Posted tagged ‘Business Process Redesign’

Documenting Processes Create Opportunities

March 11, 2010

Documenting processes is typically a very good idea. Here are a couple of reasons.

(1) It clarifies what needs to be done in each process and allows you to eliminate unnecessary steps thereby increasing productivity and saving staff time and associated costs

(2) It is useful for training new staff; In fact the process flows can be part of an orientation program

(3) It allows the company to identify time consuming steps that would benefit from automation

(4) When selecting new software, it allows you to test the software in the context of what you actually do rather than the features of the software. In fact, the candidate software company can prove their mettle by showing where they add value by eliminating steps and improving workflow in addition to their features.

(5) If you are in a business that is heavily regulated, this documentation is typically prized and can be used as a sales tool to demonstrate the discipline in the business

As to how often they should be done and reviewed – and for the reasons noted above – I’d recommend that this be treated as living documentation and used regularly when making changes to the way work is performed, software created etc. This effort is only valuable if it becomes part of the company fabric and has a purpose.

I just completed a project where I managed the process flow analysis of a 300 person company and designed a software assessment process for them. I’d be happy to talk with anyone who wishes to discuss this further (david_blumenthal@msn.com)

Trends that You Should Worry About…

January 1, 2010

Lately, I have been “heads down” more than ever working with companies on redefining their strategies. In these conversations, I am often asked what surprises me the most. Here are a few observations.

The biggest surprise to me has been the pace at which whole industries have begun to disappear. As fast as one charts the list, another one needs to be added. The postal service, newspaper and magazine publishing, television, and retail stores are just a few.

Last week, I went into a high end department store to buy a present for a newly engaged couple. I went to the registry and met with the manager. She told me that 80% of the gifts for a couple is now purchased on line. This is good news for the retailer because it can pay less commission, as there is no sales rep involved in the purchasing transaction.

What was shocking to me was that manager told me that when an item is returned to the store, it gets applied as a negative sale to her commission. She is running harder just to stay in place. And the store is comfortable making her role obsolete.

Another recent trend that I find fascinating is the increasing need to create engines as opposed to creating businesses. Zappos is a great illustration of this process done well.

Zappos had become an Internet business legend, so to speak, for its ability to sell footwear. Its use of social media to promote and service its business is very well known.

In July, Amazon announced its intention to purchase Zappos. The deal closed in November.

Today, less than two months later, Zappos has transformed itself into a clothing site. The engine that it has designed and the practices that it has implemented are being used to allow it to enter a whole other segment of the clothing industry.

What does all this mean to you?

For starters, if you have been doing business in a traditional way, start rethinking your business model because your next competitor can come from anywhere.

Talented Rookies or Experienced Pros?

March 8, 2009

One of the ongoing debates in many organizations is whether to hire young, unproven talent and develop them or engage experienced, savvy but more highly salaried professionals. There is an answer, and of course, it is that it depends on the situation.

Personnel should always be hired based on the requirements of the job. Here are many of the factors to consider:

  • Is the work time sensitive?
  • Is the work very important and can mistakes be tolerated?
  • Is the work highly technical requiring an experienced mind?
  • Is the management talent available to guide and train less experienced staff?
  • Does the client for whom this work is being performed have an expectation that it will be performed correctly the very first time?
  • Will the individual performing the work have to exercise political savvy in performing the work?

You’ve no doubt noticed that one of the factors not included is cost. This is because it often costs more to have a less experienced and lower salaried person perform the work. Less experienced staff often will need to try multiple times to get it done correctly. Oftentimes, they will need management guidance every step of the way.

When I started my first company, Flash Creative Management, I thought that hiring bright, young people was the way to go. Flash was a service based business specializing in strategy development, business process redesign, and software development to support the client’s strategies and processes. My thinking was that I’d have a greater profit margin between what we would charge the client and what we were paying the staff.

Within a few years, it became very clear that for Flash, this was not the right approach. Our clients were willing to pay a premium dollar for important services done right the first time. And they wanted dramatic results.

Less skilled talent had lower salaries but the cost of rework, management time and – this is very important – the hit to the brand we were trying to develop — were significant.

When we shifted to more “expensive” and experienced staff, our business’ growth accelerated dramatically.

So “situationally” speaking —

If the work is either very important, highly technical or does not allow for errors or is time sensitive or requires political savvy, go for the proven and experienced talent. It will prove to be a very prudent approach that will save you money.

There is a place for young talent as well. They will perform very admirably in an environment where fresh ideas are required. However, it is equally important in order for them to be successful, that a nurturing and supportive environment that is comfortable with experimentation be in place. Management needs to be patient and be willing to guide and train extensively.

Managing by Priority

October 29, 2008

A little more than ten years ago, when I began to actively study business process redesign, I came across a book titled Managing by Priority: Thinking Strategically, Acting Effectively. The book’s author, Giorgio Merli, introduced me to a concept called time “horizons” and its role in decision making.

There are a number of ways to understand this concept. On a personnel level, think of it in terms of a typical departmental organization. A customer facing employee (sales reps, customer support staff) operate in an immediate time horizon. There job is to address whatever issue the client or prospect puts in front of them. A departmental manager typically has a longer time horizon. Their thoughts are more focused on a year or two down the road. A general corporate manger is focused typically on a three to five year plan.

From an initiative perspective, to be successful, a company has to effectively pursue objectives with three different time horizons (short, medium, and long) and at the same time manage emergency situations. If they are effective at doing so, the results of their efforts will be seen at different times.

Emergencies are typically problems to be solved or opportunities to be capitalized upon. A work stoppage or the ability to deliver a product or service caused by a “trigger” in the environment is a common example. Success rests on quick reaction times, improvisation and rapid deployment.

Short-term objectives are usually aimed at operational performance. Examples include issues related to quality, cost, processes, and financial results. Corporate leadership will typically frame these as annual objectives.

Medium-term objectives are those that concentrate on assuring that the business will still be competitive two to three years down the road. Leaders would focus on organizational capabilities after assessing where they think the competition will put the company at risk and market trends. Think new product development, retooling and significant technology improvements at this level.

The long-term objectives are more closely aligned with a five to ten year horizon. This point of view looks at where the company must be in terms of its organizational and cultural shape. It is for this reason that the word “vision” is commonly associated with long-term thinking.

If you look for it, you’ll find this pattern of time horizons appearing a lot and in places such as business process redesign, portfolio analysis and – you guessed it – strategy.

Does your mix of initiatives address all of these time horizons? More important, is your leadership team evaluating all of these time horizons when building your strategic plan?

How many business improvement initiatives can a company manage at any one time?

October 24, 2008

Operating a business in these challenging times is certainly not easy. In the last two posts, I introduced a number of strategies that make sense during an economic downturn. One of these strategies can best be classified as a sales strategy – that is, how to reignite opportunities that one would otherwise expect to stagnate when the economy is in difficult straits and businesses are adhering strongly to the philosophy of hoarding cash because “cash is king.”

The other strategy looked to the internal workings of a company and focused on how a company might best use underutilized resources that are suddenly available because sales are lagging. In this context, we discussed the development of best practices and the optimization of internal processes.

It is on this internal opportunity that I would like to discuss in today’s post.

The internal business process redesign discussion begs the question as to how many initiatives can a company manage at any given time. Is there an optimal number and if there isn’t, how does one determine how many initiatives are manageable so that business opportunities and the needs of clients continue to be addressed?

In all of my research and studies, I have yet to come across a discussion that addresses this particular question. To address this question, I will rely on my thirty years of experience as a CEO and consultant and share with you what I have learned from my experiences as a strategist.

To perform this analysis, one must:

  • Understand your company’s strategic goals
  • Define what tactics are required to support these strategic goals
  • Establish what each department must do to achieve the strategic goals
  • Determine the time and effort required by departmental staff to support the achievement of the core goals that essentially enable the company to deliver value and stay in business

What remains after performing this analysis is the amount of time available for personnel to address new improvement initiatives.

In other words, this analysis is predicated on assessing the company’s priorities and the core roles that must be fulfilled. After all, customer support personnel must perform their support function or the company risks client defections. Sales and relationship professionals must be engaging prospects and customers to assure growth. Accounting and internal support staff must make certain that the infrastructure exists so that the organization can run efficiently. These are the prime functions of these departments.

So is there an optimal amount or maximum number of initiatives a company can manage? As best as I can tell, the number of enterprise-wide initiatives that a company can swallow is typically between one and three. (Note added 11/09/08: Interestingly, several weeks after this post was written, the Obama Transition Team was enagged in a similar conversation and may have reached a similar conclusion.)

The reason that I believe this to be so is that I have concluded that most people have a difficulty managing more than five significant goals or projects simultaneously at any given time. And if one considers that the average person has two or three core functions for which he or she is accountable, this only leaves so much space for professional and organizational development without impacting the core responsibilities that each of us have.

Strategy and Action in Difficult Economic Times

October 12, 2008

We are living through unprecedented economic challenges. Arguably, never before has there been such an interconnected global economy and never before has there been such a crisis capable of impacting so many.

In recent days, I have spoken to many organizations that have placed expansion and purchases on hold. Leaders from these companies are attempting to stockpile their cash reserves so they can weather this financial storm. For the most part, they would like to retain the professional teams that they have invested in so heavily. At the same time, they would like their staff to continue to be focused, productive and valuable to the organization.

The challenge then is what to do during these times when sales are difficult to come by. Here are a couple of appropriate and meaningful actions to take.

One of the unique opportunities in a difficult economic climate is to perform an intellectual retooling of the business. Specifically, there are several areas to investigate.

First, now would be an excellent time to re-envision the new world that we are entering. Reassessing client needs within the context of the new environment may enable the business to identify new wants and even opportunities. Visiting key clients and collaborating with them will help to forge bonds and strengthen the relationship for any difficult times on the horizon.

Scenario planning is also critical at this juncture. Since we all operate in a competitive environment, it is appropriate to assess how competitors might be reacting to these trends and what steps they will take. Based on this analysis, your business might recognize a different type of opportunity. If the competition is downsizing or jettisoning an not-so-profitable business line, your business might be able to attract rare talent or capitalize on an area that might prove profitable to you.

The next opportunity is to look inward. During a downturn, staff is more open at looking at ways to streamline operations and reduce costs. Re-evaluating processes and the supply chain will allow your business to fortify itself for the inevitable opportunities that will present themselves.

The re-examination that you are undertaking is really a recognition that you control your own destiny.

What other worthwhile efforts that can be undertaken during these difficult times? Please share your thoughts.


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