Here it is — my list of rules, laws, axioms, truisms, and blinding flashes of the obvious, in no particular order — thoughts that have stuck to my cranium wall after leading hundreds of process triages (on a napkin here).
I hope this list is be good enough to bookmark and I promise to keep it fresh.
Usually, it is unwise to fix the most squeaky wheel first.
Almost every process triage workshop (overview here) illustrates why the most painful points on a process are not necessarily the first improvement investment. Every point-of-pain, where the process is not behaving right, requires an investment to remove, either an action item-size Small Now or a project-size Big Now. The triage team ranks remedies, not the amount of pain. Quite often, a single quite point of pain, usually near the start of a process delivers the most capability improvement compared to where all hell breaks loose downstream. These less obvious fixes often pay for the workshop’s opportunity costs.
If you don’t fix the quality of your work first, you’ll just create crap faster.
You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked. Of course, we’re not talking about designed speed where we intend to re-cycle and improve immediately, such as in Agile software development.When we look at a list of triage results — the Small Now’s action item-size and Big Now’s project-size list, we recommend the process delay volume increases until most of the remaining items are “Enforce –‘x'”, as opposed to Analyze, Design, or Train.
Task complexity increases with volume.
What works at ‘x’ volume blows up at ‘2x’ or ’10x’ volume, especially if it involved human labor. Processing 25 paychecks every other week is QuickBooks® simple. Cutting 20,000 3rd Party commission sales force pay checks, where each SKU has a different compensation rate, off a base of 1 million point-of-sale transactions per month, is astonishingly difficult. One of PT’s early successes was triaging such a process, hat tip Wendy Cogan, the host.
This is why Google can’t update software very fast anymore. Or why anything attempted by the federal government that involves transacting with hundreds of millions of citizens is incapable of being created quickly (Obamacare exchanges), which is why the smartphone mobile app world is so compelling — it forces simplicity.
Individual experts cannot fix what only teams can find.
All of us are smarter than any one of us. I cannot count the number of times one member of a triage team identified a process’s point of pain in which the solution was obvious to another team member who specialized in an upstream or downstream activity or silo. And very often, the solution is not the obvious one, nor is it the one the executive would have pointed out.
You can free up cash to use elsewhere by (1) borrowing it at interest, (2) trading equity for it, (3) outsourcing necessary work cheaper, or (4) improving insufficiently capable, cash leaking processes you should own and lead. Continuous Process Improvement (#4) demands you actually lead an organization.
There are a number of tactics the CEO can apply to raise cash without involving more than a few staff members, like borrowing money, trading equity for some, or deciding not to do work others do as well or better less expensively. But freeing up or generating cash through on-going operations requires business process improvement, which is a TEAM activity. Improving team performance requires leadership.
A Process Capability Goal is to process performance what Strategic Objectives are to enterprise performance.
If there is one behavioral indicator — one thing to look for, to determine if a business process is well-managed, it is the presence or absence of a Process Capability Goal (PCG – template here). If the managers of a process do not know how well it must behave, in a manner that, if sustained, will deliver its share of the firms financial goals, it will be chaos and ill-conceived and unfocused improvements.
Only managed processes are scalable.
A process is not scalable that is not measure for speed, quality at essential points, and unit cost consumption. Period. Full Stop.
You don’t understand your process completely until you can see it as a flow of cash.
Seeing a process as a flow of cash separates candidate executives from impostors, for financial acumen and managerial accounting is lingua franca of executive management. As I’ve said, while stomping my feet for emphasis, “Money isn’t everything but it pays the bills for everything ultimately. Every improvement that improves a process’s capability should make sense financially, and that story cannot be told unless one is aware of how and where a process consumes cash. So teach your front-line experts, those who see the most capability-inhibiting issues, how their process eats or generates cash.
If you will not delegate a task, when it can be delegated, you are the bottleneck that inhibits your growth.
As an enterprise grows, the time demands on the CEO are more outward facing, with investors and strategic customers and constituencies, leaving less time for inward, operational attentions. The roles of CEO and COO must split into different people. COO responsibilities cannot be delegated if the business operating model does not push continuous process improvement tactics down into production spaces — delegated to them. Process triaging is all about teaching and establishing operational improvements.
Don’t necessarily fix what you have not counted.
Do not change your business model unless the one-time problem was obviously catastrophic. Just count it instead and determine if it will repeat. After counting it and establishing a trend, then fix it.