Diagnose Your Inefficiency Potholes

potholesMany employees tend to complain about work-related inefficiencies as much as Wisconsinites bemoan the craters (aka potholes) left in the roads each winter. In response, companies usually acknowledge that making improvements is critical, and do their part in researching Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) options. But, are all work-related inefficiencies exclusively due to a legacy system? Are people jumping the gun in assuming so, or are they misidentifying a process problem? Could some of these issues disappear by making a few simple process adjustments? Without empowerment and support, all the technology in the world won’t move your business forward.

There is no exact formula to determine if a problem stems from a bad system or a bad process; but asking yourself some basic questions could help you figure out where the problem lies. For example:

  • Would implementing new process improvements really resolve the problem?
  • Could implementing new system functionality resolve the problem and also provide a competitive edge?
  • Do the system benefits outweigh process benefits?

The following steps should aid you in your diagnosis and decision-making:

Create a problem Inventory 

Interview Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) from the various departments affected to develop a problem inventory list.

Identify process-related problems

Identify all process-related issues from your inventory list. Ask yourself: What is the root cause of the problem? Is there a lack of communication, lack of enforcement, or lack of an actual process? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the problem likely stems from a process issue.

Examples of process-related problems include:

  • A customer is upset that they’re getting bounced around
  • Sales Agents aren’t required to track or manage lead information
  • No official process for returns exists. (If an actual documented process cannot be provided, there probably isn’t one.)

These items may also range in severity. While going through this process, consider assigning priority levels or at least identify quick fixes.

Make process improvements where possible

This step is important because it improves overall business processes and productivity by making identified improvements. It also validates problems that can be resolved realistically. This step may take a few weeks to a few months to transpire, but it provides important insight and brings the process to the next step.

Focus on system-related problems

Once process-related problems are identified and resolved, one is able to ascertain that the remaining problems are system-related and decide if a new ERP system would be advantageous.

Examples of system-related problems include:

  • No visibility to inventory availability
  • Multiple customer masters, item masters, and vendor masters
  • Manipulation applied to reports (current system lacks reporting functionality)

This step will not completely resolve a company’s problems and inefficiencies, nor will it guarantee employee satisfaction. It will, however, allow for a more focused approach when considering solutions. It also provides the added benefit of some inexpensive process improvements along the way.

Total Recall: The True Cost of Foodborne Illness

All eyes are on Tyson this week after their recall of chicken nuggets with a trace of plastics. Unfortunately, it’s not just the makers of highly processed foods that are struggling with recalls right now.

As April unfolds, we see that the organic food industry is not immune either:

  • Three purveyors of organic black peppercorns here, here and here have also announced recalls this week.
  • And, the real shocker is this one: Tea Tree Oil mouthwash is recalled because of bacterial contamination, despite the many websites and even an NIH article touting tea tree oil’s antibacterial properties!

Traceability of the root cause is difficult for both contaminated food and hazardous consumer products, as the recent Fitbit Force recall shows. There still doesn’t seem to be an answer as to what material in the wristbands caused so many users to break out in a rash.

As the following infographic shows, foodborne illness is a serious issue, and some companies are better than others at weathering a recall crisis. As we have said in earlier blog posts, social media has been a real game changer during recent recall crises, in ways both positive (providing a way to tap into rising consumer concerns to spot quality issues early) and negative (the viral consumer frustration response at any lag in response or mis-step during a recall crisis).

Total Recall: The True Cost of Foodborne Illness infographic for disaster recovery and product recalls

 

 

Wise up! Grow up!

OK. I am more than a little weird. I find valuable change management lessons from varied sources like the animal kingdom, daredevil cyclists, the great American roadtrip, and I hang out with people who think in similar bizarre ways.

Because my household now includes a boomerang young adult in residence while in grad school after years of independence, the lesson du jour is this:

Sometimes it’s not just tasks or individual behaviors that need to change (because you can’t even list them all).

You need to change the fundamental relationship, and everything else flows from there.

It’s the same for IT, the enterprise apps, and the end user community:

Behaviorwise, it’s:

Out with the OLD!

old IT

  • Ask IT to run a query
  • Wait for an overnight report to print
  • Ask sales to ask their key customers for feedback
  • Monthly buyers’ meeting to review supplier performance
  • I’ll review it Monday when I am back in the office

 

In with the NEW!

new IT

  • Do it yourself drilldown
  • View it graphically onscreen NOW
  • Analyze social media sentiment directly
  • Real time supplier scorecards
  • I can check the stats while I wait for lunch

 

 

The IT/End User Relationship needs to GROW UP from this:

spoon feeder

 

 

 

 

 

To this:

adults

 

 

 

 

 

IT should only provide the essential services (keep  the servers up and running, maintain  the database, keep  the application patched, and administer  security). The End User should engage directly with the application to interact with business information without begging IT for every query or report or view.

These basic skills around information self-service are an important part of getting through the change management curve , and you should begin stressing them even before training users on core transaction processing.

Be a good IT parent: give your end users the life skills they need to grow up.

Does your training plan devote enough time, the right exercises, and tips to help users master  basic skills?

Are you letting people know how the new software will empower them to get the answers they need without begging time from IT?

Are you testing end users for mastery?

If you don’t….don’t say I didn’t warn you….

he will be in your basement FOREVER

basement boy

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Don’t let a recall become a social media storm!

With food recalls increasing and averaging one a day over at the FDA website, and a steady trickle of consumer product safety recalls as well, it’s mind boggling that so many CPG companies are handling recall response so poorly.  By poorly, I mean that consumers are not getting quick resolution from official corporate channels such as the corporate website or the consumer care toll free number–but are airing their frustration on Facebook and Twitter. Within 24 hours, the frustration has gone viral and turned into a social media storm.

In many recent cases, a recall has generated so much traffic that jams the phone lines and/or crashes the brand’s website. Sometimes, the website is down, but the social media team is still directing their angry commenters to log a complaint over at the website. It is painful to watch the frustration unfold.

Then, the consumer care team stokes the fire of consumer anger by sending rebate coupons that don’t work at the supermarket

Nicole's Comment

Or don’t line up with the products that the consumers had to toss, or don’t work in the sales channel of choice or the state of residence of the consumer who receives them.

<complaint 4

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Most companies have the means of capturing the product, quantity, state of residence and retailer in their CRM systems. Whether their systems have the capacity to handle the increased load during a recall is another story.

In a food safety situation, lot or batch traceability is critical, and required by domestic and international regulations. Full traceability enables manufacturers to limit the recall to only those production lots with quality issues. The ERP system must provide full forward traceability through the distribution channels, and backward traceability into the supply chain.

Process recall readiness gaps exist in the area of documented processes, roles and responsibilities, and the pre-existence of a disaster response handling project plan/timeline.

If your business faces the threat of a product recall or another similar crisis in consumer confidence, are you really ready to handle it? Take a short self-assessment, and see how you score across the key readiness categories.

The Vale of False Best Practices

What is a best practice and why you should and sometimes should not accept them.

The way ERP vendors speak about “best practices,” you would expect accompaniment from a bell choir and a sonorous, celestial host. Best practices! Let us all bow and acknowledge their wisdom!

A best practice in ERP-speak is nothing more than a set of process steps, supported by underlying functionality within the system, that a majority of system users agree works for them. This is completely understandable from the perspective of an ERP vendor, who wants to sell software to the widest possible audience.

What better way to do that than to incorporate into the software functionality and processes that provide value to the largest number of prospects? Does that mean that best practices are nothing more than a marketing ploy?

Well, yes and no. If your accounting department is not doing true three-way matches between orders, receipts, and invoices, then an automated three-way match process would probably be a best practice for you because you are behind the curve. So, best practices built into ERP software can be a huge win for companies that are behind the technology curve.

Cherdonsidering that the rest of your industry has probably already adopted better practices, it is not invalid to hope to move forward by joining the herd. I grew up in Texas where herds are not to be disparaged. They provide a livelihood to many and can be quite tasty. Being one-in-a-herd is sometimes the right place to be. Deciding when to separate yourself from the herd is the hard part.

Consider your accounting department again – when was the last time you heard anyone say that their accounting processes provided a competitive advantage or made them stand out in their market? Right. It doesn’t happen. That’s because some processes are me-toos – sure you want to do them the right way and maybe save some money, but they are simply not places where significant investment is warranted. Enough investment, yes. More than that, no.

If, however, you introduce new products in half the time as your nearest competitor, then that is an advantage you want to not just protect, but enhance. That is an area where additional investment is warranted.

Here’s the stark reality. If you are leading the pack within your market, it is unlikely that any ERP software will natively support best practices within those areas where you are a market leader or visionary. Why? Because you are an outlier. A trend setter. Once people figure out how you are leading the market, and then replicate that within their companies and in their technology in order to catch and then dominate you, then those become best practices.

Notice that best practices can make your company more efficient, but they will NOT make you a market leader. Only innovation and ingenuity can do that, and while those are always best practices, they are also uncommon in the herd.

Landscape of ERP Pitfalls – New Map Discovered!

ERP MapOne of our young, and deeply curious, co-workers discovered an artifact – a map – while browsing a dusty, old book store in Boston. She bought it for a pittance and took it home where she discovered the key to cracking its codes. No, she will not share those with us – something about job protection…

The map contains the key to how so many ERP implementations stumble and – this is most exciting – confirms that the Valley of Despair truly exists! Upon further translation, she has identified the title on the map as “The Land of ERP Pitfalls”. While translation continues, we have already identified several locations on the map that are both illuminating and thought provoking.

We are moving forward with a set of blog topics involving these pitfalls and key success factors for successful ERP implementations as they are uncovered from the difficult text of the map. h/t to the curious and talented young who illuminate the days of the middle aged, if we are wise enough to listen.

Redefining Success in People Terms

Success in people termsI suggested in my previous post that unmet business benefits, make ERP initiatives fail even when they are on-time, on-budget, and on-scope. If we spoke previously about failure, then let’s start here talking about success.

According to my dictionary, success is a noun with multiple meanings, yet the primary one is “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” It’s not about the scope, timeline or budget, it’s all about the business GOALS.

So when we talk about redefining success – hitting your goals – in people terms, what does that mean? Defining where you intend to end is important, but so is defining how you expect to get there. Defining success in people terms means we also have to define how something will be made successful and who will do it.

Here are some of the “goals” customers have given us for implementing ERP:

  • To improve business performance and automation
  • To replace an old or legacy system
  • To better support the business across multiple locations
  • To better serve customers
  • To position the company for growth

Admirable reasons; terrible goals.

Why?

They can’t be measured and they give no clue how they could be achieved. They look good, but are sort of neutral and unobjectionable, actually saying very little.

When a client tells us they want to move to new ERP to improve business performance, it is the beginning of what becomes a very long – and critically important – discussion that looks like this:

What areas need improvement? Why? What would the improvements, by area, look like? What changes (people/org, role, process, system, or data) are required to achieve it? How will ERP enable this? How can we state this in measurable terms? What about timeframes for realization?

Starting with “improve business performance,” we can end with goals like this:

Through updated standards for purchase orders enforced in the Purchasing module at the field level, and through improved training of Buyers and weekly monitoring of conformance with these standards, we will eliminate 90% of incomplete purchase orders from flowing through the supply chain within three months of go-live.

By eliminating non-conforming purchase orders, we will reduce the effort of Accounts Payable clerks matching POs to vendor invoices which will be sufficient to eliminate three temporary clerk positions.

post-it-1Granted, this would be but one of many, many goals that would be documented to achieve “improved business performance.” But that is what it means to truly document goals within a business case and to define success in people terms.

Arriving on-time, on-budget, and on-scope are valid goals on any ERP implementation project. Anyone working in this business knows those goals are themselves hard enough to achieve. While they may be necessary when viewing ERP through the lens of an enterprise software implementation project, they are woefully inadequate when viewing ERP as a business transformation initiative.

If you want to really get your hands around how to make ERP successful, you have to spend the time, energy, and effort defining your goals more completely and concretely. They should enable and guide your implementation. If they don’t, head back to the whiteboard and lock the right people in the room until you get what you need. And if you don’t know what you need, get help defining it.

Is ERP Success Really Such a Secret?

ERP isn’t just big business, it’s huge business, projected by those who know to break $50 billion yearly by 2015 in software sales, maintenance, development, and services. Thousands and thousands of companies undertake ERP investment and implementations yearly. There are millions of pages on the Internet about how to make ERP projects successful. And hundreds of firms and thousands of people exist whose life-blood is implementing ERP solutions.

ERP Enterprise Resource PlanningSo why does ERP so often fail to deliver? According to some, you’ve got a fifty-fifty chance to satisfy half of your goals for the investment. So, if I plan to drive to Dallas and only get half way there, is that a successful trip or a failure? I may have enjoyed the journey while it lasted, but then I ended it in Abilene, not Dallas. That is not a successful trip. It is a sure ride to the Desert of Disillusionment.

Failing to deliver the desired business value means the project was a failure regardless of whether it was on-time, on-budget, or on-scope. It failed. Let’s hear that again. It failed. Sure, everyone got to keep their jobs because the project concluded reasonably close to the schedule and within some allowable contingency of the targeted budget. Success, right? Well, not if you wanted to get further it isn’t. It failed.

How can that possibly continue to happen? The ERP landscape is enormous. Almost every business – particularly those involved in manufacturing or distribution – use or want to use ERP software. Certainly people know better. There are thousands of really experienced, smart people guiding and informing these projects, yet they continue to fail to deliver fully against expectation and goals.

Is the problem that goals are too high? I sincerely doubt it, as companies engaging in ERP projects rarely agree to document their goals in writing or in measurable ways, paying only lip service to “productivity gains” or “improved efficiency”. So if the goals aren’t the problem, what is? You can read for years about better project management, better leadership, a better implementation process and still miss the boat.

The bottom line is simply this: software does not drive a business. People do. And if you don’t empower and support people, all the technology in the world won’t move your business forward. This is something we’ll explore further in subsequent posts. But stay tuned as we drill into how to turn the discussion on ERP success on its head.

Open a Portal – Close the Sale: Why Manufacturers Create Sales Portals

Sarah Blog GraphicIn today’s world of social media, successful sales and marketing in manufacturing is a complex balancing act requiring more and more visibility to actual data. Real-time visibility to dealers, agents, and customers involved in your business has never been more important for maintaining successful pipelines and customer loyalty.

If you don’t have a bi-directional communication portal to every channel of your business, you’re missing the critical information you need to stay ahead of your competition. You may not have a sales portal to your business, but your competition does and they are listening. They are listening to your prospects, your reps, and your customers.

The good news is many manufacturers who have become lean on the production floor are learning that applying similar principles in sales and marketing can also lead to increased production. These manufacturers know nothing is more important to their sales than an accurate visual of what is happening in their channel right now.

These forward-thinking manufacturers are looking at their complex sales scenarios, including inside sales, field sales, direct sales, reseller networks and partner sales and noticing communication gaps, redundant data and slow movement. They understand two things very clearly. First, they recognize the impracticality of trying to make good decisions using countless spreadsheets on multiple desktops with no consolidation. Next, they understand that their sales models include people who are not their employees but rely on them for business performance and that giving these non-employees a method to communicate allows their companies to monitor and adjust their performance. Then they ask, “How can we view the whole sales process in real time to better run our business?” And the answer is a sales portal which helps improve management and forecasting in these areas:

  • Account ownership
  • Distributor management
  • Order management
  • Support management
  • Pipeline visibility
  • Quoting
  • Closing
  • Messaging

A sales portal can also bridge the gap to your back-end systems and create a seamless communication protocol that empowers everyone in the channel, employees and non-employees, while providing accurate real-time visibility in a secure manner that can help accelerate the sales process.

View the Edgewater Channel Portal in action.

What can you monitor with a sales portal?

  • Real-time dashboards
  • Heat maps across the entire territory showing high and low performers
  • Inside, field and channel sales
  • Security between users accessing quotes and orders
  • 30/60/90 day forecasts
  • New revenue
  • Estimated close dates
  • Quote requests
  • Service requests
  • Customer loyalty
  • Announcements for tradeshows and product guidelines

With a portal you empower your sales force with the tools needed to succeed. Each user has a different security level and sees a custom dashboard. For example, a manufacturer’s rep can see how his or her overall pipeline is performing. The rep can see new leads, can adjust those leads and can notify you of constraints. As the manufacturer you can see the rep’s pipeline incorporated into yours, and you can help move sales along by knowing precisely where the rep is in the pipeline. You can also send discounts to your field reps immediately and see how those discounts perform real time.

With a sales portal you can allow all of your reps to have access to a common document library and collaborate via discussion groups where you  can include future products, sales literature, competitive information and more.

To see what is happening right now means opening a sales portal, which is as easy as opening a dock door in the warehouse – once you build it.

How does your company handle major change?

Although many large technology initiatives fail because an inadequate or inefficient change management framework, many companies still lack a consistent approach in supporting their employees and external stakeholders through major system implementations and other significant business initiatives.

 

 

There are many reasons for this.

  • The roles and responsibilities for communication, training, and monitoring performance remain vague.
  • The approach varies from department to department.
  • Information is pushed out once in the wrong format (usually by email) and not made available on a portal under version control. We see this often in companies that have an immature or outdated collaboration style.

We’ve put together a short poll on change management approaches. Please take a moment to tell us how your organization handles major change, and share your thoughts in the comments.