Where do we start the change efforts to fix the processes? First, we have to identify the problem with some analysis––careful, considerate, objective, dispassionate analysis. The only way to accomplish this is to be self-reflective; avoid reflexively and aggressively going after your internal supplier on the front end or your internal customer on the back end. Most everyone in any company is accustomed to working within their silo or department and looking for efficiencies within their area. You will rarely find that managers and operational people are looking for efficiencies that relate to their internal supplier or internal customer—the departments on either side of their silo. They are not typically attuned to how the particular processes within their silo or department impact the end result. In other words, mangers within a silo are simply looking to drive out costs or to make things move faster within their own particular purview.
Only after we examine intention to retention within our own silo will we have any chance to understand how we might change the activities within a specific silo and determine appropriate suggestions for our internal supplier or customer. This is the point at which an outside consultant may be useful to you, someone not deterred by politics and agenda, and who can democratically and sympathetically look at the SIPOC within each silo and communicate ideas in a nonthreatening way. The problem in proceeding without outside assistance is that as soon as you confront somebody in another silo about what they are doing, they are going to get defensive. It is just a natural human reaction. I’m not saying it is impossible to do without an outside consultant, but it does require a little more creativity and a willingness to slow down, to spend time building a relationship and a decent level of trust. Otherwise, your efforts will be counterproductive, and you just put the other silo on the defensive.
A consultant is not the magic pill; any time a consultant comes in, some people will automatically get defensive. Typically, when there’s a consultant hired, it is interpreted to mean that someone higher up the in the company believes there is a need for change, and obviously they are serious about it because they have brought people in from outside. That is a bit threatening, but if you hire the right consultant, it doesn’t need to be.
The next step is to engage in a purposeful conversation with clearly outlined goals for the betterment of everyone, meaning the company in general, which will also impact the company’s external customers. Next, conduct an analysis of all stakeholders in the target silo. This is where a consultant can come in and assess, in a nonjudgmental way, the stakeholder group and see who is going to be receptive, who is going to be protective or defensive, and who is going to be an obstructionist.
It has often been observed that there are three levels of personality types: those that watch things happen, those that make things happen, and those who wonder what’s happening. This last group doesn’t seek to understand what’s going on but will do their best to shut everything down because they don’t like change. They don’t spend the time to evaluate whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. The attitude is, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Everybody will deny they ever had that thought, but they’re kidding themselves. It is just basic human nature—“new and different” is scary.
Pick your partners and your battles: Who is going to be easiest to work with? It is not usually who you think. If you are doing this internally, you might assume, “I’ve known Lynne over in my supplier silo for a long time. We’ve gone to conferences, and we have a good relationship.” That might be a good place to start, but do not assume this new interaction will be more fruitful because of that relationship. The change effort that we’re talking about here may require less of a social awareness of one another and more a business respect level, along with a congruence around the idea of change for the betterment of the two silos and, ultimately, the external customer. If you can find the later, professional alignment, as well as personal alignment, you can make magic, we have all been on or seen what a great team can accomplish—regardless of talent.
Since Robert Kaplan and David Norton popularized the “balanced scorecard” approach to managing business performance in 1996, senior executives have eagerly embraced its prescription for measurable objectives and key performance indicators as the answer to all business problems. At the top of the pyramid, enlightened corporate leaders understand the need for strategic direction and solid KPIs that demonstrate progress toward strategic goals,
facilitated by comprehensive business intelligence. But too often, the connection isn’t made between “big picture” strategy and the activities of front-line employees further down the pyramid.
Today, corporate leaders live by robust sets of metrics that track their contributions to profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee retention. Their employees likewise focus on their individual numbers for sales, customer response time, and professional development. Unfortunately, because they may not really understand the relationship between their daily performance and their company’s strategic direction, much can get lost in translation. Widely disseminated business intelligence can be the missing link.
Strategy vs. Metrics
In a cable company call center, for example, customer care agents pay close attention to statistics like time spent with each customer and the abandon rate for incoming calls. These metrics are factors in a company-wide strategic pursuit of happier, more loyal customers. But without business intelligence that illustrates the relationship between customer loyalty strategy and call center metrics, progress can stall. Even the most conscientious employee may rush a customer call to meet a time target, ultimately damaging the relationship that is the core of business success. Business intelligence helps all employees see both the forest and the trees.
Your Business Intelligence Advisor/Knowledge Broker
For many companies, the most effective way to bridge the divide between the top and bottom of the organization chart is with assistance from an independent business intelligence advisor skilled in communicating with people at all professional levels. An objective consultant can bring a fresh set of eyes to longstanding issues, acting as a knowledge broker between the executive suite and employees in the field. The resulting business intelligence tools will give everybody the information they need to improve. Look for an advisor who understands business performance and the technical tools available to resolve issues, and who is experienced in breaking down organizational barriers of culture, resources and education.
Share the Wealth: Business Intelligence for All
Limiting your view of business intelligence to performance measurement will limit its impact. Executives are often nervous about distributing corporate-level data such as risk management and financial reports too broadly. While there may be legitimate reasons for such concerns, they should be weighed against the value of building the most well-informed workforce possible. An organization’s leaders know what happened and when, but the people with first-hand knowledge of why it happened are usually in field offices. Making your organization’s business intelligence widely available at all levels lets the C-suite learn from the field and vice versa. Isolating information limits your company’s ability to get smarter.
In the continuously evolving world of business, perfection is a moving target. Companies design processes to provide services, manufacture products, or deliver on promises to customers efficiently and effectively, within time and budget constraints. But in just the time between process design and implementation, the marketplace changes. Keep business optimization in mind to keep your organization moving forward.
It’s a virtual certainty that there’s room for improvement in even the most elegant process or system. Don’t rest on your laurels when it looks like things are humming along. Instead, to optimize business, examine the data and metrics you’ve gathered and see how your company is performing against expectations and against industry peers. With an open mind and expert guidance, you’ll find opportunities that can transform the organization.
Establish Business Optimization Goals
Ultimately, every company should seek greater customer satisfaction. A business optimization effort designed to increase customer satisfaction will increase your competitive advantage and may allow you to enter new markets. Of course, increased profitability is an eternal goal for any business. By continuously improving existing processes, a business optimization project can reduce costs, reduce defects, improve productivity, or increase revenues for a demonstrable return on investment.
Select Business Optimization Opportunities
As you pursue growth and improvement, the smartest first step is to engage a seasoned business optimization adviser. Your adviser’s objectivity and expertise will help you identify high-impact opportunities. Draw on your business intelligence – a combination of company key performance indicators, performance compared to your industry, and what you learn every day from customers. Work with your adviser to analyze this data annually with find high-potential, cross-functional areas for improvement that aligns with your long-term strategic goals.
Ensure Business Optimization Success
Business optimization begins with the right people and the right methodology. Your trusted advisor will help analyze your situation and identify improvement opportunities, but that shouldn’t be the end of the engagement. Maintain a consultative relationship between the advisor and the internal employees who developed the process that will be improved, and who will carry the business optimization forward.
Once you’ve identified the project, pursue business optimization by applying a systematic approach using the appropriate methodology. Six-sigma projects achieve long-term defect reduction where the final outcome may be unknown. Other opportunities may call for a more direct or immediate approach.
Gathering the right business optimization team is a critical piece of the puzzle. Seek out subject matter experts on the processes that will be addressed. Your team should be a blend of people with open minds who will consider alternative solutions, along with devil’s advocates who will keep the group grounded.
Be sure to establish controls in the project that will allow you to demonstrate improvement. Whether your investment is just the team’s time, or the significant expense of a new automated system, you must prove a return on that investment. Incorporate controls that will point out the project’s impact on business metrics such as increased productivity, reduced cost, or greater customer satisfaction. Proper controls will allow you to monitor progress along the way and make adjustments if needed. Ultimately, these controls will prove business optimization results, whether that means getting an under-performing organization up to target, or moving from satisfactory performance to an industry leadership position.
Finally, celebrate success. Business optimization is a time-consuming effort that deserves recognition. Honor the people involved and their achievements. In addition to raising team morale, you’ll build enthusiasm for the current successful project, and for future business optimization efforts.
Business Optimization, Customer Satisfaction & ROI – by Lucile Williams, Six Sigma Master Black Belt
You may have poured the champagne and toasted your new project launch, but that doesn’t mean the project management process is finished. Celebration is certainly appropriate at this point. But don’t forget to follow up the festivities with a thoughtful and thorough review.
Experienced project managers are familiar with the impulse to move on to the next assignment when a project is completed. Stakeholders may see a project management review as unnecessary or low-impact. As a result, the review may be done hastily or not at all. In fact, an effective post-mortem will have tremendous impact on the organization’s ability to improve. Project management is a process of continuous learnng and modification. A
fundamental understanding of your success factors and the bumps in the road that may have compromised the project is essential to making better decisions the next time around. It’s the difference between doing the same thing that led you astray before, and taking a more effective path when you’re confronted with a similar decision.
It’s almost as bad to conduct a project management review and then file the results away, never to be seen again, or hand the results over to the project manager with no follow-up action plan. Effective project management depends on gathering information and putting that information to use.
Work with your project manager on the following steps to get the greatest benefit from your project management review:
Step 1: Gather input
Be sure to conduct a 360-degree review, gathering input from all affected parties in the organization. Talk to the software developers, project managers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts, as well as end users and those responsible for communication and change management. Ask for their perspective on what went right and what went wrong in the project management process.
Step 2: Assign responsibility and create individual action items
Were there problems in development, project management, or communication? What will the responsible parties do differently next time? The purpose is not to assign blame, but to improve. Look to the best practitioners of after-action reporting: the U.S. military. Military leaders review and prepare a factual account of what went right and wrong, and then integrate the results into future strategy and training. They understand full well that this follow-up can literally be a matter of life and death. Lives may not hang in the balance at your company, but effective project management review can certainly affect employees, customers, and investors.
Step 3: Share information
After individual action plans are established, follow up to make sure the knowledge and plans are communicated to everyone involved. Your best efforts won’t stick unless information is driven down to the grass-roots level. See that individual project management information becomes tribal knowledge.
Step 4: Review periodically
Make sure that the fixes were implemented and that they really worked. Keep following up as the project becomes standard practice. By all means, celebrate the completion of your project. But as you’re celebrating, keep in mind that the opportunity to review and improve is never really done.