You Be You – I’ll Be Me.

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime (at least, for some it would be).  I was offered a role with the world’s largest social media company, working in a special business unit within the company, to be a part of a team that is building a suite of products that one day soon are going to be available and truly amazing to all.

I took their offer, and on my first day of employment found myself on a plane headed to Hong Kong to meet with other members of my global team.  It was a real head spinner, and the trip was only a week.  Week number two was spent on campus in Menlo Park, getting acquainted with more of the team and acclimated to the product, the product plans and the current status, partnerships and challenges.  For the next three months, there were meetings, trips, lots of planning and strategy sessions, cross functional discussions with key partnerships, lots of legal documents to review, rewrite and refine, and defining of yet-to-be-created processes.  All good stuff, working alongside some very bright, energetic and talented people.  And then I decided to leave the company.

Why?  Why walk away from something this spectacular?  This could have easily been the pinnacle of my career.  It was the largest employer I’ve ever worked for- in a very desirable work environment- surrounded by intelligent, motivated and enthusiastic coworkers- so what’s wrong with that?

Probably the best way I could phrase my response to these questions would be to answer with something simple- “it wasn’t right for me”.  Here’s the thing- to use an analogy, let’s talk about watches.  Yes, wrist watches.

Brands such as Rolex, Breitling, or Patek Philippe,  are known for their craftsmanship, and they are known throughout the world for making some of the finest and most expensive timepieces on the planet.  If I were in the market, and decided to buy a watch (I have too many watches as it is)- would I buy a Rolex?  A Breitling?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Suppose I did- knowing me, I’d probably not wear it.  It just wouldn’t be me.  Nothing wrong with the watch- it just wouldn’t suit my needs.  It wouldn’t feel right for me personally.   And I’m okay with that.

Same thing is true here as well.  Being a part of a mega company is a great opportunity for the right person.  The work could be rewarding, there’s a spirit of high energy all around, and the perks- chefs cook meals for you throughout the day (free), there’s a fully stocked “microkitchen” in every building with everything imaginable in it (free again), there are even free vending machines that dispense keyboards, mice, smart phone cables, power cords, ear buds, whatever you need- and on the main campus, it’s literally Disney-like in it’s layout and food and services offerings.  A couple of my older kids would probably love to work here.  We even had our own version of a free Uber-like service, where a car would pick you up at your building lobby and take you over to another building on campus whenever needed.  I could go on and on, but you get it.

So what’s my deal?  I‘m a true start-up guy at heart.  I’m underway now with another great opportunity with a small company that’s just starting to get off the ground and needs someone like me, with my experience and background, to help them grow and scale and get to the next levels of success in their particular industry.  I’ve been fortunate to work in several different industries, which, as it turns out, provides me with a great platform to help lots of different companies with their strategy, their partnerships and leverage my own network to help move them towards success.  I love what I do, and I enjoy the sense of reward and camaraderie that comes with working with start-up companies.  I’ve been fortunate in Silicon Valley, to have been a part of several successful teams and companies, all of which are still thriving here in northern California and abroad.  The “social media mega company” was a good experience for me, as it taught me more about myself and my values.  Although it didn’t work out as anticipated, I’m sure great things are ahead for the team I was fortunate to have been a part of – even briefly.  I’m anticipating great things next year as they get closer to launch with their new products (some very cool things in the works).

For me, I’ll continue to cultivate my passion for Operations and Supply Chain excellence, working closely with my new team- and injecting my experiences, my skill set and my personality into our business plans and future goals- we have some lofty ambitions here for the months ahead!

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).

 

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!

Housekeeping??

housekeepingI still laugh when I think about that scene from the movie “Tommy Boy” with the late Chris Farley and David Spade. If you don’t know the movie, and want some light, mindless fun, watch it some night, it’ll make you laugh.

Recently we conducted an end of the year physical inventory and while going through our records and reconciling all the data, the word “housekeeping” came to my mind. Housekeeping is an important part of a good operational plan–a very important part. Let me explain further.

Within Operations, and more specifically Supply Chain Management, we often focus on supplier qualification, capacity, lead times and costs. All of these are important ingredients that need our constant attention when it comes to producing a great product. Redundancy within the supply chain is another area of focus that we spend efforts with, to ensure we have adequate capacity in place as well as contingency plans for any changes or disruptions in our supply chain.

But what about housekeeping? Does your supplier (or contract manufacturer, or 3PL distribution partner) keep a clean house? When was the last time you visited them–possibly even unannounced (or perhaps with a short notice)? And I’m not referring to the cleanliness of their conference room or restrooms, but of their operational areas. This is a facet of supply chain management that is sometimes overlooked. Are materials properly inventoried, labeled and stored? Is it evident through looking at the various areas the type of work that is underway? How about documentation? In order and aligned with reality? These are just some of the questions that come to my mind when thinking about housekeeping as it relates to Operations.

I grew up in a household where there was much routine and order. My parents (although not from a military background) instilled in their children at a very early age the importance of keeping your room clean and in order. We had certain days of the week that were earmarked for certain activities, whether it be laundry, vacuuming, trash duty, etc. and we all had our chores assigned. As a teen it was a royal pain in my backside, but later in life I realized the importance of staying organized, both personally and professionally, and I came to appreciate the values I was taught. The concept stuck with me and grew with me, from just my room, to my house, my personal things (such as my vehicles), my office, and my operational responsibilities (suppliers, warehouses, etc.) in my career.

Great housekeeping can help your organization avoid issues such as incomplete or erroneous data, poor or inefficiency in space management and inventory management, slowed or difficult processes (such as inventory counts) and delayed or ineffective distribution of products through your fulfillment activities.

As you begin the new year, give some thought to housekeeping, and you’ll be rewarded immensely!

What’s in the Box?

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 goods (products that ship to end users directly).  What is your customer going to receive?  That’s certainly one question you should be able to answer confidently.  An even better question might be–What will your customer think of your product?  What will they perceive about your company when they open the product?

Earlier in the year I wrote a small piece about quality, and more specifically, about ownership of quality.  The OOBA is one tool to measure quality internally, but more than that, it is one method to constantly keep your customer’s experience in view.   It’s not only about product quality, it’s one way in which the Operations team can contribute to the customer retention level of any organization.

We’ve all been there–we’ve been pleasantly surprised when we’ve ordered a product and it showed up, pristine in quality, ready to be used, delivered as expected.  We’ve also had those less than stellar experiences when a product arrives that isn’t up to our expectations, or the hype, or what was promised by the company.  Keep the OOBA in mind.  When was the last time you really looked at your product from your customer’s perspective?  This is something important that should be a part of every organization!

Who Owns Quality?

Let me ask you a question…who “owns quality” in your organization?  Depending on the size and type of organization you’re a part of, the answer may vary a bit, right?  Not so fast!  It’s a trick question…

Allow me to elaborate through personal experience.  I own a small bluetooth external speaker called a Jambox (made by Jawbone).  I’ve had this particular item for a couple of years now (I’m using it now as I write this post, listening to music on Pandora, a great service for streaming music).  My Jambox has been through the proverbial “war”…I’ve taken it on business trips, on camping expeditions, out in the backyard while working on the latest landscape project, even using it as my speaker of choice in my 1963 Ford F100 pickup at times.  It’s rugged, has a clean, simple design, and it works every time I need it.  In short, it’s a great product, made with quality in mind.

How does that happen?  I don’t know the structure of Jawbone’s corporation, I’m not familiar with their quality department (if there is one)….but they produced a reliable, consistent performing product.

 

image

Let me offer some insight from my experience within Operations as well as a consumer:

1.  Quality is owned by everyone within the organization.  From the board members to the CEO, the management team to the customer care representatives and sales team, through production and logistics, right down to the shipping and receiving team, the concept and the “character” (if you will) of quality needs to be present.  It’s not relegated to a designated quality control position (although there may be such a person who champions this element within your company)–it’s a commitment, an ongoing, evolutionary process, a mindset that must override everything involved in the product life cycle.

2.  Quality must be passionate in nature.  Please don’t assume that simply adhering to metrics will get you there.  There needs to be a passionate commitment to obtaining quality.  Metrics are a great way to measure performance in general, and to monitor your course with a given product’s life cycle, making certain that standards are adhered to, etc., but metrics alone will not insure true quality.  Quality is present when the product or service is not only consistent in delivering whatever it was designed for, but also when the recipient or user of the item in question places their confidence and trust in the product or service repeatedly, based on experience and performance.  Quality can actually have a “feel” to it, and real quality, when found, will move the consumer in a way that the lack of quality simply cannot.  You become a fan of the product (like I am with my Jambox).

3.  Quality occurs by design.  There’s no escaping this universal truth…we’ve all seen the bumper sticker that suggests that “s*&t happens”….pretty much true.  But quality, on the other hand, doesn’t “just happen”.  It is the byproduct of design, of passion, of experience, and resourcefulness.  True quality occurs because you want it to happen, not just by accident.

Think a moment about the experiences you’ve had, or the product you use, maybe the car you drive, or the clothing brand you gravitate towards.  Those items in our lives that we hold in high esteem, rely upon or just become our “go to” thing in our lives–they are there because of some element of quality.

Lessons from a Retaining Wall.

build-retaining-wall-heroI recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my “regular job” to travel to Idaho, visiting my wife’s aunt and uncle.  They live on a very scenic lake north of Boise, surrounded by pine trees, mountain ranges and lots of clean air.

While there I set out to help them in any way that I could.  They are aging, and so there were some pretty obvious projects that needed to be moved along or completed.  One such project was a small retaining wall near their circular driveway.  It had been started nearly five years earlier, but had stopped when my wife’s uncle became ill.  I noticed the four pallets of blocks still parked, with what appeared to be the start of a base that lined the driveway curve.

Thinking it was an obvious choice, I awoke early one morning to surprise everyone by building out the wall.  For me, the visual of seeing the blocks moved off their pallets and into a newly formed retaining wall would be truly welcomed.  Alas, “not so much”.

About half way through the building process, my wife’s aunt stepped outside to the front porch, and noticing what I had done, quickly asked me to hold up.  Apparently Uncle Tommy had envisioned a different way to build the wall.  I found my wife’s uncle, asked him about it, and after hearing of the plan, determined I would need to undo all the work I had done.  What a bummer.

Lots of sweat, and a sore back later….I had some thoughts.  Here they are, in no particular order…maybe something useful for you in your life, in managing your business operations, or maybe even with your role as a parent:

1.  Good intentions are….good intentions.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that good intentions alone make for a successful business operation.  They don’t.  They aren’t a bad way to get started, but in the end, really, they don’t amount to much at all.  They are only intentions.  Same truth applies to work, to parenting, to just about everything in life.  Intentions are a great starting point, but not enough to be successful at anything really.

2.  There is wisdom in seeking the counsel of others.  My wife told me not to pursue this particular dream, but I didn’t listen to her.  She was right…I was wrong.  Sometimes we really think we know best, that we have a great idea, that we’ll show everyone around us once it’s done, etc…but it’s a wise person who bounces their ideas off of those around themselves, if only as a sanity check.  This is a great practice.  And of course, it works well if you take others advice into consideration when making your decision (honey, you were right, again).

3.  Sometimes our differences aren’t really that different.  Uncle Tommy had a vision in his mind of how the wall would be built, the steps involved in it, etc.  So did I, and really, we were on the same page (sort of).  We both wanted the wall built but our approach was different.  Same is often true in business operations–stay focused on the goal, even if the approach isn’t exactly the same way for each team member.  A great manager understands this truth.  Work with the end result in mind, and ultimately you should end up there.  Most issues within a team stem from not having the same goal, a clear vision, etc.  This is where leadership comes into play, too.  Good leaders communicate clear goals to their teams.

4.  Retaining wall blocks get heavier when you have to move them twice.  Okay, I had to say it.  It was hot, I was sweaty, and they were heavy to start with, and mysteriously became heavier when I had to undo my progress.  Doing the job over to correct your mistakes (which does happen at times) is never fun, so taking the time to plan out our intentions, to engage those around us, to really understand the goal….these are great steps that can help us avoid having to do things twice.  Efficiency balanced with accuracy is what’s needed in most cases, both in Operations, in parenting, in life.  Now get outside and build something!

 

Know Your Team – Know Your Strengths.

I love working on older trucks and cars.  I’m no mechanic, by anybody’s standards, but over the years, and through lots of trial and error, I’ve picked up a few pieces of information about how carburetors work, troubleshooting small electrical issues with lights, replacing a starter motor, removing skid plates from a Hummer (that’s a fun one) and so on.

I’m currently in the middle of a small restoration, reviving a 1963 Ford F100 pickup truck.  It’s definitely a family effort, primarily involving my wife and my stepson as well as any time I can squeeze out of my own schedule.  It’s slow but coming along and ultimately I will be the beneficiary of a daily driver when finished.

truck5

Thank goodness for the team.  My wife knows upholstery, carpeting and paint and body work pretty well (she’s done her share of projects over the years and started life spending time around race cars with her father who sponsored a few way back in the day).  My stepson is pretty handy with a wrench, can troubleshoot most mechanical issues, and pretty handy to have around for small, tight spaces that even a Russian gymnast might find challenging.  Between the three of us, we make a pretty good team and our strengths can augment and compliment one another.

When building or developing a team in business, it’s always good to step back and look at the overall landscape, rather than focusing too much on individuals.  As managers part of our role is to know the strengths of our team members, and then capitalize on those strengths.  They won’t all be exactly alike one another, but if we do our jobs correctly, they can compliment one another and ultimately enjoy success.  Any solid operational plan will involve this concept along the way.  The same goes for your supply chain, your logistics partners, and your service providers.

I’m looking forward to driving the F100 soon, and will likely brag (as I do) about how talented my team members were with the project.  Now…where did I leave that wrench?