Idea Gestation

I had planted an idea about 6 months ago in a colleagues mind about the way we did things at our place. At the time the entire concept was new to him and he rejected it outright. He even stated that this industry was not built for it and such events are impossible to implement here. I didn’t press it and decided to wait.

Meanwhile we had been going through a transition from an unsystematic disoriented way of working to a systematic process oriented one. We now hold regular checks by way of weekly meetings (which still needs loads of improvement). Attitudes have undergone a perceptible difference and this has shaped the way people look at the same things, same ideas and same concepts differently.

In one of our weekly meetings, the same idea was put forward by my colleague and was readily accepted by everyone. The idea was rejected earlier because he was not ready for the idea. We were not ready for the idea. The concept was tried and tested but he had been totally unaware of it and as he had rightly said then, we had neither the system nor the process earlier. The idea would have most definitely flopped then.

The Idea needed the period of gestation for it to cultivate and mature after being sown.

Important Unwanted Customers

Top 5 Reason Why The Customer Is Always Right Is Wrong got me thinking on how many times we have had customers who are nothing but a cost to the company.

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These customers generally form the Long Tail;

The phrase The Long Tail (as a proper noun with capitalized letters) was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article [1] to describe the niche strategy of certain business such as Amazon.com or Netflix. The distribution and inventory costs of those business allow them to realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The group of persons that buy the hard-to-find or “non-hit” items is the customer demographic called the Long Tail….

Credit Card Issuers face such people all the time. If you were in a business of non standard products; how would you tackle this situation? Some software product companies circumvent this problem by trying to route support calls from rare customers and customers who only call never ask for paid support to the paid line.

What about a real tangible product like ours? The only thing they can do is to reduce the carrying cost of such customers to as minimal levels as possible. This helps them retain market share (credit cards are a highly competitive market) without being a burden on the bottom line.

Resourcefulness Can Kill Process

Sometimes intense resourcefulness plays spoilsport in the long run.

We have a dedicated team of highly resourceful people who look after production and assembly. They were used to getting things done to the extent that some parts if they needed rework before assembly were reworked immediately and assembled. These parts were at times even planned to be reworked just before assembly to save machine loading time.

This meant that we were still getting things assembled and dispatched as scheduled. Isn’t this good? well .. maybe!

The biggest problem here is they were hiding problems with the production process. During our weekly meetings we discuss those items which didn’t ship. So we never know why the part needed rework in the first place.

So we keep making the part incorrectly over and over again and the assembly guys keep correcting over and over again. How much money have we already lost over this?

We need the assembly guys to stop production the moment they see a problem. This way we can attack each problem minutely one by one.It’s the only way we can have a robust stable process!

Now we didn’t want the assembly guys to stop reworking the material and stop production just yet. The scheduling demands of a modern customer are far too many to let the flow stop.

We asked the assembly in-charge to maintain a list of such reworked items and then bring them out at the weekly meeting. We also defined in detail what rework is to remove any ambiguity.

Now we have resourcefulness working alongside process and with it continuous learning.

The Big Disconnect

Sales V/S Operations

A customer calls up at a factory premises for a status update on his order. He was assured of delivery within 4 to 6 weeks time. It’s been six weeks now.

The supervisor handling the shop is nonplussed. They realize that a work order has not been released. Production will not begin until a work order has been released.

The work order can be released only after a set of designers release a set of customer approved drawings. The drawings have been sent to the customer a week ago but there has been no response. Also there has been no follow up from the designers.

The designers had already been flushed with work for the past few months. They had to put this order in the back burner for a month. Six weeks have passed by and there is still no sign of a work order. Would you like to bet on the customer’s reaction?

A closer look will reveal that it would have been impossible to deliver the order under the stipulated time. Why did this happen?

Traditionally a sales guys job is to sell. He is more concerned about his numbers, his targets, his bonus. Right?

The main problem here is how does a sales guy garner more business without upsetting production schedule? How to stop making unkept promises? This basically means you involve the operations people on a sales pitch. This is easier said than done.

Operations guys like to ‘NOT’ upset their schedule even for GOD. Sales guys like to bend a little backwards once in a while; in customer serviceand thus company interest of course. How will you build enough flexibility in the system without raising inventory? How will you manage cash flow and customers?

A sales guy performs an unsaid function. He insures against the loss to a customer. He makes sure that a customer sticks with the business just so that he is not stolen away by a competitor In a highly competitive market, this could make or break a business.

I stop with more questions than answers. Maybe i shall know the truth someday…

Management – Universities

More often than not, i think the karma of management is to make things possible.

2008 VITTA planning weekend
Creative Commons License photo credit: plakboek
By this i mean remove obstacles to growth for their employees, nurture them, befriend them, weed out problems. To provide direction and stimulate thought. Encourage participation and promote free speech. Instill confidence and provide a canvas for employees to paint their masterpiece.

This promotes loyalty, trust and breeds mutual respect amongst the Management and the employees. More often that not a healthy environment seems to do wonders for the bottom line. Isn’t this old hat?

Seems we are not very far away from Universities which purport to do all of the above.

Power Of Simplicity

An Information System should at the very least avoid duplicate work and keep processes as simple as possible.

A thumb rule to gauge the level of simplicity in any organisation is to consider the time and effort involved in training a new recruit!

The faster a new hire can be trained the higher are your chances in being effective and thus competitive.

In an age when every person who comes in has to hit the ground running, this simplicity could give the company the ability to stay ahead of the curve!!

What I Learn’t From Gaming

used to be an avid Age OF Kings player. For those not in the know, it’s a multiplayer game played on an online gaming portal. You can form teams and compete against other teams. If you prefer you can also play a one-on-one i.e. two players compete.

Over the years i realized that a few concepts really stuck on to me even after i quit the game years ago. The reason i list them here is because i would rather jot them down here than anywhere else. Also it helps me give myself a perspective.

Here goes ..

1. Start Early

One of the most important aspects of the game was managing your economy. If you last the initial battles, then the strength of your economy alone will decide the course of the game.

Translated into life, this means start saving small but start saving!! The longer period you can save the greater the time your interest accrues to provide higher returns.

2. Give It All

Put in the maximum effort that you can in each and every battle, you might just win by a small margin, but a win is a win at the end of the day.

3. Salvage

The real good players never fought a losing battle and salvaged whatever they could, whenever they could.

This strategy might be slow and boring but in the long run it works.. and it works well!! Don’t batter yourself on a lost cause. You have to live to fight another day!

4. Controversy Is Short Lived

Kids quite often used to curse and call each other names just to garner attention.The name/fame associated with such incidents quickly fade from public memory.

Only true skill, ability will stand you in good stead over the long run.

5. It’s All In The Mind

I remember feeling very low before a game and totally exhilarated after a win just 15 minutes later. It was only a case of mood. He agrees.

6. Develop Good Habits

Habit yourself to always protect yourself (in game) and you will naturally construct a wall even without thinking every time you play.

Develop good habit in your daily life and you shall never go wrong. This is very similar to my stress on developing good processes than relying on people.

That’s it.

Managing Change

At the symposium on Connected Health
Creative Commons License photo credit: Daneel Ariantho

I realize, it’s an impossible task to convince someone of the futility of some particular task unless and until you totally understand the process and how it effects the bottom line yourself. Now someone who is in-charge can easily try and enforce something. But the system will inadvertently collapse as the required support has to come from people not from machines.

The human quotient therefore, has to be included to prevent an expensive and/or failed exercise. Especially in a place where those who have been in the system for more than a dozen years are a sizeable number.

Also if you are bringing an innovation to the table, you better be prepared to defend it till death. Half baked ideas invariably will kill the whole process and intent of innovation at the workplace.

So this is the action course i propose to take, [assumed implementation of XYZ]

  1. Learn & Understand About The System .. If am going to implement XYZ, i better be next to God @ XYZ. Learn about it’s pros & Cons.
  2. Educate the people who will use the system about XYZ. Make sure all their queries/doubts/apprehensions are answered.
    Clearly state advantages over the current system.
  3. Start a small pilot. Tune the system to your specific needs.
  4. Expand to a wider base.
  5. Full Roll Out!

Hopefully i can pull this through.

Search For Truth

John Blund, 25,000 BC
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sebastian Fritzon

You seached for god, so did i once, maybe simply trying to comprehend, to understand what he/she/she-he/abstract/hypothetical is all about. Immersed self in Buddhism during my 12th std exams; funny such pursuits assume an altogether different meaning when you are supposed to be bothered with other banalities.

Siddharta seemed elusive then, got into Osho too for a while, went on a single trek to hampi supposedly to find myself. I did find a world heritage site!!

I had so many different theories of my own, changed and revised them. Had my own philosophies, had my own set of reserved distaste & anger for weak people. …. treading down a similar path? perhaps not … but its a path never the less we all undertake taking into account only the end.

Did you know there are shaivetes who drink liquor, indulge in free sex, and do all things perhaps dispicable to a large section of the society in the name of service to the lord? Maybe they are on the same path……looking for the end…. what perhaps we all miss though, is the ‘means’!!

React To Situations; Not People

watching from behind the desk
Creative Commons License photo credit: laurabaabaa

I happened to pick up a call from a particularly irate customer. We had missed our delivery schedule by a huge whopper!

I told him why we have missed the deadline, apologized for the unintentional error and wrapped up the call with how soon we were going to tackle the issue.
Creative Commons License photo credit: hebedesignInspite of all my assurances, the customer was rude and blamed our entire team for the mishap. His tone, manner and abrasiveness, hurt. I was angry!!

After a recheck, i realized, we had missed the deadline because they hadn’t approved a drawing which we had sent them earlier. To be fair, we didn’t follow up. My immediate thought was to get back to him and tell him in no uncertain terms that the fault lay with his own people and his reaction was unjustified.

But i preferred to defer the call and immediately set about following up with his people about the drawing and set things right again. We dispatched the items and i sent him a note stating that we have done the needful.

He called us and complimented our team and sounded (just sounded but its enough) apologetic about the delayed approval. His juniors had informed him about the little oversight thus putting him in an embarrassing position. We were gracious about the whole matter and empathized about the error.

If i had made that call and participated in a blame game, we would have lost some leverage which i now have with the individual. Also with our ability to quickly perform a damage control, we had won him over.

Eventually the customer faxed more orders within a weeks time.