Given the amount of time people spend in meetings, organizations expend shockingly little effort to ensure that these meetings have value. Rarely is an employee – much less a volunteer – provided any formal instruction on leading or participating in meetings; most of us learn by observing the behavior of others. The low probability that those around us have been trained in optimal meeting practices renders this exercise equivalent to “the blind leading the blind.” The nature of these meetings is more likely to demonstrate the power structure of the organization than proper protocols.
Typical meetings suffer from a raft of problems that render them inefficient or ineffective. That is, they range from a moderate waste of time, while accomplishing something, to a total waste of time that accomplishes nothing. This need not be the case, however. Though an immediate overhaul may be an unrealistic expectation, incremental changes can be made to the way meetings are conducted, progressively increasing their value and developing a more efficient organization.
Companies, universities, athletes, hospitals and physicians, municipalities, and any other entity that can be compared in any way often claim to be “world-class.” Is this a quantitative or qualitative assessment? Can “world-class” be objectively determined, or is it subject to the biases inherent to the assessor? Does it mean, simply, that the entity – whatever type it may be – is “good enough?”
The first definition of world-class on Dictionary.com is “ranking among the world’s best; outstanding.” This sounds like a grand achievement and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, it is completely meaningless.
The ability to formulate relevant, probing, often open-ended questions and present them at opportune times to appropriate individuals is incredibly valuable. Honing this skill will secure your reputation as a thought leader among product development, process development, or other project team members.
Many laud those who seem to have “all the answers,” but to what questions? Solving problems in your business is not a trivia game; having all the answers to questions that do not expose the underlying causes of issues or reveal improvement opportunities is of little value to your team. In most cases, it is much easier to find an answer to a question than it is to construct a question in such a way that maximizes the value of the answer.
Many manufacturing and service companies succumb to competitive pressure by embarking on misguided cost-reduction efforts, failing to take a holistic approach. To be clear, lean is the way to be; lean is not the same as cost reduction. Successful cost-reduction efforts consider the entire enterprise, the entire product life cycle, and, most importantly, the effects that changes will make on customers.
Though it is a significant departure from the usual content, the poem below (don’t worry, it’s not a JayWink original!) seemed an appropriate contribution to this blog. It explains, in part, the purpose of “The Third Degree” – my attempt to “build a bridge” or “illuminate a path” for others to benefit from my experience.
That is not meant to suggest that the “bridges” built here will not sway in the wind; it is not my goal to provide “all the answers.” Capturing all possible variables and nuance that one may encounter is an unrealistic expectation. Instead, I strive to inspire relevant questions – the genesis of real learning.
“The Third Degree” is also an expression of gratitude to other “bridge-builders” – those that came before me, easing my “crossings,” those that work alongside me, and those I have yet to encounter. Finally, as does the old man in the poem, I hope to set an example that inspires others to build bridges along their own paths.
Enjoy “The Bridge Builder.”
To sustain successful operations, projects should be undertaken in an efficient and transparent manner. Efficiency improves the affordability of projects, increasing opportunities for growth. Transparency allows a broader range of input to refine a project plan, lowers resistance to change, and increases the probability of success.
The six steps below outline a process that can be used to ensure efficiency and transparency in operations projects. With each new initiative launched, these steps should be refined, applying experience gained in previous projects, to tune the process to the dynamics of your organization. After a few iterations, creating and implementing optimal solutions will begin to feel natural, and anything less, anathema.
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading 4 Characteristics of an Optimal Solution before proceeding to the six steps. As each step is executed, bear in mind how the activities described aid in achieving the four characteristics desired. If activity begins to stray from the process goals, reassess and adjust the tasks, participants, objectives, and evaluation methods to reestablish and maintain alignment.
In order to implement an optimal solution to your company’s product development, capacity expansion, cost reduction, continuous improvement, or other project objective, your project team must be able to evaluate alternatives on four key qualitative measures. Each qualitative evaluation is informed by quantitative and pseudo-quantitative measures and other qualitative judgments that will vary by project and objective. Interpretation of these measures is required to reach logical conclusions regarding the optimality of proposed solutions.
Upon completion of the initial evaluations of alternatives, there may be no clear winner, one determined to be best in all aspects. In this situation, another round of evaluation must be conducted to determine the best trade-off of benefits to pursue. It is imperative that the project team consider the potential motivations of influencers; interpersonal conflicts, personal agendas, or other “office politics” can provide perverse incentives that jeopardize the team’s success. Focusing on the merits of each alternative will limit undue influence on the final decision, providing maximum benefit to the company, its employees, and its customers.
Particularly prevalent among project evaluation shortcuts is to simply look for the alternative with the lowest initial cost. Unfortunately, that number is often misleading, misunderstood, or misquoted. Confidence in the accuracy of cost estimates is important, but initial cost remains but one criterion among many.
Four characteristics that form the basis for selection of optimal solutions are outlined in the following sections.
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.
The situations that warrant engaging an Operations Consultant are too numerous, and too varied, to ever hope to describe them all in any detail. Some are purely technical, while others involve less-concrete concerns inherent in group dynamics. Some require a response to a short-term crisis, or disaster recovery, while others require the development of a long-term strategy. Some will magnify the challenges by involving multiple levels of management and various groups, internal and external to the organization. These groups may be geographically distant and culturally disparate. They will likely have differing responsibilities, motivations, and levels of autonomy.
While not comprehensive, the preceding should give one a sense of how many “moving parts” could be present in any planning or decision-making process or project execution. The following 7 Reasons to Hire an Operations Consultant is intended to facilitate focus amid such chaos. It can be used to help formulate your thoughts on the situation you face, define your needs, and facilitate preliminary communications with an Operations Consultant.
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