By Steve Roderick, Assistant Vice President
If You Want To Make An Omelette, You Have To Break Some Eggs
In the first installment of “How to Fix Anything,” we established that few things, if any at all, are really perfect. That goes for life in general as well as business and industry. We also revealed in Part One that in order to fix anything, we must first identify, very specifically, what our issues are from the standpoint of the end-user or target market. For this discussion, let’s assume that we have taken a step back and really looked at things from their point of view, realizing that our problems aren’t necessarily the same as theirs.
For Part Two, we will discuss actually breaking down issues more literally. It’s time to take things apart. You can’t fix anything without taking it apart first.
After careful consideration, you have determined that your product is top shelf, pricing is competitive, and customer service is on point. However, delivery of services comes in too close to deadlines for the comfort of your clientele. What can we do to fix it? We dissect the process by which we are conducting business.
The Drawing Board
The easy answer would be to adjust lead times, thereby adjusting the customers’ expectations and prevent disappointment. Draw it out: I bet someone else can get the goods to them sooner and win that business. No good.
How about we hire extra people to expedite the orders or have more billable hours available each billing cycle? That might work, but can we sustain the costs incurred with new hiring and training new staff until we are back in the plus? Maybe.
What if we update our online presence with hopes of streamlining the order process? Good answer, but now we have to play catch-up on the back side to cope with the incoming rate of orders. Remember, the end user really doesn’t care what our issues are. They simply want to be serviced.
Disassemble Johnny 5
How do you “take apart” a problem, metaphorically speaking? It’s really not that different from taking apart a tangible item, like a dishwasher or an engine. If you have worked on it before, it comes apart very easily, and you know exactly the order to remove all of the pieces. If the problem has just been identified, however, there will be some trial and error. It’s a good practice to try this out on paper first and take an educated guess as to what happens.
A great way to start is to draw out the process in question on a calendar, from start to finish. Plot each part as it exists today, from conception to completion, from the view of the end user. Conception would be when end users start thinking that they need your product/service, and completion would be after you have left the picture entirely and that transaction is final. You will probably find that there is a lot of empty space on the calendar between the functions of your process, and that’s okay, for now.
We Are Going to Need a Bigger Boat
Rather than throwing all of our screws, nuts, and bolts into a coffee can as we disassemble, let’s organize them in such a way that we can see where each one belongs for reassembly. Carburetors have many small bits and pieces, and a great mechanic’s trick is to use an old muffin pan to sort the parts as they come off. But how do we put real-world problems in a muffin pan? We are going to need a bigger muffin pan.
Let’s take our calendar (coffee can) and drill it down to a more organized, usable format where we can easily make changes, move things around, and experiment, without losing any of our parts (nuts and bolts). Where are we going to find a muffin pan that will fit all of our conceptual pieces of this process? Earlier, we determined that our delivery of services comes in too close to deadlines, making our clientele uneasy. We need a simple, visual, specific summary of our process, from start to finish, grouped in order, which can easily be manipulated. We need a timeline. That’s our muffin pan. Almost sounds too easy.