To ensure a fruitful partnership with an Operations Consultant you choose to engage, it is important for all involved to be structured and disciplined in their approach. The process that a consultant will follow to help your organization find its optimal solution is much more detailed than will be discussed here, but the following guidelines will help get your project moving in the right direction.
1. Begin with Problem Definition
The specificity of the problem statement drives the scope of the consultant’s work and the setting of realistic expectations.
“We’re losing money” is a very broad, vague, and open-ended problem statement. Extensive research will be required to determine the technical and nontechnical causes before response plans can be crafted. If the organization does not have the capacity to conduct this research, a consultant can lead the effort, but the timeline for achieving results will be very different from a narrowly defined project.
“High defect rate on Line 4, Machine 3 is causing excessive scrap and rework costs and poor delivery performance that jeopardizes the ABC Corp. account,” in contrast, is a problem statement that prescribes the necessary focus areas. From this, preliminary action plans for technical and nontechnical issues can be generated immediately.
2. Prioritize Objectives
Improvement projects often involve multiple objectives that compete for resources or have other interdependencies that influence the sequence of tasks. These should be identified and accounted for in the project plan.
Consider two aspects of the previous example: (1) excessive scrap and rework costs, and (2) poor delivery performance. Should one take priority over the other, or should they be addressed simultaneously?
If you reduce the defect rate at the machine, both problems are solved, right?
Perhaps, but there is more to consider – the ABC Corp. account is in jeopardy!
Analysis and improvement of the offending equipment may be time-consuming; it may even require further interruption to the manufacturing process. Given this insight, the best approach may be the not-so-obvious one: first pursue improvements to delivery performance by alternate means, then tackle the malfunctioning equipment directly.
Continued operation of the wounded process may cause short-term pain, but losing an important customer account could be devastating. Careful consideration of the relevant issues could be the key to avoiding a Pyrrhic victory.
3. Identify No-Go Zones
A "No-Go Zone" is a restriction or prohibition of certain activities. No-Go Zones are often artificially created, but could also refer to any budgetary or regulatory restriction or any other legitimate limitation on the activities of a business.
Determine, in advance, what levers your organization is – and is not – willing and able to pull in order to address the issues identified. Some examples include:
Failure to adequately consider what options are and are not available to the organization may result in time and effort wasted developing a project plan that will be deemed unacceptable. Do not assume that the consultant is aware of the limitations on your project.
4. Assign a Responsible Individual
The consultant will likely need to interact with a number of people, collect data from various sources, etc. These efforts can become inefficient for the consultant and detrimental to the productivity of the organization if they are not well-coordinated. Ideally, the Operations Consultant will have a single primary contact inside the company – the Responsible Individual – that serves to streamline communication, facilitate information transfer, and manage internal resources required to achieve the chosen objectives. However, if the project spans divisions in the organizational structure, more than one Responsible Individual may be needed.
5. Set Appropriate Expectations
Much of the information required to clearly define expectations of the consultant and the internal team can be gathered by following the preceding guidelines. Some examples include:
Ambiguity and confusion often lead to conflict that damages the relationships necessary for a successful collaboration. Thus, they must be actively avoided.
6. Understand What Success “Looks Like”
The definition of success must be agreed upon at the outset, including the methods and metrics that will be used to confirm it. Appropriate targets (e.g. SMART goals) must be chosen in order for a project to be feasible.
A project can be managed exclusively by the final result pursued or by tracking intermediate goals. If intermediate goals are established, success should be defined, as described above, for each.
The allure of Operations Consulting is created by the vast array of scenarios one might encounter. All businesses are unique and, thus, require customized solutions. The six tips provided are intended to be thought-provoking, but cannot be expected to answer all questions that may arise.
If you would like help navigating a difficult course, feel free to contact me; I am available for co-pilot duties. Please choose an attractive destination!
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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