How do I know if I have inefficient business operations?

“Business as usual” typically means things are running smoothly and there’s nothing new or exciting to report.  But what is considered “business as usual” to one organization or person may be considered a complete wreck to someone else.  I encourage you to take a step back and consider the following points:

  • Do you find that the quality of your organization’s output is poor (things have to be re-worked, re-done, or scrapped more often than you expect)?
  • Are you constantly having to expedite orders for reasons other than special customer requests?
  • Is there always another emergency or fire to tend to, preventing you from focusing on work that will benefit the organization in the long-term?
  • Are you sitting on dead inventory?
  • Are you or your star players overwhelmed?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then there is likely some inefficiency in the operations of your organization.  Notice that each of these questions only reflects a symptom of inefficient operations; fixing the symptom will not necessarily get the organization back on track – the problem will manifest itself in some other way.  Digging further into the root cause of these symptoms and removing those underlying obstacles is the best (and most difficult) way to achieving operational efficiency.

One technique to understanding and getting to the root cause of an issue is to act like a three-year-old.  Ask “why?” to everything.  Here’s an oversimplified example of how such a dialog might play out:

Process Owner: I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks that are on my plate.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: Everyone always needs an answer right away and I cannot even do my regular job.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: I’m the only person who can do this one thing, and all the inquiries always lead back to me.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: We used to have two people who could do this job, but she recently left and I’ve been stuck with all the work.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: We haven’t had time to train anyone new.

Colleague: Why?

You get the idea.  The Process Owner is overwhelmed because he is the bottleneck – the point in the system where all things must flow and the system can only move as quickly as its slowest component.  One possible fix for a bottleneck, and perhaps the most applicable in this scenario, is to hire and train an additional resource who can alleviate the work load.

This is just one illustration of an inefficient operation and how to go about resolving the problem.  If you’re interested to understand more or would like some help exploring such issues in your own organization, contact us at info@firebrickadvisory.com.

First Post, Welcome

You’ve found the blog for Firebrick Advisory, a business process improvement consulting firm.  For this first post, I’d like to introduce us and highlight some points that make us unique.

We believe that every organization, large or small, is capable of achieving operational efficiency.  However, the path to achieving it is a very difficult journey: day-to-day operations provide a plethora of challenges, marketplace shifts impact customer demands and supplier capacity, regulations impose additional costs and constraints; the list is endless.  Who has the time to think about, let alone begin working toward, operational efficiency?

Consider this: professional athletes work with coaches (sometimes multiple coaches) to hone strengths, learn from feedback, and improve on weaknesses.   When competition day arrives, the weather may be sunny or rainy, the risk of injury from overexertion is greater, officials may not always rule in the athlete’s favor, but a good coach will have prepared the athlete to be able to face whatever obstacles may arise.   Organizations can benefit from coaches to provide external insights, best practices, and techniques to improve strengths and close gaps in weaknesses.  External forces will always exist that will require an organization to change, but an optimally running organization is better equipped to take on those challenges and is more flexible to respond to catastrophic occurrences.

Firebrick Advisory brings three aspects to an organization that is facing operational challenges.

  • Analytics (stemming from Big Data, Statistical Analysis, Engineering) – Being able to define, capture, and collect data throughout the organization to discover insights on existing business processes and decisions-making heuristics.  Data and factual evidence is the foundation on which the organization can learn to become operationally efficient.
  • Practical approach to Theory vs Practice (stemming from Theory of Constraints, Lean, Six Sigma, Economics) – Understanding the difference between what is realistic and what is ideal as far as capability and appetite for an organization to achieve operational efficiency.  Capturing real results quickly is the best way to validate any undertaking.
  • Partnering for success (relating to “skin in the game”, performance based results, building lasting sustainable relationships) – Developing in-house systemic capabilities such that operational efficiency is not lost when the project is complete.  Fitness coaches teach clients how to live a healthy lifestyle as a way to keep off the fat, we work with organizations to become and remain efficient.

So that’s us in a nutshell.