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Batteries Not Included

April 25, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s nothing worse than waking up on Christmas morning, opening a shiny new toy but finding that you’re unable to play with it because your parents forgot to buy batteries for it?

Customers, supplier and managers are no different – they hate surprises. Customers want to know what they’ve purchased, when they’re going to get it, and how they’re going to use it. Any unexpected need for additional items leads to lower satisfaction.

Managers, Executives and Shareholders want to know the business forecast so that they can make the right investments in resources and deals. Deviating too far from the projections will cause heads to roll!

Suppliers and business partners also want predictability. This enables them to do their work or produce their goods on time and on budget; rush jobs, delays and rework all add unnecessary cost.

Preventing surprises means being able to do the same or similar activities in a repeatable manner such that the outcome is predictable. It doesn’t have to always be the same – stuff happens – just predictable. This predictability also has to be retained as the company grows, markets change or personnel rotate; It has to be sustainable.

Predictability, repeatability and sustainability all come from having a common approach or method to work performed, and supplying rapid access to the same information about the customer, product or market. The difference between having these capabilities and using these things is accountability.

A balance must also be struck between drivng consistent and repeatable work behaviors, and tolerating enough flexibility to allow the innovation that drives continual improvement. This requires a focus on what is produced rather than how it gets produced. Unfortunately all too often managers focus on the tasks and activities rather than the results.

My final point is to note that, just as batteries eventually run out and die, so do process improvement initiatives. New batteries must be installed – or at least recharged – at regular intervals in order to keep the machine operating well – unless it has a Permanent Means of Operating (PMO). Funny how that acronym keeps coming up in the context of sustainable results.

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Climb That Mountain

September 6, 2011 1 comment

While I normally like to come up with my own observations on the parallels between service delivery and otherwise irrelevant or random activities, I thought the post by Chris Taylor at www.bpmforreal.com titled “Business Process without blisters” was a valuable reference from here. As a former mountain climber and hiker myself, it echoes my own thinking well.

I particularly liked Chris’ metaphors about the need for shared responsibility & ownership, having informed and invested workers, and creating technology-enabled environments. You can find it here. Enjoy!

Expect The Unexpected

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

All plans will be wrong; the question is: by how much? – Claude Maley

Weather forecasts are notoriously wrong: 2 feet of show when they just called for a “dusting”, near drought conditions when they predicted high hurricane activity. Even record low temperatures despite knowledge of global “warming”.

The forecasters have become better in recent years, progressing from the basic Farmers’ Almanac to modern super-computer models. They have made particular progress with short-term forecasts based on radar and satellite data where the more variables and interactions they can model, the more data points they can capture, and the quicker they can recalculate and update the data, then the more dependable the forecast becomes.

Project plans are much the same. Even the best ones cannot hope to capture all the possible variables and future actions that could impact the plan, and the further out in time the plans go, the greater the chance for error. However that’s no excuse to start with a blank sheet of paper, or fit the entire 18-month plan on to a bar napkin, either. Good project planning eventually comes down to good knowledge management: To be able to create a complete plan without having to re-discover all the best practices and mistakes of the past.

Best practices should be universal, and mistakes should be unique

This requires maintaining and updating some form of template project plan that includes the cumulative learning from all earlier projects. Include all the facts that are known; when the answers aren’t known, include a checklist of questions to ask to determine the facts; and state all assumptions as facts that can then be verified or corrected. The more you can include, the less chance for misunderstanding or error.

But still be ready to discover new things that have not happened before and that nobody expected.

A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next weekGeorge S. Patton

There is, however, a trade-off to be made between spending large amounts of time capturing every activity in great detail and assessing as many possible risks and outcomes as possible, and getting the plan underway. Avoid trying to create a “prefect” plan. The law of diminishing returns rules those plans. Instead, recognize that your plan is going to be wrong in some way, and be ready to change the plan as you go along to accommodate those imperfections. Just remember to “pay it forward” and record those adaptations either as best practices or mistakes to be avoided.

If you can do all that, I predict you will have a bright future. Maybe.