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2013

09262013_8-tips_for_overloaded_pms.jpgDo you sit in project meetings? Develop strategic supply chain project management plans? Report to executives or board members? Track results? I’d bet if I tracked the time of 10 supply chain managers on any day of the week, at least 8 of the 10 would have some sort of involvement in a project for at least part of the day. For most of my business consulting clients, it would be 9 out of 10. So, as an overloaded manager, why not think about a few tips to stand out from the crowd?


1. Start with the objective: Before getting bogged down in the full details of a project, take a step back and think about the objective. Does it make sense? Does it align with the organization’s objectives? If not, why waste time? Can you clearly articulate the objective to the project team? If not, find out more. Don’t start down a path without fully understanding where you’re going or why.


2. Who do you have on your project team? There is no point in jumping into timelines and task details if you have the “wrong people on the bus.” Do you have the best project team members? If the best team members are too busy, how do their priorities stack up against the project’s objective and its importance to the company? Have you thought about who will help achieve the project objectives quickest? Most effectively? How can you best build your team?


3. Dedicate time to kicking off on the right foot: What could be a bigger waste of time than wandering around aimlessly at the beginning of a key project? Often times, it is essential to kick the project off with the “right” people, the “right” communication and with the “right” clarity. For example, I’ve been working with a key client who has been through significant organizational change. The quickest way to ensure zero results is to kick off a project amidst chaos without clearly articulating why this project will be different – and in a way that will resonate with the project team.


4. Develop critical path timelines: Don’t waste all sorts of time on complex, detailed project plans that no one can figure out how to follow or track. Instead, strive for simplicity – which tasks are key to success? What order should they go in? Is one step required before another can start? Which require critical resources? Focus exclusively on the critical path timeline, and the rest will follow.


5. Begin: Often, what should be the easiest becomes the roadblock. Find a way to begin quickly. Don’t let potential roadblocks and issues hold you up from a key project. Find a way to start to make progress. Once you’ve started, the pieces will start to fall into place as the project gains momentum.


6. Aggressively work roadblocks: As project manager, one of the keys to success is to aggressively remove roadblocks. It might not be the most pleasant task; however, it is what will make the difference between success and failure. In today’s new normal business environment, time is of the essence. No one has time to wait for results. Instead, those who are a day quicker in lead time or a few hours faster in returning key customer calls will leave the competition in the dust. You’ll stand out in the crowd by focusing attention on what the others prefer to avoid – roadblocks.


7. Track progress: Do you know if your project is on schedule? Do you know what you can do to accelerate the pace of progress? Do you know which critical path tasks are coming up? Are the task owners ready? Find out! Publish and publicize.


8. Celebrate successes and address issues: Those who focus on the basic building blocks of success will thrive in today’s environment. Often, I find my clients are tempted to get lost in complexity. Instead, go back to the basics. If you see a task owner struggling, go talk with them immediately. Offer support. Provide constructive feedback. Hold them accountable. Bring in additional resources. Don’t wait until you have an issue. Be on top of potential issues. And, just as quickly as you address potential issues, be even faster to celebrate successes. Recognize progress. Appreciate a team member for taking action.

 

Delivering project results is vital to company success in today’s new normal business environment. Follow these essential tips to make sure you are one of the few to consistently deliver bottom line results.

09242013_The Critical Importance of Design_1st.jpgI find that supply chain design is often undervalued. We seem to blindly follow systems and business processes handed down from our information technology departments and resources, but do we take the time to think through design? Purchasing, logistics, and ERP systems are considered big-ticket items for most companies. Why would we leave design to chance, and not fully leverage our investment?


If you are upgrading or implementing a new software system, start thinking about design prior to implementing - you cannot start too soon. My best clients ask for their processes to be reviewed, documented, and improved upfront. This way, the clients are familiar with the processes, and can better sync up their system and process design to deliver results. Even more importantly, those clients typically have a much smoother implementation - less customer disruption, less cost, less confusion.


If you are not upgrading or implementing, do not despair! Anytime you make a commitment to design, you'll gain a benefit. Start by asking your employees about what is working and not working. Listen to their feedback. Review configuration options of the software. Get familiar with the functionality and business needs. Join user communities. Ask for ideas. Develop plans for design improvement. Significant results can be achieved without significant investment.


For example, one of my clients wanted to bring inventory levels down to free up cash without affecting service levels. We reviewed the people, process, and systems. There were opportunities to re-design aspects of each - within 6 months, the re-configured and re-allocated people, process, and system was able to deliver a 30% reduction in inventory.

 

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Lean I.T.

leadership032013.jpgNo matter the client, I'm continually reminded of the critical importance of leadership. If you have to choose between leadership skills and prior work experience / technical skills, undoubtedly, leadership skills must win the day. My clients with exceptional leaders outperform the rest - every time.

So, what could be more important than discussing leadership essentials? In my 20+ years of experience as an entrepreneur, business consultant and business executive (and thanks to my HR mentor), I've uncovered the top leadership essentials required for long-term success. 1) Integrity. 2) Vision. 3) Communication. 4) Performance management.


1. Integrity - It's vital to start with integrity. Without integrity, none of the other essentials matter. A year or two ago, I did a survey of a dozen business executives on keys to success. I was surprised that every successful executive included integrity on the list. You don't typically see this in popular business books or discussed at conferences yet it was one of the only essentials in common among the best leaders. Take note of the importance as there is no way to "train" or provide experiences to build integrity.


2. Vision - People follow those with vision. Enough said. How do you know if someone has vision? Do they seem to be confident about where they are headed? Do they share where the company is headed? Why it's headed there? Do they seem passionate about it? If so, you've found a leader with vision.


3. Communication - If there is something in common across almost every client, it is the feedback of the lack of robust communication. Communication is bedrock to success. For example, if your team doesn't know where they are headed, why they are headed there, how each person matters etc.; do you think they'll be interested? I doubt it. Do you provide upfront communication? That's not nearly as easy as it sounds. Do you make sure to ask for feedback? Do you continually clarify plans? Do you keep people in the loop? Communication alone can be a full-time job!


4. Performance management - Typically I try to limit my key points to three; however performance management cannot be forgotten. Assuming integrity is intact, those leaders who partner with employees to set goals, provide ongoing feedback, celebrate successes, track progress, and provide career planning advice will leapfrog those who don't every time. The biggest roadblock I hear consistently is the lack of time. What could be more important? Make it a priority.

  Not only will solid leaders never go out of style but they are also critical to achieving bottom line business results. Start by making leadership a priority. Without it, you might as well hang up your hat.

09_17_2013_Profit_Through_People.jpgIn my experience as a global business consultant and former VP of Operations, I've yet to find a business with lousy people practices and successful long-term business results. Instead, I've found several mediocre businesses with exceptional people who thrive. Undoubtedly, people are your #1 asset.

 

Even though I typically am called into clients to elevate business performance derived through topics such as supply chain and operations management, collaborative inventory programs (such as Sales & Operations Planning) and ERP selection and project management projects, the 80/20 of my time and success goes back to people. Do you focus on people as if they are your #1 asset?

 

I've used Profit through People as a core brand since my consulting practice's inception as I valued people and their impact on the bottom line. Recently, I've re-branded and created additional service lines/ brands yet Profit through People remains intact. Similarly, I've noticed that my best clients keep people forefront in their mind. I've found the following topics to be of upmost importance when it comes to people: 1) Leadership. 2) Culture. 3) Change management. 4) Performance management

 

1. Leadership: As my HR mentor used to say, "It begins & ends with leadership." Thus, I had to give this the first position on the list! She was unequivocally correct. In consulting, while you are working on a particular project, you absorb what is going on around you. Thus, you're in the interesting position of observing various approaches and seeing the results. Solid leaders develop strong teams and deliver results. Weak leaders surround themselves with less-capable leaders who struggle and fight fires.

 

To sum it up, leaders need to think about what they say, what they do, how their perceived etc. Everyone is watching and will follow suit. Do you value employees who go the extra mile for the customer? Or do you value employees who help to achieve an internal metric while asking the customer to hold? Do you address poor performance or sweep it under the rug? One of my most interesting observations is that employees are energized to perform when they see the leaders making tough choices - and sticking to them. If you think it's swept under the rug and forgotten, it's not!

 

2. Culture: I used to lump culture with people in my mind until I realized that too many companies ran straight into the wall, even with great people, if the executives didn't deliberately consider culture. What set of beliefs governs behavior in your company? Does your culture support what you'd like to achieve?

 

Changing culture can take time; however, it is important to think it through and deliberately manage it. Most often, I find that employees aren't the roadblock with culture change; it's the leaders. Which metrics are you tracking? Who do you recognize? Do you find exemplars to help instill the culture? Or do you tend to seek out the familiar?

 

3. Change management: In today's new normal business environment, volatility is the new norm. Thus, change will become more commonplace - sales peaks and valleys are typical, customers lose contracts, suppliers go out of business, natural disasters occur, political turmoil extends the supply chain etc. How do we manage change successfully?

 

In my experience, people aren't afraid of change. Instead, they are afraid of understanding what the new roads mean and how it will affect them. Will they be able to attain the skills? What happens if they make a mistake? How will they work through problems? Who is on the team? The more you help define the path forward, the better. Additionally, if you've created the right environment and culture to support change, you'll be exponentially more successful.

 

4. Performance management: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention performance management. It is the most overlooked "people priority" in organizations today. Do you sit down with your folks to set goals? Do you discuss potential roadblocks? Support systems? Do you track progress? Do you provide immediate positive and corrective feedback? How often do you meet with your employees? I find that managers and leaders complain about their people yet say they have no time to sit down for 30 minutes on a weekly basis - how can this be? Certainly not your #1 asset?!

 

Those executives and companies that prioritize people succeed. Profit is NOT the main focus yet profit always follows. It might be counterintuitive; however, I've yet to have a "labor dollar" think up a multi-million dollar idea whereas people often do!

 

 

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Leverage Your ERP System for Bottom Line Business Results

09122013_how to spot trends.jpgThose executives who stay on top of the latest trends and search for patterns and trends in their business are far more successful than their counterparts. In my 20+ years of experience across multiple industries and globally, I've seen the value of being on the edge of identifying and leveraging trends. This is especially valuable if you are able to look across organizations inclusive of types and sizes - if you see something in common, you're likely to have a gem!

Now the question is how to leverage these trends. Identifying is useless without the ability to put it to good use. So, let's look at the latest supply chain trends keeping execution in mind:


1.
Collaboration: You can no longer be successful if you aren't focused on how to expand and add depth to your collaboration efforts. Do you partner with suppliers or pound them over the head about price? Do you find ways to collaborate with your customers to get a better handle on demand data? If so, you'll have superior service and cash flow. S&OP is one vehicle to consider.


2.
Innovation: It is no longer acceptable to be an exceptional implementer; instead, you must innovate to stand out in the crowd. How can you elevate customer service while reducing cost and increasing profit? Doing what you used to do better will not cut it! You must innovate.


3.
Risk Management: What could be more important in today's new normal global business environment? Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Political conflicts. Strikes. Currency swings. Are you prepared? How agile is your supply chain? Customers will still expect on-time deliveries of the highest quality!


4.
Sustainability: What started as a way to improve the company image and address regulatory concerns is emerging as a competitive advantage. It's starting to offer profit improvement - the triple bottom line is here to stay. How can we be green "and" increase profits? It doesn't hurt if you circle back to innovation... You'd be surprised what you can achieve - even areas like packaging can be ripe with opportunity.


5.
Big Data: As we are increasingly living in an information overloaded society, we must find ways to sift through the data to find what will matter. How do we glean intelligence from it and translate it into business advantage? It is no longer limited to a techie topic; those who leverage big data to drive results will sustain a competitive advantage.

Assuming you jump on these trends, the only potential roadblock is your people. It is becoming increasingly paramount - and difficult - to find exceptional supply chain talent. Make sure your company stands out in the crowd and values supply chain talent, and you'll be well on your way to achieving success.

Think about how these trends impact your business. Since my brothers used to be heavily involved in ice hockey, one of my favorite analogies becomes applicable here: How can you skate to where the puck is going instead of skating to where it is?

09102013_big_data.jpgAs much as I rarely jump on the latest buzzword bandwagons (as I find them to be a waste of time), big data is an important emerging topic in supply chain. 

 

The amount of data continues to grow — we are definitely in an information overload society!  In addition, complexity and unstructured data (which doesn't fit into traditional databases such as email and photos) are increasing at a fast pace.  Big data is a powerful tool in navigating these waters.

 

The supply chain is also gaining complexity at an alarming rate and so managers and executives need improved tools for effective decision-making.  There are countless uses of big data in supply chain — some of the most prevalent include: supply chain management, demand planning, supplier information, customer marketplace trends, etc. 

 

For example, Sales & Operations planning is one of the best uses of big data.  Aligning demand with supply requires excellence in information sharing.  As the data and supply chain become more complex, big data is more critical in uncovering relevant and useful data quicker so that the S&OP participants have access to relevant data to identify areas for focus and to make more objective, data-driven decisions. S&OP has the potential to significant impact margins, cash flow and revenues — how can you ignore it?

 

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The Foundation of Business Success: Data Integrity

riskreward.jpgRisks abound in today’s market!  Products are stolen during transit.  Natural disasters occur.  Political conflicts arise.  Ports go on strike.  Securing information is no longer easy – or inexpensive.  Customers go out of business.  Investments often don’t deliver the expected results.  Yet successful executives still take on risk!

 

Why?  Let’s talk about those who do not have the appetite for risk.  In my experience in partnering with executives across multiple industries, geographies and company size, I find that those who are unwilling to “make critical decisions” and “take on prudent risk” ultimately fail. In today’s new normal business environment, volatility is the norm and you must be differentiated / have an edge over the competition to thrive.  Standing by and waiting until its “safe” to move leaves you in the dust.

 

Is it radical to recommend building an appetite for risk?  NO – assuming you build your appetite for risk, backed with solid decision-making skills. In today’s environment, there is more data available than ever before. The key becomes how to summarize and categorize data into information required for decision-making (to evaluate risk).  Next, it is important to turn that information into knowledge with practical application in a way that will elevate your business performance. . 

 

So, why increase your appetite for risk?  First, two points of clarification: 1) Risk for the sake of risk makes no sense (it's a form of gambling). 2) Risk that even blurs the lines of integrity is unacceptable. Aside from this foundation, building your appetite for risk makes sense if the risk correlates to an improved end result - a return on investment, improved condition for the people involved, etc. For example, if you are evaluating businesses to purchase, you'd never purchase a business that contained zero risk because the cost would be prohibitive. Instead, often times, business opportunity comes by taking on the “right” risk.

 

The key is to understand potential risks, the probability of occurrence, the potential seriousness of impacts, and evaluate these risks in relation to the expected returns. For example, a client recently took on the risk of bringing in materials and producing goods prior to confirming sales orders.  It seemed radical given the prior risk-adverse culture; however, they were able to dramatically increase service levels and increase margins as a result. Of course, they managed risk – instead of brining in “extra” materials, they put together a demand plan based on history, sales input and with key customer collaboration to increase the probability of success.  Prudent risk paid off!

 

Increasing your appetite for risk is not for the faint of heart - and requires persistence. Take a step back and think about the risk-reward options. If it makes sense, proceed. Gather data, ask questions, develop options (alternatives for your decision or project), and act. The rewards will be staggering.

09042013_eagleeye.jpgSince I'd place bets that we all have far more to do than is remotely achievable, I strongly believe our success is dependent on our ability to prioritize. Choosing the "right" items to focus on makes the difference between success and failure. The question is - which items are the "right" items? How do you decide?

 

For example, I often hear from my clients, "I just don't have time to sit down with my employee to discuss this quarter's goals." What does that say about our priorities? Whether we mean for it to convey our employees aren't important or not, it does exactly that! So what should we evaluate when prioritizing?

1. Time sensitivity. How urgent is your item? What happens if you don't do it immediately? Is it detrimental to your business?

2. Bottom line impact. What impact could your item have on your business? In other words, does it have the potential to result in significant profit? A loyal fan for a key customer? Or is it just an annoying nuisance?

3. Goodwill Impact. Will your item have a goodwill impact on your business? Will your employees, customers, suppliers, and community think differently about you?

4. Will it get worse or better? How will your item change if not addressed? Will it get better on its own? Worse? Or stay the same?

5. Short term or long term? How will your priority affect your business in the short term? Long term? Quarterly sales figures can have a substantial impact on short term stock prices; however, they can be meaningless to long term profitability.

 

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The Power of Focus