What Wally the Walrus can Teach us about Effective Process Development

Processes. Oh, processes.

How easy they are to ignore. How easy they are to let languish.

But don’t.

If cash is the blood of a business, departments are the organs and personnel are the cells, then processes are the bones. You must build your business on efficient, effective and solid processes.

What do you do when a customer’s order is going to be late? How can you track all of your supply usage and reordering supplies? How do you set a new vendor up in your system?

Your business rests on the foundations of these processes running correctly, and they should be consistently evaluated, adjusted and strengthened. Think of that evaluation as drinking milk and giving your business the calcium it needs.

Hire Someone? Yeah – Hire You!

Many people hire consultants to come in and tell them how to enact more effective processes in their daily business management. Consultants often have great solutions that they’ve designed or a commanding understanding of best practices, but before resorting to this route consider being your own consultant.

As the leader of your business, you should know how things run. You should be in touch with the people who work at your business at every level. You should be asking them questions about the kinds of issues they see or when something seems to consistently work incorrectly. You should find out what they do and how they do it. You should ask them if they think there would be a faster or smarter way of doing something that wouldn’t compromise other important principles (like quality, customer service or another step in the process).

And then you should put that information together and consider a reevaluation and a strengthening of the processes that govern your business. If there’s something happening that doesn’t have a process and keeps occurring in an erratic manner, put a process in place.

Zoey’s Zoo

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you run an online retail store called Zoey’s Zoo in which you sell various animal figurines directly to customers but also to various zoos and theme parks around the country (first, I hope you have separate processes for dealing with your B to B and B to C customers). What do you do when Wally the Walrus figurines are no longer available in the largest size but you get an order for one? Do you pull the product from your website, backorder the item, or contact the customer whose order will most certainly be late? As you bypass the order number and continue fulfilling orders that are in stock do you have a system for returning to this unshipped order?

If you are Zoey, you need to have a process for what happens when a product runs out of stock. You need a pipeline for pulling the product from your website, informing customers with outstanding orders, checking on the status of any incoming inventory, and then making sure that Wally the Walrus is purchasable again when it’s back in stock.

This may seem like a basic example and an easily constructed process, but it’s just one small bone among hundreds that make a body stand tall and a business run efficiently and effectively.

Consider the processes at your business. Evaluate and reevaluate.

Stand Tall.

What do you find to be the most difficult element of process creation and management?

The Wonderful Ways of the White Board in Business, part 2

Last week we discussed the advantages of using a whiteboard in business timelines, and after the positive feedback I got, I wanted to share another anecdote.

The Set-up

Company A is in Orlando. Company B is in Minnesota.

Company A buys Company B.

The Plan

Company A decides to close down the factory of Company B and move its operations to Orlando – you know, to consolidate things.

Their plan was to shut down a factory in Minnesota, drive its equipment and operations to Orlando, set it back up in an inadequate space, train all the personnel in the new manufacturing process and be fully operational – without disrupting their supply line, output, customer service or other operations – over the course of a three day holiday weekend. I repeat: a three day holiday weekend.

As you can imagine, I told them they were crazy. Loony. Bonkers. No way. Oh, goodness.

The Problems

1. The most glaring problem (among many) that I saw was that Company A had no inventory built up to handle orders if the production line didn’t come up Monday morning. And as far as I was concerned there was no way that the production line was going to be up on Monday morning.

2. There was also no mind being paid to the fact that the assembly line personnel in Orlando couldn’t assemble what was being done in Minnesota. It wasn’t so far from their core competency, but it certainly required training and oversight. Their plan was to send one guy from MN to FL to teach people how to put the widget together in three hours. What if something happened to this guy? What if the entire crew didn’t pick this up in 3 hours?

3. The capacity in the Florida location was full! Where were they going to put all of their new equipment? There was no time to find a new location

The Solutions

My solution to this insanity was mapping out the process of moving and consolidating this business on the whiteboard as a 2 month timeline. By doing this, I could not only identify all of the steps necessary and include everyone’s responsibilities to make this happen efficiently and effectively but also I could show them why and how their initial 3-day plan was asinine.

1. I built them a 45-60 day plan during which time their primary goal was to build up inventory, running overtime at the Minnesota plant, so that when they closed the production line they had a full 30 days to get operational in Florida.

2. The Orlando crew needed to be properly trained. I suggested that they send the factory workers in Orlando to Minnesota to watch the process there for a few days. Company A complained about not having the $5000 to do this, but if their plan didn’t work they would lose millions! Penny wise and pound foolish, if there were ever an example.

3. With two months for this process to take place, there was now adequate time to find a suitable location at a reasonable price for the Minnesota factory to be relocated in Florida. Three days, I fear, would not have sufficed.

I’m pleased to say that ultimately Company A listened to me, and they were successful. Without the whiteboard, though, I would never have been able to make my case. I literally saw the aha-ing happen all over the faces of Company A’s execs when I drew up their plan and my plan on a whiteboard.

One thing I always do with my whiteboard is take a high resolution picture; I blow that up, print and study it so that I can re-explore my logic and see what I may have gotten wrong. I would love one of those white boards that digitizes your notes, but I guess that’s the next step!

What kinds of tools do you find most effective in allowing you to successfully manage your business responsibilities?