Tag Archives: predictability

How to Anticipate the Unpredictable

Brent wasn’t sure he heard me right. I know he was expecting some sympathy for all of his long hours.

“Your long hours are not because you are working hard,” I said. “Your long hours are because you didn’t budget your time.”

He tried the puppy dog look. “But I don’t know exactly how much work there is to do until it piles up on me,” he protested.

“That’s BS,” I responded. “If you would sit down and think about your week coming up, you would find that 95 percent of it is totally predictable.”

“But customers call with questions about their bids, or they want to add something to the project that we quoted for them.  I can’t just tell them that I will get to it next week, they will give the job to one of our competitors,” he defended.

“So, how often does this happen?” I pressed.

“Well, it happens all the time.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t predictable?”

Shift to Efficiency

“You were more organized, but you almost went broke?” I pressed.

“Yes, we managed to get all the orders out the door, but it cost more to produce, than the revenue could cover,” Arianne replied.

“So, you needed to raise your prices?”

“Not that simple,” she explained. “We had competition. Our competitors price-to-the-customer was 15 percent below our cost to produce the same product. We waited for two years for them to go out of business. There was no way they could sustain that loss. But after two years, we figured out they weren’t losing money after all. They had found ways to be more efficient and productive.”

“What did you do?”

“It wasn’t enough to be organized. We had to examine every step. Turns out there were more efficient ways to work. We changed the sequence of some of the steps. Some steps could be done at the same time by different teams, increasing throughput. It was amazing. We cut our lead time from six weeks to four weeks. Higher throughput with the same number of people, with the same equipment, in the same facility, we lowered our cost. We shifted from just getting the orders out the door, to a consistent, predictable system.”

“Problem solved?” I asked.

“Not really. That’s when our troubles really began.”

Getting By and Paying the Price

“I know we are missing a couple of Managers,” admitted Derrick. “We intentionally allowed these positions to be open. We thought we could get by, save some salaries. We thought other people could cover for a short time.”

“And now you are paying the price,” I responded.

“I guess we thought our systems were solid,” Derrick hopefully floated.

“Perhaps they were, but things change. Your systems have to be constantly monitored, constantly tweaked. Other people can cover some of the daily work in your manager roles, but they are not going to look at your systems. Not only did you lose the predictability of your momentum, but glitches in your system cost you backtracking to re-locate the source of the problem. That’s why you felt, at times, that you were playing Whack-a-mole.”

“So, what’s the next step?” asked Derrick.

“Two-fold. You have to keep a handle on the Whack-a-mole and you also need to find a new manager.”

Predictability and Uncertainty

“I understand how we calculate profit, but what does that have to do with my organizational chart?” Derrick asked.

“You design a predictable profit into your price, but what is it that keeps your profit predictable when you actually deliver your product or service?” I replied.

Derrick was thinking. “It becomes predictable when we are able to do the same thing over and over, the same way, with the same methods, in the same amount of time, with the same amount of scrap.”

“And how do you make all that happen over and over?”

“Well, we have designed a system and we train everyone to work the system.”

“And so, if something is happening with the predictability of your profit, what’s wrong, where do you look?” I continued.

“Something has to be wrong with the system,” Derrick nodded.

“So, where do you look?” I insisted.

“We should try to find out what’s wrong with the system.”

“Remember, I said that your problem is seldom a what, almost always a who?

Derrick grinned. “So, that’s why you want to look at the org chart.”