning is used to "cheat" the system; schedules are manually overwritten, planning parameters, such as supplier lead times, are simply system defaults; not all the necessary system components are installed, etc. All too often, the net result is a very expensive data storage system of still-corrupt data. A potentially bigger problem is that sometimes systems, over time, "dumb down" an organization and become a mysterious black box of how the company works. People can lose sight of the original intent of the system.
So how do you define implementation? The simplest way to determine when something is actually implemented is when management use and trust the information that is provided to make day-to-day decisions on how to use their resources; the base data from which the system derives its intelligence is accurate and the conversion logic is up-to-date; managers don't have work-arounds, hot lists, and separate forecasts.
Lesson Learned #27
When we do studies in an area, the primary purpose at the highest level is to separate the value-added time from the non-value-added time. We define non-value-added as time that a supplier spends doing something that a customer wouldn't want to pay for if he or she knew about it, such as reworking a product because it was made incorrectly the first time; or fixing errors made somewhere upstream in the process; or simply idle time when there isn't enough work to keep everybody busy. We use colors to illustrate the separation: green for the value-added time (which is "good" time); and red for the non-value-added time ("bad" time). It's a simple device that is extremely effective for making the point – except for one occasion, when a client failed to see the distinction. After a somewhat confusing debate. we learned he was color-blind.
The green time is processing time. The red time is down time or "waste" in lean vernacular. Both green time and red time can be improved, but we've learned that it's harder to fix the green time. Fixing the green time means taking an existing process and reconfiguring it so that it is more productive. This is what "re-engingeering" was all about, and why it struggled to be more than just a fad that bridged TQM and Six Sigma. Re-engineering advocated starting with a blank sheet and re-thinking how a process should work. The trouble with this approach is that it often leads to changes in equipment or technology, which can be expensive and is often a slow-decision process for many companies. Attacking the red time is a better place to start for a number of reasons. Attacking the red time is more immediate and means fixing some of the existing operating problems that people cope with or have to work around. Or it means tightening the scheduling of an area to better match volumes to resources, and so incur less idle or down time. The one major obstacle for fixing red time, and the chief reason much of it exists in the first place, is that many operating problems have their roots somewhere in an upstream process, which may be outside the control of the functional department with the actual problem.
But if you can get different functions working together, fixing red time is typically much more immediate, and easier to implement because it fixes problems for people.
Lesson Learned #26
The two founding partners of Carpedia first met while working on a project in a potash mine. Each morning at 7:00 a.m., they would travel underground about 3,000 feet, (roughly two times the height of the Empire State Building). Over a number of months they learned many interesting things about living underground. For example: although it was winter and icy cold on the surface, it was about 80F in the mine. This was caused by the frictional heat created by gradually shifting earth (a somewhat unsettling fact of life in these particular soft-rock potash mines).
This is also where they learned why miners carry their sandwiches in metal lunch pails. One of the consultants on the project innocently asked this question one day after noticing none of the consultants had metal lunch pails, while all the miners did. A burly, seasoned miner looked down at him and patiently explained that if you don't use a metal pail of some kind, the stope rats will eventually steal your lunch. A stope, incidentally, is the open space left behind after the extraction of ore in an underground mine.
So the next day the consultants all showed up the next day with brand-new metal lunch pails (a few tried to intentionally scuff the surface to reduce the shiny glare). One of the things you learn as a consultant is to fit in. You may never be mistaken for a seasoned miner, but you also never want to be mistaken for someone who can't adapt to their environment. You try to subtly find out how to dress, how to act, and even how to speak (every industry has its own mysterious jargon). This allows you to gain both social credibility and assume a certain humility, so you can minimize the anxiety and distrust some people naturally have for "outsiders." And besides, tales of stope rats would cause anyone to adjust their daily habits.
On seeing this, the miners nearly fell over backwards laughing. It was a full two or three weeks later that the consultants learned that the miners weren't laughing at the shiny lunch pails. They were laughing because there was no such thing as "stope rats." The lesson learned? There are probably a few here, but certainly it's not a bad idea to check your facts before implementing changes.
Maxim # 7
You can't implement from the office
"You can't implement from the office" is one of our less creative maxims but it is also one of the more important ones as far as implementing change goes. It simply means you will never be effective at getting people to change their behaviors if you don't get out of the office and work directly with them. This is as important for us (Carpedia) as consultants as it is for leaders in any organization.
Technology is a wonderful tool in many circumstances but it can also be a dangerous distraction. People can too easily get buried behind a computer screen and forget the value of human interaction. When we chose to differentiate Carpedia based on implementing actual results (rather than creating reports like many consulting firms), we also committed ourselves to the need to convince managers and employees to do things slightly differently.
The only way to get people to do things differently is to experience their world from their perspective, so that you can understand the differences between real and artificial barriers. You have to remove some of these barriers in order for people to be comfortable with change. These barriers can include breakdowns in communication or work flow, getting different functional areas to work together, or conflicting objectives. You also have to carefully separate reality from perception, and chronic issues from anecdotes. All these things happen out on the floor. None of these things happen in an office. Office work is necessary to support change but it never drives it. To get change installed, the people doing the work need to be engaged and involved in the development of new methods.
The current television show “Undercover Boss” illustrates the power of observing the world through your employees point-of-view. By getting out of their offices and onto the front lines, executives of high profile companies learn first hand that even though a policy or procedure may be written, it doesn’t mean it’s being followed.
So, here’s your mission. When you’ve finished reading this post, leave your office and go for a walk. Do what we call a "where abouts" snapshot. Walk around your office or plant and simply make a note of where your managers physically are. Are they in their office or out with their direct reports? (You can keep a running tally for a few days if you want a broader sampling). From your observations try to get a feel for whether or not your management is spending enough time supporting employees.
Unfortunately there is no one-size fits all answer, different functional areas and different industries require different behavior models. But if too many of your managers are closed in an office or behind a computer, it usually indicates either a training, systems or management behavior problem.
Maxim # 5
The Devil is in the details
This maxim is both a general guideline and a warning. The general guideline is to make sure you don't treat issues superficially, that you dig into the details to make sure you really understand the problem and that the solution makes sense. The reference to the "Devil" is the warning. Many otherwise brilliant solutions and strategies have been wrecked by details that surface in either the presentation of the solution or worse, during the implementation.
As you are successful in business you get promoted to higher levels in your organization. Each level takes you a step further away from the details of the issue. There is sometimes conflicting pressure to stay in the details but also delegate responsibility to others you manage. Getting into the details of an issue is hard work and it is tempting to take the easy road and stay at the bigger picture level. Also knowing which details are important, and when to dig into them is difficult and usually takes experience.
At Carpedia we find this maxim particularly important because we implement changes. Implementing change is like learning a golf swing. What looks relatively simple is actually extraordinarily complex in practice. If we don't take account of the myriad details, we can find logical solutions simply aren't effective when put in place. When solutions don't work, it's almost always some kind of important detail that has been overlooked.
"An executive cannot gradually dismiss details. Business is made up of details and I notice that the chief executive who dismisses them is quite likely to dismiss his business. Success is the sum of detail. It might perhaps be pleasing to imagine oneself beyond detail and engaged only in great things, but as I have often observed, if one attends only to great things and lets the little things pass the great things become little; that is, the business shrinks. It is not possible for an executive to hold himself aloof from anything."
- Harvey S. Firestone (Founder of Firestone Tire Company)
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