What’s in the Box?

Tis the season to be shipping- thought I’d go ahead and repost a blog from two years ago- as we turn our thoughts towards gift giving (and receiving)- how’s your customer’s “out of the box” experience?

OpsAlign

Question-Mark-out-of-Box-1024x1000How’s your OOBA these days?  “Good question…what is it?”  OOBA is an acronym for “out of box audit”.  It involves a final pass that checks for quality, all components required in the product are present, correct firmware is loaded (if this is part of the product in question), the product has been packaged correctly and everything is in place, accounted for, and ready to provide your customer the best possible experience upon receipt.  Generally, this FQA (Final Quality Audit) is owned by your Quality group, or by Operations, or perhaps even some combination of both teams.  The purpose of this exercise is to help insure that the product works correctly, looks great (not good–great), and everything necessary for a successful customer experience has been done.

People who work in Operations are familiar with this terminology, and probably more so for those who have worked in companies that produce consumer…

View original post 207 more words

TO TECH, OR NOT TO TECH

shakespeare..THAT IS THE QUESTION.  Where do you stand on using technology as a regular part of your everyday life?  This was the topic that dropped into my mind recently as I found myself in the throws of setting up my wife’s shiny new iPhone 7.  Granted, there is a fair amount of technology all around us that we interact with on a daily basis, without choice, because it has been adopted within our society.  Things like sensors for the traffic and metering lights, or perhaps the computer that controls your vehicle’s critical systems, are taken for granted, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were many fewer of these everyday items in our lives.  Coffee makers have gone high tech, as have refrigerators and other home appliances- heck, even my front door unlocks when I arrive home in the evening, just for me.

With the explosion of the IoT (Internet of Things) growth,  the so-called “connected world” is getting more and more connected every day.  But is this necessarily a good thing?  Is it what you want for your life?  I cannot answer this question for you personally- I can only relate my own experiences and share with you what I’ve come to understand and appreciate on this topic.

I believe the general answer to both of the questions raised above is “yes”.  Yes, advancements in technology that can make us safer on the roads, or in our homes, can help us with our health, educate us by providing us with better and wider knowledge, can assist our aging society with a comfortable, independent and safe living environment, or provide services ranging from in home hospice care to a quick meal (a la Door Dash, a favorite in our home)–are good things that make our lives a little easier and more comfortable and enjoyable (hey, I’m the guy that does the dishes in my home, so a delivered meal is a good thing- trust me).

However, given the advancements in our technological capability today, we must address the question of whether we truly want this in our lives.  Just because something can be done through technology- it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) automatically become something that IS done through technology.  Here’s an example for you to consider.

I work in Silicon Valley in northern CA., and where my office is located, I actually sit in the middle of an area where the Google self-driving cars are regularly tested.  I see them all the time, around me, next to me, in front and behind, cute little white roly-poly bug looking vehicles just puttering along. They have a “driver” present, not driving, but monitoring the car’s behaviors, with a hand on a control of some kind, presumably to wrestle the control away from the tech if necessary.  That’s fine.  And the thought behind the technology that spawns these vehicles is simply to be able to provide transportation to those that might otherwise have limited access to a vehicle or mass transit for various reasons.  That- and that by providing and growing this technology (at least as it has been mentioned to me), the need for “too many vehicles” on the road (think- pollution and over-crowding), or even for vehicle ownership will be lessened or even perhaps one day no longer needed.  But-and here’s the question- is that what I want for my life?  I’m a “car guy”- I love restoring older trucks (I currently drive a 1968 Ford truck when not on my Harley)- you won’t likely ever see me in a roly-poly car- ever.Ever.Ever. I’m okay with driving myself in my truck- eventually I won’t be able to, and I’ll cross that bridge when necessary, but today, I enjoy the driving experience.  But that’s me, not you- I get it.  Even one day when I’m not driving around as much, I’ll still want to have my own truck, my motorcycle, my RV, whatever- it’s a part of who I am.  But such things may not be as important to you.

It’s important to weigh the benefits and costs associated with all technology.  Earlier, I mentioned my wife and her new iPhone 7.  She upgraded (she uses her phone more than her computer now) primarily to get the upgraded camera in the new phone.  My wife loves to take pictures of everything from her pets to her flowers to the fins and rear taillights of classic cars (an ongoing project that will one day become a book)-so having the best camera on her phone, readily available when inspiration hits her- yeah, I get that.  For me, it’s not needed, but for her, it’s a great thing.  Technology by itself is just technology- nothing more.  If it’s important to you and you can improve your life, and receive benefits from the technology (or even just enjoyment), that’s a good thing.  Have at it.  And, if it’s not for you- that’s okay too.  To tech, or not to tech?  That’s an easy question to answer- it all depends on you!

It’s All about Attitude

attitudesmileySo much of what we experience in life cannot be controlled.  We have so many things that happen to us, and often circumstances that are completely outside of our ability to predict or persuade.  Life comes down to one simple “game changer” – attitude.

I went to lunch the other day, just to get out of the office, out from underneath the fluorescent lights, and to take a break from my work routines.  I hopped on my Electra Glide, cranked up the CCR, and I ended up at one of my favorite eating spots, a nearby Chipotle restaurant.  Their food is generally fresh, always with a consistent flavor and inexpensive, and their service (it’s pretty casual) is quick and reliable.  Then there was this one employee.

This guy was great– I observed him, a Chipotle employee, as he hustled between tables, picking up after others, wiping down surfaces and throwing away trash.  He was careful to work around those at lunch, making sure none of us were impacted by his movements.  He was polite- asking each of us there how our day was going, how we liked the food, and whether or not there was anything else we needed.  I was impressed by his attitude and his sincerity.

Here was a guy, I’m guessing in his early 20’s, working hard, working smart and working with a positive attitude.  He wasn’t complaining about his job, or his pay, or his hours.  He wasn’t necessarily giddy, but he was upbeat, personable and friendly- all great qualities, and qualities that are often no where near an hourly employee at a fast food establishment-it’s a tough, thankless job (a couple of my kids have had similar jobs, as did I during my college days-making sandwiches at the local Hickory Farms in Lynchburg, VA.).  As I departed, the guy saw me leaving (he was wiping down tables outside) and told me to have a great day- and thanked me for stopping in.  What? A thank you for eating there at Chipotle?  I couldn’t believe it!

The whole lunch experience was valuable to me- yes, I was hungry too, and Chipotle took care of that for me, but more than just the food- the insight I received from watching this guy was tremendous and really, for me, a good swift kick in my backside…  So much of life is all about our attitude.

Listen, there’s no way for you to change what you cannot control- that’s a universal truism we can all relate to.  The only thing we can do is continually dial up our attitude-when times get tough, crank up the positivity and focus on solutions.  When customers complain, address their need, and dialog with them (and listen, really listen), and win them over.  Something needs to get fixed “now” at work- roll up your sleeves, build a solution and get it done.  Stay positive, be thankful, look forward and not behind-make a difference with all that you do, and by all means, help others around you to do the same, and you’ll experience amazing results.  Thanks Chipotle guy- for sharing your attitude!

All About the 3PL

3pl_diagram_animation

A quick glance within Wikipedia, searching on the acronym “3PL”, will show you this brief description:

“Third-party logistics (abbreviated 3PL, or sometimes TPL) in logistics and supply chain management is a company’s use of third party businesses to outsource elements of the company’s distribution and fulfillment services.”

Recently I went through the process of identifying and selecting a 3PL partner to become our company’s main conduit for the launch of our first round of products here in the U.S. market.  The process was on a shortened time table, particularly given the imminent timing of our launch and the fact that our products were already well into their initial production cycle.

There are many different criteria that can be used when determining which 3PL to engage for your company’s fulfillment operations.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here’s the “stuff” I used to determine our particular selection.  I encourage you to consider the items mentioned below.  Every one of them could be expanded at much greater length, but for the purpose of keeping this article reasonably short, I will be brief.

  1. Start Locally. This works if you happen to be in northern California (definitely options in this part of the world), but hopefully if your business is near any type of metropolitan area, you’ll have some potential choices available to you close at hand.  Why?  Well, for me, with new products, in a new market, with a (relatively) new business venture, I wanted to “hedge the bet a little” for success and keep this part of the operation within reach-literally.  If there’s a problem, I don’t want to necessarily have to jump on a plane for half a day or more to get there “in person” (see my previous post entitled “Face (to Face) Time”.   Start locally if you can- it just makes sense.  Even later on, if the business scales to a point where a global organization is needed (one with multiple sites to service multiple regions), there will still be a need for a local enterprise, just to give you some bandwidth on special projects or segments of your business.  If you can cultivate this first, it can only help you later.
  2. Solicit Input.  Don’t go it alone!  There are lots of smart people around you, lots of opinions and experience that you should draw upon when determining which 3PL to partner with.  I asked for inputs from those around me, and two of my colleagues, both of whom I trust and respect, offered some great working relationships from previous gigs that were helpful in the search process.  Be somewhat selective about where you get your recommendations from- and if you do, this can pay off later on.
  3. State the Obvious.  When speaking with a potential 3PL, you need to be able to articulate exactly what it is you’ll need them to do for you.  They aren’t mind readers, and no two companies have exactly the same needs.  Sit down with them, walk them through your basic business plan, and discuss the particulars around what is needed. If they are sharp, they’ll not only listen, they’ll offer some insights in response that you might be able to benefit from.  Know what it is that needs to happen, and be able to share it with them in a way they can understand.  Also, be prepared to be rejected by the 3PL.  This happened to me as well- I had one company on our short list actually tell me that they weren’t interested in our business until we were closer to an annual revenue of at least a few million in sales.  We’re a start up- with a great product line up- and a large parent company- but not yet in the U.S. market.  Oh well- I guess this particular 3PL just didn’t need the business.
  4. Spend Effort.  Don’t be lazy– this kind of stuff doesn’t just happen on its own.  You’ll have to put forth some effort to really weigh a 3PL’s capabilities, since it isn’t always obvious.  For me, it meant jumping in the car a few times and heading out to various locations throughout the Bay area.  On at least one of those visits, I was able to grab the boss and bring him along for the ride- which can be a good thing- he gets to see the process first hand, and you get a supporter to your efforts.  And when you conduct a site visit, ask yourself if what you are seeing is also how you’d run the place.  If it’s not how you’d do things, that may be a red flag.
  5. Seriously- How Much?  There’s a place for weighing the quoted costs.  It’s okay to be a little price sensitive-after all, it’s not just business, it’s your business- so treat it that way.  Costs are an important component of the decision process.  Don’t pay more than you should, and don’t be so cheap that your customers suffer, either.  There’s a definite balance to be achieved when it comes to costs and “comparison-shopping”.  Be ready to agree to pricing for those things that matter most to your business and your customers.

Hopefully these points can give you some sense of direction when it comes to selecting a 3PL for your business.  In the end, you’ll want to team up with an organization that mirrors your needs with their capabilities, shares your vision, and desires to truly be a part of your success!

 

 

 

Face (to Face) Time

Jetson imageI’ve had the benefit of living through some glorious times, in terms of technology.  And I freely admit that I am a bit of of a techie nerd (it’s a good thing) when it comes to trying new things–I’ve never shied away from exploration of the “latest and greatest” in the world of technology.

I remember back to my childhood, and the first microwave oven my parents brought home.  It was huge, had large dials on the front, and had a definite humming noise when in operation.  Unlike most of my family members, I relished the chance to use it and cook the “heck” out of anything that need to be heated.  I can also recall the first time my family had cable television, our first VHS tape player, and hours spent playing Pong (the original upright video arcade game, as well as the cool, black and silver home unit with the built-in large dials, which my parents still have tucked away for me in their attic–what is it about dials?)…later, during one of my brief stints working for my father’s printing company, I remember convincing (arguing?) him into purchasing his first ever fax (“facsimile”- love that word) machine for his business, and why it was important to have one–true story.

I’ve always enjoyed getting to know technology and how to use it.  Of course, in more recent history, we’ve become accustomed to much better (maybe?) technology, right in our hands, with our smart phones and tablets.  One of the apps, Apple’s “FaceTime”, with its ability to allow the user to have video enabled calls between each other, is such an example.

Recently, I found myself, along with a colleague, on a quick trip to El Paso, Texas, to visit with one of our key partners that assists our company with the management and distribution of our products.  It’s a relatively new relationship, borne out of necessity at the start of this calendar year, and we wanted to tour the facility and meet with our account person and his company president.  We had an opportunity to view our inventory, look briefly at their processes, and discuss future business requirements.  More importantly, though, in my mind, was the need for real, in-person “face time”.

Having a discussion, or meeting, directly with those involved in any particular aspect of your business is key to successful communication.  Video calls, emails, text, even telephone calls, cannot substitute what I refer to as “the intangible nature of being present“.  The value of such activity cannot be measured.

If you simply don’t agree with me on this point, so be it. But before you dismiss my statement entirely, consider these aspects of direct communication and it’s impact:

  1.  Direct, personal communication conveys an element of importance to the parties involved.  Our time is limited in this incredibly fast paced world today, and anyone that carves out a piece of their schedule to do this activity effectively states “this is important stuff”.
  2. Some elements of communication cannot be conveyed by emoticons.  Hopefully I’m not offending my millennium generation coworkers with that statement, but it’s true.  Body language, tone inflection, visible facial expressions, etc.- all small things that together can assist in good, clear communication.  You can’t do that through a text message or email. It’s just not the same thing.
  3. There’s a human aspect to real, face-to-face time.  You get to know the people better, and at the end of the proverbial day, with all our discussion about process, system integration, big data analytics, blah, blah, blah- it’s still about people.  Don’t lose sight of that, please.  Technology can and should provide us with lots of great and insightful tools to improve our lives and our businesses, but it’s the people behind those tools that really move us forward.
  4. You learn new ideas and information by meeting in person with someone.  There’s a three dimensional aspect to this type of communication and sharing of information that doesn’t always happen when using the two dimensional tech as a replacement.  I’m not sure how to fully describe this other than to say that being in communication with another individual or team, “in person” opens up a larger, more creative flow of information–new ideas come about, people key on each others thoughts in the moment, there’s a synergy (sorry, but I had to use that word) that truly occurs.

Before you run off to a business trip, consider your goals, consider your timing, consider your budget and consider the impact to your schedule (or that of your team), but by all means, please consider making full use of in-person communication when possible and practical to do so.  Putting effort into our level of communication, our investment in those around us, will help to yield tremendous results for us both personally and professionally.

 

 

Regarding the Anatomy of Operational Excellence

shutterstock_138565244The Anatomy Of Operational Excellence

LEADERSHIP

THE ANATOMY OF OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE

OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE ENABLES AN ENTERPRISE AND ITS LEADERSHIP TO CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE ALL AREAS OF PERFORMANCE. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM GM, CHEVRON, AND BAE SYSTEMS.

BY FAISAL HOQUE

Operational excellence enables an enterprise and its leadership to continuously improve all areas of performance, including decision-making, ongoing investment, profitability, customer and partner services and human resources capabilities. Operationally excellent enterprises possess the processes and structures—or the “intangible assets”—that give them the visibility, control, tools, and management practices necessary to drive greater operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Consider the following three examples:

Potential Failure: British multinational defense, security and aerospace behemoth BAE Systems could be jeopardizing its operational excellence with a proposed merger that would threaten a key market. BAE’s biggest shareholder, fund manager Invesco Perpetual, warns that plans to merge with EADS, Europe’s largest arms manufacturer and the maker of Airbus, makes no strategic sense for BAE. The deal with EADS, which is controlled by France and Germany, would hamper BAE’s manufacturer’s access to the very profitable market for U.S. military contracts, according to Invesco, which owns about 13.3% of BAE, which generates more than 40% of its revenue in the U.S.

Return to Excellence: American multinational automotive General Motors bounced back to profitability in 2011, two years after emerging from a government-backed Chapter 11 reorganization and a year after making one of the world’s biggest initial public offerings. Now GM is making a strategic decision to add 1,500 software and data management jobs at its tech center in Warren, Mich., as part of an sweeping effort to in-source 90% of its tech work. A month ago, GM opened a similar center in Austin, Texas, with plans to hire 500 workers. GM’s focus on building a new age of automotive innovation could further improve its operational excellence.

Ongoing Excellence: Oil supermajor Chevron is engaged in every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, and relies on core strategies across the enterprise. The company works with suppliers across the globe as a part of its ‘Chevron Way’ philosophy, which has helped it grow annual net income to nearly $27 billion on revenue of $253.7 billion in 2011, making it one of the world’s largest corporations by revenue. More significantly, from an investor’s perspective, Chevron had $41 billion in cash from operating activities in the bank at the beginning of 2012. There’s speculation that Chevron may go on a buying spree with that cash, and it’s essential the giant makes the best choices to maintain the same commitment to excellence even if it scoops up an inferior smaller company.

Looking Back to a Single Pin

Operational excellence had its genesis in manufacturing dating back to the pre-Industrial Revolution. In his 1776 magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, economist and philosopher Adam Smith was among the first great thinkers to define this now widely used concept. Smith famously described a small pin factory where 10 workers, each specializing in a different aspect of the job, could produce over 48,000 pins a day. Left to make a pin on his own, each of these workers might not have manufactured a single one in a day, and certainly not more than 20. The division of labor immensely increased the productivity of each worker. It’s still true today that assigning different roles and responsibilities across an enterprise enables scale, lowers costs and leads to greater operational efficiencies.

Delivering continuous improvement in the marketplace among competitors and customers requires enterprises to identify, understand and create the capabilities, behaviors and focuses necessary for repeatable, continuous and measurable operational improvement.

Roadmap for Operational Excellence Journey

Being operationally excellent requires a focus on management capabilities to develop and promulgate standards, coordinate decision-making, optimize service delivery and to manage the workforce. Orchestrating these capabilities requires a unification of cross- functional management disciplines. These capabilities can be organized around the following core characteristics:

1. Visualize Key Operational Processes. Identify the key operational processes, including those that create value, growth or innovation as well as those that consume the most resources, time and assets. Develop visual operating models that show linkages both inside the enterprise as well as outside, to customers, suppliers and partners.

2. Design Workflow and Predefined Responses. Model the workflow for each key process, identifying the actions, resources and workers required for each step. Then define a standard response to handle large variations in workflow volume outputs or inputs.

3. Develop Metrics and Gauges. Establish measures for normal workflow and develop systems or methods that report workflow volume outside the normal ranges. Ensure that workflow reports are received by the stakeholders responsible for each operation.

4. Operate Functionally, Measure Systemically. The functional operating manager responsible for workflow, using the predefined responses, operates the workflow by making any changes necessary to adapt to changing volume, inputs or outputs. Functional managers interact with upstream and downstream operating mangers to ensure optimal end-to-end performance.

5. Drive Continuous Improvement. As operating experience grows, make adjustments to the workflow design, predefined responses and performance measures, to continuously improve overall system performance.

If business agility enables rapid adjustments to effect change, and sustained innovation allows an organization to stay ahead of the competition and market dynamics, then operational excellence is the epitome of fiscal discipline, maximizing the use of resources and the assurance of revenue sustainability and, ultimately, profitability.

Managing Operational Risks

To manage most business operations, enterprises must cultivate a culture of risk management that is vigilant in its pursuit and disciplined in its execution.

Today’s businesses are learning hard lessons about operational risk: BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, naked credit default swaps and more than $63 billion in failed U.S. technology projects, are but a few of the high- profile cases that demonstrate the perils of failed risk management and poor operational execution. Each of these disasters and debacles caused billions of dollars in value destruction, yet each of them happened on the watch of skilled risk managers who appeared to do their jobs properly. Each had compliance systems, regulators and oversight mechanisms expressly designed to mitigate risk. So what went wrong?

In two words: systemic failure. Systemic operational risk originates in the complex interactions among the components that constitute a system. An individual component can function flawlessly while the overall system experiences a massive failure, or the system functions as an impact multiplier, magnifying the effect of a single component failure.

Managing systemic risk requires a culture of operational risk management that extends beyond the individual components to the edges, seams and overall system behavior. Mature risk cultures are characterized by a set of essential management practices that ensure the framework of the enterprise functions at a consistently high level. These include the following:

Step 1: Identify the risks. Operational risk identification is the process of identifying of sources of risk from all directions, internal and external. Risk identification is an inherently creative process, and as such, it requires the collaboration of diverse minds and different perspectives that represent all constituencies.

Step 2: Establish a control system. Risk mitigation is an analytical process that devises a control system to mitigate each identified risk. Control systems range widely. They can be designed to respond to a risk event, to reengineer the process to eliminate or transfer the risk, or to detect the risk early, before it can cause significant damage.

Step 3: Test, test, and test again. Control systems require compliance to be effective, and testing simulates risk events and the control-system response. Test results are fed back into improved and more effective control systems; they also serve to identify new sources of risk, each of which requires a corresponding control system.

As our knowledge economy expands and global interconnections increase, complexity grows exponentially. Business leaders and operating managers must proactively manage complexity by constructing control systems that not only function in complex environments, but also adapt and evolve along with them.

(Original article by FAISAL HOQUE)

Founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Newest book “Survive to Thrive – 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, And Leaders” (Motivational Press, 2015).

 

Elements of Supplier Quality–Part 1

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.01.03 PMYou can find a great deal of information available on the topic of supplier quality.  I’ve previously written a short piece on the ownership of quality within an organization (“Who Owns Quality?”, August, 2014), but for this short post I’d like to focus specifically on supplier quality.  However, I will likely not cover the topic in the manner you’d expect for someone with twenty years of experience in Silicon Valley.  Why do the same old thing, right?

For example, I could discuss the need for metrics, for a systematic approach to measuring supplier quality through standards and regular performance reviews, scorecards and corrective actions, etc., but for me, as much as there is certainly a place for such discussion, I’d prefer to approach the topic from a different perspective:  simple, common characteristics.  I want to summarize those characteristics that I believe are often present in a great supplier relationship.  As you read through these, think about your own supply chain, your participants in that supply chain, and whether these on my list are consistently present with your current suppliers.

Let’s dive right in–

  1. Great suppliers have integrity.  You’d think this would be obvious, but it isn’t always the case, and you are foolish to assume it to be true.  Dishonesty still still surfaces from time to time in today’s business world, and it’s always been around, all the way back to when the first business deals were done (whenever that was).  Integrity is one of those necessary qualities if you truly want a high level of quality to be present in your supply chain.  We all need suppliers to not only do what they say they will do, but be careful not to over-commit as well.  And, in the rare instance something doesn’t happen as planned or committed, to take ownership for their part in both the problem and the solution.  True integrity means your supplier has given reasonably careful thought to what they can and cannot do for you and communicates exactly this information in a clear and honest fashion, which brings me to my second characteristic.
  2. Great suppliers are great communicators.  They communicate.  Period.  As a customer, you don’t need to spend time tracking down the story, or the status, because they have communicated exactly what is happening with your parts, your service or your shipments.  Not only is the information accurate, it is timely, it is clear and it is intelligent.  A great supplier goes out of their way to make sure you are informed and will do this generally in a proactive fashion.  This sounds like a basic concept, I know, but it’s still surprising to me that there are businesses out there that simply do not communicate well with their customers.
  3. Great suppliers know their limits and focus on what they do best.  My dad taught me this one firsthand.  He owned a small but extremely successful commercial printing business here in Silicon Valley that lasted more than 30 years (not bad for a kid from North Carolina with a young wife and four kids to raise, and nothing more than a high school education–but more on that story another time).  He was always very careful to only accept jobs that he knew his crew and his expertise could handle well.  If he didn’t have the resources, or the ability, he didn’t take the work.  He would always remind me (I worked for him through part of my college and early adult life) how important it was not to try to do something that you were most likely to fail at.  Having said that, he slowly grew the capabilities of his business proportionately to the growth of his customer base and their demands. But he was always very careful to focus on producing the highest quality printed goods possible, so much so that he took pride in delivering much of the work to the customers himself.  It gave him great satisfaction when his customers loved the work he did for them.  And, as he held a high standard of quality with his business, it flourished and did well financially.
  4. Great suppliers share in your vision.  They “get” what you’re trying to achieve.  To be fair, sometimes we do a lousy job of explaining exactly what we’re trying to do.  But assuming that you’re doing your part in the relationship (I hope so), a great supplier understands and shares in your quest.  They want you to succeed, not only for the business aspect of what it does for them financially, but because they believe in what you’re trying to do.  They become a partner, and take a genuine interest in helping you and your team to succeed.
  5. Great suppliers provide you with constructive feedback.  Let’s face it, we screw up sometimes as a customer.  We don’t always know exactly what we want (or more often, how many we need), but a great supplier learns enough about your business to provide feedback and often will grow your knowledge in a useful fashion by what they share with you.  I’ve had the benefit of this type of relationship for much of my own career, and some of the best supply chain relationships have involved working with experts in their respective fields, who took the time to teach and impart useful information so that I could do a better job both for my company as well as for myself professionally.

I’m going to stop with these five for now- there are no doubt many more elements of supplier quality that could be discussed and I’ll touch on a few more in one of my future posts.  Give some thought to your supply chain through the “lens” of these characteristics and ask yourself if your supply chain reflects these consistently.  If not, it may be time for a change.  If so, continue to cultivate your relationships with those suppliers, and for the longer term, you’ll be glad that you have them on your team.

Learning to Change

embrace-change

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”George Bernard Shaw

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”Rumi

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”Wayne W. Dyer

Change is one of life’s most common denominators. Along with Benjamin Franklin’s famous “death and taxes” statement, you could add change to the list of those items in life that are predictable, that are certain.

No matter where you find yourself today, no matter what path you may be on at this moment, one thing stands true: it will change at some point in time.

I’ve spent more than twenty years in Silicon valley, working with start up companies as well as more established, mature organizations. In every instance, change was present. I’d like to share some thoughts with you regarding change as it relates to life and career.

1. Change happens. As previously stated, I can guarantee you that change is coming to your life. Lest you believe that what you are doing today, and how you are doing it, will (or should) never change, let me assure you–it will. Change is inevitable; it is a part of our lives, both as individuals as well as with our organizations.

2. Those who handle change well can thrive.  Think of it as an evolutionary skill.  Adapt and survive, or stay put and don’t survive.  My experience has taught me that if I want to be successful, no matter what the job may be, I need to be able to adapt, to learn, to change.  There’s a proper time and place for consistency, for predictability, for routine–please know that I value these as well, and I understand their place in our lives, as well as within our organizations.  But in addition to those things, the ability to handle change is what allows us the maximum opportunity for success.  It’s not merely having an open mind, but more so the ability to perceive the needs present within change, and determine the best corrective route to address and respond to change–to be responsive.

3.  Get creative quickly.  In my previous couple of roles I was in a traditional office environment–I had an office, and had the ability to close my door for meetings or telephone calls that required my attention or a focused conversation.  In my current role I am in a start up organization–housed in a vintage historic building that was once a movie theater.  It’s an open air seating arrangement, with common areas for collaboration or ad hoc meetings.  Even our CEO doesn’t have an office.  When I first arrived, I’ll admit I was thrown off by the noise and activity levels swirling around me.  Since then, I’ve learned to focus, leaning heavily on my earphones, and I have a seat near a wall and window which affords me a compromise between my new surroundings and my history.  I hardly notice the difference today, but getting to this point required me to adapt, to change.  Not that I don’t miss my offices from time to time (well, okay, I DO miss my plants, and my treasured artwork from my kids on my office walls) but I’m okay with the relatively new environment.  And I’ve learned to use the outdoors for telephone calls, or duck into the local coffee shop below our office to break up the day when needed.

4.  Learn from those around you.  I can’t stress this one enough.  No one fools themselves  more than the person who believes they alone have all the answers.  You really don’t believe you know everything, do you?  The longer I live, the more I realize how much I don’t know.  You need to be ready to learn new concepts, new ideas, from those around you.  I’m in the middle of a very talented group of people, both here and at home!  I learn new things everyday from my colleagues, my boss and my family members, and I’m thankful for the inputs.  I’m responsible for my role, both with the Operations team of my company, as well as husband and father at home, but I can become so much better at whatever I’m doing when I am willing to learn from those around me.  No need to “go it alone” with respect to change.

If you’ve gotten this far through this brief post, I’m going to lose your attention soon.  I understand, and I won’t even take it personally.   Be ready for change.  It’s coming.

“I wanted to change the world.  But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”Aldous Huxley

Hamster wheels and Marathons.

hamster-wheel-03.600If you read any of my blog posts and have wondered why I disappeared, I apologize.

I enjoy writing as it allows me to express myself and put “on paper” a fair amount of stuff floating around in my head (and heart) at various points in time.  But over the last couple of months (since January, really) I’ve been busy…too busy at times even to write.  And it seems, each time I try to carve out some space to be alone with my writings, I have been either interrupted or mentally challenged and unable to focus.  I know you know exactly what I am talking about…we’ve all been there.

Work and life in general can get to a crazy level of busyness at times.  I transitioned in my work life from a smaller, consumer goods start-up that I had been with the last three years, to a high-tech, “Internet of Things” company on a fast track with a major corporate parent company this past January….and life’s been a little crazy in the process.  I’m working with some genius level people with great ideas (product ideas) that will make life as we know it change dramatically over the next few years.  It’s pretty cool tech and some forward (almost Orwellian) thinking about our quality of life, what we do and how we live life.  In the not too distant future (aka this year) you’ll likely see products that I’ve had a hand in bringing to market appear on your television sets and in your local electronics retailers…very cool stuff that can improve your life, ease some every day stresses and will merge technology with your physical world.  Enough said–it’s exciting stuff.

At times, life in a start-up can feel very much like a perpetual hamster wheel...a lot of movement, without necessarily getting from point A to point B.   There are many (too many at times) “cooks in the kitchen”  and everyone offers their take on the latest project you are working on.  The office environment is wide open, and at times the noise level, given the activity level, can get downright crazy (thank God for noise canceling headphones).  In my particular case, I work in a renovated old school theater from the 1930’s (I’m guessing), in a downtown area about 3 or 4 blocks from the Stanford University campus.  It’s a busy place, to be sure, and the demand and pace of such an enterprise isn’t for the faint of heart.  I’ve done this kind of thing now for almost more than 25 years and plan to write a book about my experiences, all of which have been in Silicon Valley.

Given this pace of recent months, I have had to learn (anew) how to “gear down”, slow my own pace during my off hours, to try to balance life a little.  In my younger days, I’d just continue to run, but now, at this stage in life, I’m starting to appreciate more the journey than the arrival destination.  That’s important for me, personally and professionally, as it should be to you also.

Learning to appreciate and embrace where you are while you are there can tremendously improve your outlook on life.  I had this thought recently as I arrived home to find my wife attempting to build a security gate for our dog (something to keep Jazmine further in the back area of our home with less access to the front gates of the house).  I jumped on this project to relieve her struggle (my wife will take on just about anything–she’s pretty handy with most power tools) and because it provided me with a complete diversion from my day-to-day duties in the high-tech world.  I thoroughly enjoyed the project and the gate worked out well (great design by my wife, and I’ll take credit for the installation and locking mechanism)…and I can incorporate a piece of my company’s tech into it as well, just for fun and to keep tabs on Jazmine (sorry Jazzy–really, I do trust you).  And the life lesson is simple–find ways to keep a balance in your life.  Busy is fine and needed at times (busy and productive, not just busy, by the way, but that’s another topic)–but it’s good to balance life, to enjoy the journey and to pace yourself.  The longer I am here the more convinced I am that we are all in a long distance marathon, not a sprint race.

Having a Mentor

mentor

Taken from Wikipedia:

“Mentoring” is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is:
“Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”.
Fairly early in my career in Operations I had the benefit of reporting in to a tremendous mentor. I was working in the video game industry, and was hired by a local third party game products company to manage the supply chain activities, much of which revolved around strategic partnerships with several large Asian suppliers.
Although my mentor didn’t necessarily have to do so, he made a point of involving me in many high-powered meetings and trips abroad, both to Europe and the far East, as a part of my role within the company. It was a first hand educational process for me, and over the course of a couple of years the insights, discussions and training that I received were extremely helpful and shaped both my professional career as well as my professional ethics and conduct. The experience of working with this particular mentor (I’ve had the privilege of a couple of such relationships in my career) proved to be both immediately rewarding and valuable later in my life as well.
Recently I made a career move, heading back into a new tech startup full of bright, energetic engineers and staff that are now forging a new wave of technology and products that (I think) will soon shape everyone’s lives in one way or another—it’s just that big…anyway, upon leaving my former employer I wondered if I’d made any impact on my coworkers. A couple of days following my departure I received a card in the mail (very old school), from one of the young guys I had hired there, thanking me for my leadership, training and input in his life—and for getting him started, not only at that particular company, but with respect to his career as well. Without realizing it, I had been a mentor to him. Not only that—I had also yet another mentor in my own life while there—even in a smaller company, still a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Are you mentoring someone now? Making an impact in their life? Here are some suggestions for elements of great mentoring:

1. Great mentors are good communicators. They know how, when and why to communicate. They are generally easy to speak with, to ask questions, and they take time in their responses.
2. Great mentors have something to share. They are knowledge experts, not on every topic, but certainly on some topics. Through their own experience, education and career growth, they can offer insights not always found in the more mundane ways, such as a classroom setting. You can learn something from them.
3. Great mentors are reasonably humble in their approach. They don’t seek to be seen, or necessarily heard, they are sought out. Their wisdom becomes somewhat evident as you get to know them, not due to their own self-promotion.
4. Great mentors are an asset to their organizations. Fairly easy to understand this point—they make a positive difference in the lives of others on the team.
5. Great mentors are great people (based on my experiences). This will usually be the case—part of being a good mentor involves character qualities that are good and positive in other areas of life, not just while at work.

Are you mentoring someone now? Do you have a mentor in your life that is helping you grow, learn and become better not only as an employee but also as a person? We should all cultivate a spirit of mentorship within our lives and work communities. Education and experience are important attributes towards building a strong team, but do not lose sight of the importance of mentorship in your work and your life.  Have a relationship with someone who will teach you, lead you and help you to grow as a person–and do the same for someone else!