Category Archives: Systems

Take Your Company to the Next Level – Market Platform

Strategic platforms help us understand our business model and where we compete for customers, what our customers expect from us and how we go to market.

  • S-V – Industry platform, where our enterprise competes using industry standard practices.
  • S-IV – Market platform, where our multiple systems integrate with market systems.
  • S-III – Single serial system platform, where we see the introduction of warranties as a competitive edge.
  • S-II – Process implementation platform (of someone else’s system, like a franchisee).
  • S-I – Product or service platform, where it’s all about the product.

As the organization grows from product to process to system, it ultimately ends up with multiple systems. The hallmark of an S-IV company is its ability to integrate those systems and subsystems. Internally, that integration inspects how work travels from one function to the next with a close eye on the capacity of each system and how that capacity impacts the capacity of its neighboring systems.

Until the organization emerges as S-IV, there is one system in its strategy often overlooked. That system is NOT internal, it is external. It operates like any other system, but it sits outside the company and it’s called your Market.

When the organization matures into S-IV, it finally has the capability to look outside. Prior to that, all energy is directed inside, on the product, process and internal systems. At S-IV, the company blossoms to look outside. That outside look is market responsive.

A market responsive strategy looks at the internal product or service offering through the lens of the customer, through the lens of the market. Adjustments are made in the product, not because of technical expertise, but because the market demands it. Car manufacturers took out ashtrays and installed cupholders. Why? Because the market demanded it. The market is mindful of gas mileage, but, at the end of the day, it demands cupholders.

System Platform

Business platforms help us understand the condition of our business model, its requirements, characteristics, competitive edge.

  • S-V – Industry platform, where our enterprise competes using industry standard practices.
  • S-IV – Market platform, where our multiple systems integrate with market systems.
  • S-III – Single serial system platform, where we see the introduction of warranties as a competitive edge.
  • S-II – Process implementation platform (of someone else’s system, like a franchisee).
  • S-I – Product or service platform, where it’s all about the product.

Bob’s Burger was all about the product. Assuming Bob’s Burger is the best burger around, how do you beat Bob? You get more trucks, geographic expansion. And, geographic expansion (more trucks) comes with its own set of problems. The quality of the burger begins to suffer. Raw ingredients scream for a supply chain where there is none, several trucks run out of lettuce. One truck runs its griddle too hot, the burger tastes like shoe leather. Customers expecting Bob’s Truckburger to be as good as the original Bob’s Burger are disappointed. Worse, Bob is in no-man’s (no-person’s) land. Expansion costs money. The unit cost for more trucks and more people are driving up overhead. A little bit of success can create a whole lot of overhead. Bob is everywhere with his new trucks, and, he is struggling. Bob has plenty of revenue coming in, and, profitability is elusive.

How do you beat Bob’s Truckburgers? Move to the next level, the system level. Bob had trucks, but no system. Bob could have purchased a system from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s. If Bob had, he would never run out of lettuce, because the supply chain would be a system with ordering min/max’s. The griddle in each truck would always be the same temperature, calibrated on a monthly basis. Every burger would always taste the same. This is scaling. Scaling requires a system. Scaling without a system is a disaster.

Outside the burger world, you will notice a business model with a system frequently offers a warranty, a promise. A warranty promise without a system is a disaster. A warranty promise with a system yields predictable results. And, for the first time, profitability emerges. If you want to improve your profit, improve your system.

Process and People

“I feel a bit overwhelmed,” admitted Melissa. “There are so many things that can go wrong on this project, and I’m just not sure if I can manage it all.”

“You are right,” I replied. “You cannot manage every detail. Success consists of the execution of a hundred things, most of which cannot be managed.”

“Then how?”

“Most things we accomplish as managers consist of process and systems with elements that can be measured and managed. But that is only part of the story. Success also requires elements like focused attention, cooperation with team members and commitment to the result. Those are elements, difficult to measure, but more importantly, almost impossible to manage. You cannot manage focus, cooperation and commitment. This is the people side of management, and people don’t want to be managed.”

Melissa was silent, thinking. “The people side is more difficult than the process side, and maybe more important. I think I would take a mediocre process with some fired up people, over a spectacular process with a poor attitude.”

The Second Sea Change

As the organization moves from Startup to Go-Go, the second sea change occurs. The Startup always struggles with revenue. “Please find a customer to buy my product or service.” And, these first sales don’t even have to be profitable sales, because all the expenses go on a credit card, line of credit, whatever it takes to get the organization out of ground zero.

Every sale for the Startup is a one-off, tweaking the product or service to each individual customer. Those Startups that survive (make enough sales) find that as volume increases, they can no longer treat every sale from scratch, they must institute methods and processes. The struggle shifts from a revenue problem to a profit problem. The shear volume of the successful Startup becomes its biggest problem. A few unprofitable sales for the Startup becomes a staggering amount of red-ink for Go-Go.

And, profit becomes elusive.

The first sea change was a shift from organizing the work around the people to organizing the people around the work. The second sea change is a shift from organizing the work around methods and processes to organizing methods and processes into a system. It is only this second sea change where the organization begins to see its first signs of sustained profitability.

Back to Work Velocity

Let’s get back to work. Unlocking the door and greeting your first customer feels positive, but is it enough to sustain?

As the business leader, more importantly is understanding the viability of your re-opened business operation.

Total Throughput
As operations resume, parts will come humming back, but in the background will be friction. This is not a game of spinning plates. One or two high performing departments won’t cut it, you have to look at total throughput. Restaurant kitchens always have output capacity, but throughput is constrained by the dining room. People only eat so fast, tables turn only so many time during a meal period.

Velocity
And, in the near term, dining room capacity will artificially be constrained by 75 percent. How fast does profit travel through your output system?

It feels good to open the doors, but there will be new constraints imposed that have to be accounted for in your business model. Those that survive will figure this out, now, and make appropriate adjustments.

Time to Re-think is Over

The time to re-think is over. The time to adapt is now. Actually, never too late to re-think.

  • Employee shuttle buses will have spaced seating, one person for every six seats.
  • Employees will wear face masks, take the stairs and walk one-way around the office.
  • Lunchrooms will have only 25 percent seating capacity.
  • In-office meetings will still be virtual.
  • Larger conferences are canceled through 2021.
  • New budget lines for PPE.
  • Building admittance will see temp screening and self-declared wellness protocols.
  • Flying will be more rigorous than entering a building.
  • Shopping inside a store will see a transformed retail experience.
  • Cash and checks will disappear, in favor of touch-less (NFC) digital transactions.
  • Drive-thru shopping will see re-marked traffic lanes around stores.
  • Restaurants will shift from dining rooms to take-out and delivery.
  • Arena sports will yield to open-space sports.
  • Movie theaters may never re-open, throwing film distribution a curve-ball.

All of these things will impact your business model, the way your customers interact with you, the way team members interact with each other. Intrinsically, we are social animals who want to be together.

These permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

Emerge As a Better Company

How will your business emerge as a better company?

What elements of your business need to be retired? What processes should be eliminated? Reminds me of Tim Ferris‘ five step program, with my extra credit step.

  • Eliminate what is not necessary.
  • Simplify what is over-complicated.
  • Combine things that should be done together.
  • Outsource those things that are not part of your core.
  • Automate (digitize) what is left.
  • (Extra credit) Employ humans to do only what humans do best.

This is a time to accelerate the steps. Perhaps, your business will emerge as a better company.

Multi-system Integration

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
When you talk about the COO role, you use the words multi-system integration to describe its purpose. I understand silos, and you said we put the silos there for a reason. You said not to get rid of your silos, but to integrate them together. What does that mean?

Response:
Yes, as companies move from Adolescence to Prime, the silos will kill them without system integration. The COO role will necessarily focus on operations confronting two main system integration issues.

  1. What is the performance standard of the work output from each function (department, system, silo) as work moves to the next function? Each function has marching orders (from us) to be efficient, internally profitable. This necessitates an internal focus to the function. Many critical handoffs occur as work moves from sales through project management into operations. When there is a defect in the handoff, we may not discover the problem until we have poured concrete around steel. It is much easier to unwind in the handoff stage than the jackhammer stage.
  2. The other system issue relates to each function’s capacity for output. Without someone paying attention, easy for one system to outstrip the capacity of its neighboring system. This may manifest as a breakdown in communication, when the underlying cause is two internally focused systems, heads down not paying attention to the other functions around. Discussions of single system capacity rarely emerge below S-IV, much less the impact of one system onto another system.

One of the critical functions for the COO is to calculate the company’s operational (ops) capacity as operations is most likely to be the constraint in the midst of the other systems.

Alligators Take Over

From the Ask Tom Mailbag –

Question:
I would love to get more information on how to beat back those Alligators! What happens when the Alligators are taking over?

Response:
This is where the role of the Manager becomes truly important. The people who do production work (Strata I) can only work harder. The people who make sure production gets done (Supervisor, Strata II) can only organize the chaos (also known as straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic).

The role of the Manager (Strata III) is to analyze what is causing things to be overwhelming and out of control. This is system work.

Stop and think. What is the cause?

The most useful tool I know of is a long roll of butcher paper (available at any restaurant supply store). Roll it out and tape it on the wall. Create a flow chart of the essential steps necessary to do the work that is required. We are talking circles, boxes and triangles connected by arrows, cause and effect. Step One, Two, Three and Four. Then, for each step, ask why we are doing that? Is that in line with our senior purpose?

This exercise will expose unnecessary steps or activities that simply do not add value to the process. Get back to the fundamentals, do only those things that are truly essential.

Draw flames around the hotspots, the burning platforms. Are instructions clear, is there a hand-off missed? This is system work.

Don’t Fix the Defect

“But, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to change the way they have been working. They get started, but after a couple of days, things are right back to the way they were before.” Matt sighed one of those Manager’s sighs. “I just wish my team was more disciplined.”

“Matt, discipline is nothing more than routine. Discipline isn’t harder than any other way of getting things done; it’s just not what you are used to.”

I spied a workroom on my way in. It was a small room with some simple tools and a work bench, good lighting. It was where people took things that needed fixing. Not broken things, but rather, product defects. The seam on the unit didn’t line up quite right; there was a burr on an edge. Rather than documenting the defect and looking for a solution, the team had, over time, assembled this little “fixing” room.

“Tell you what, Matt. Hide the tools and put a padlock on the room.” I could see his eyes grow wide. “Then, have a meeting and tell everyone that the fixing room is off-limits for 21 days. During that time, have meetings twice a week to talk about the new defect-documentation process. After 21 working days, you should have a new routine. Discipline is just a different way of getting things done.”

Matt was nodding, “So, after 21 days I can take the padlock off the fixing room?”

“No.”