Zombie Initiatives and Tasks

5 01 2011

Over the holidays I heard a story on Zombie Processes.  It reminded me of the number of these I have come across in business.  One of the luxuries of being a consultant is you get to ask “why do you do that” or better yet “what would happen if you didn’t do that anymore”.  As businesses grow and scale we often pick up a number of new initiatives, or increase the subtasks, and never kill off old ones.  We also inherit more and more “stuff” that people do that does not necessarily add value.

Zombies: A Zombie initiative/task is something that continues on because no one has done the favor of saying it is either over or complete.  It can also be a task that exists that no longer needs to exist.   Basically it is inefficient effort and time.

Do these exist in your organization? Absolutely and everywhere.  The key is not trying to fix them all at once – this will get you nowhere.  What makes the most sense is to identify your strategic goals and initiatives and start with the processes that support those goals.

Where do you start? Take a look at your critical initiatives across the organization.  Ask yourself which ones are going to provide the most strategic value over the next 12 months.  Pick 3 and define the value of those initiatives.  Are they about increasing/decreasing time, revenue growth, cost cutting, elevating customer value?  Figure out how improvements should be measured.  Set up serious targets and a process to manage improvements.  Roll up your sleeves and get rid of the Zombies.  And while again this is self serving, it does not make it less true – hire a consultant.  Have someone independent to the organization ask the questions.  Especially if this is a new concept inside the organization.  People don’t like change, they fear it will expose them or put them at risk.  This can lead to the wrong motivation for process improvement.

 

Stuff:  This can be projects, tasks, subtasks, processes, or simply job justification work.





People will…

25 11 2009

People will do what they like, or what is easy if they do not understand priority or value.  The hard stuff is messy.  There is too much risk in the hard stuff…





The Spandex Rule

8 09 2009

“Because you can doesn’t mean you should” (unknown source)

While this is a little entertaining, it actually makes a great deal of business sense.  All too often we do things we should not do – and sometimes we did it just because we could or we wanted to.  Hope is not an effective strategy, and willingness should not be misplaced for must.

What we need to do is understand strategic gaps, and build out solid plans to close them.  We need to create a process to identify performance issues early in the cycle and put initiatives in place to fix them.  We also need to understand the core processes in our organization that create customer value and work tirelessly to improve them.





Perceived Value

2 09 2009

As leaders and managers we are trained to think of employees in terms of financial value.  We give financial rewards based ideally on merit and performance.  Unfortunately, we don’t use often enough other types of rewards for motivation and morale.

I have two young children who do not yet demonstrate much grasp of financial matters.  We offered them an allowance in an attempt to motivate routine and good behavior. While we understand the value, neither kid  asked for their allowance in the last year since it was initiated.  Clearly, it is not a motivational tool for our children right now.

Both kids, however, love hockey. My youngest often lets me know she does not have as many hockey cards as her “brudder” and her brother often defaults to creating quiet games with those same cards.  It seems only natural to use the cards as a motivational device.  We will have to see how it plays out, but a couple of days in I can already see a marked difference.  What are the financial tradeoffs – the hockey card budget is about 50% of what I would spend on allowance.

  • When was the last time you created a “pat on the back” program?
  • Could you do something different to motivate project completion?
  • When was the last time you walked around the organization with $100 bills and randomly rewarded people doing the right thing?




Baseball is life…

13 08 2009

A while back I wrote a blog about the similarities of a little league baseball team and how we conduct meetings.   In that blog I talked about meeting effectiveness and preparedness.  A similar story can be told about projects…

One of my favorite kids on my team loves to be involved.  In fact, too much so.  No matter where he is or what the situation, he will call for the ball.  If he is in left field, with nobody on base, he will call for the ball as soon as someone picks it up.  While at this age it invokes a smile from most (except the kid who responds, only to be embarrassed they made the wrong play).  It is impossible not to love the kid, he is always smiling and truly loves playing baseball.

This also is not unlike how we choose projects/initiatives, or who leads them.  We typically choose the most spirited person in the room, people we like, or people who will do what is in our personal best interest.

  • How often do we choose the best person for the role?
  • What happens to the dissenting opinion?
  • What happens to the person with the dissenting opinion?
  • How often do your projects provide concrete value within a desired timeframe?
  • Do you put differing opinions on the team specifically to see what happens?
  • How often do you throw a ball to left field because someone yelled for you?




Perfection to Value

16 07 2009

One of the areas where performance takes a giant hit is in the area of project initiaition or closure.  And this is further complicated by personal preferences, politicing, and portfolio management.

In the diagram below there are three lines.  Line A is Corporate or Organization expectation of the trade off between speed and perfection.  Projects or tasks with little value (lower left corner) should require lower expectations of research, analytical thought, and discussion.  While projects that are higher in value (farther up to the right) should have higher expectations on quality of thought and preparation.

Perfection to Value Trends2

What happens all too often is we see line C where people don’t have the capacity or time to do the right job and throw something together.  We see that in the end we deliver far less than desired while wasting resources.  The small blue box is the value received, the red box is the wasted resources, and the green box was the original expected value of the project.  The arc is the value frontier, which demonstrates the trade off value between speed and quantity – or what we expect in terms value created from a combination of speed and quality.

Quality vs Speed - Speed

Or we have line B where we basically have a failure to launch because we spend all of our time debating how to be perfect.  Very similar to the situation with line C where we deliver far less than originally desired while wasting similar resources.

Quality vs Speed - Quality

Portfolio Management

Is this an individual issue, or a management issue?  If we were to plot out the results of the individual projects how would your organization look?

Perfection to Value Management2

If we were to see trends like the circles above, this would indicate a management problem.  As management either did not get the individual(s) to move back to the expected line, or management places to high a premium on either speed or perfection thus artificially altering expecations.

What I have witnessed is that line B is more often the norm.  Line C typically causes painful exposure, which causes people to be more fearful, thus needing more inputs and more support.  This creates more meetings, more approvals, more time, more people, which again causes more information, more analysis, more debate.  It is a vicious circle.

Failure to Act is a companion blog.





Productivity Management

9 07 2009

Performance typically ebbs and flows along a number of fronts.  In the worst cases it declines across multiple areas when it is not managed consistently.  Most productivity initiatives create curves something like below:

Productivity Management

  • At point A – we have identified a performance issue and have created a plan to improve performance.
  • At point B – we have succeeded and typically move on to solve another issue.
  • At point C – we start to see productivity decrease from lack of management and attention.

Unfortunately, most things don’t have pretty economic curves or requires focused thought to create one.  And if we do not create a performance plan we typically see the inflection point at C happen closer to A.  This happens because we have not put a plan in place and/or when we feel some momentium we abandon management of the initiative to fight the next battle.





Data Warehouse Design

24 06 2009

One of the main problems with Data Warehouses is that they are designed to answer any question.  The problem is that they usually fail to answer the one someone is asking.  DWs are usually good for referencial information – meaning I can answer questions like “how many customers do we have that have spent over $100,000″ or “which customers bought the blue widget.”

There are a number of points of failure that hamper DW projects:

  • They are usually complex and very costly
  • The business changes (regions, product lines, sales heirarchies, etc) in the middle of the process
  • The end use is not well defined
  • Lack of analytical skill and knowledge of data structure in the business users to get the right data
  • The end result is too complex for the users to understand where to go to get the right information
  • No one tells the organization “thou shalt” use the data warehouse – so people get data from all different sources making a common version of the truth difficult to get to
  • There are often no rules of engagement for how to use the environment, or data in general

If organizations only use 6-10% of the data they collect, how do you design the DW for greater adoption?

For starters, understand the common business questions and the potential levers that can be pulled. For example, one of the areas that always surprises me is the lack of information around the success of marketing campaigns. Marketing campaigns and price are really the only levers we can pull in the short term to increase revenues. What we often fall back to is the sales whip – where we put more pressure on the sales team to perform. This is a strategy of hope (which is not a recognized as a successful strategy practice). We apply the pressure without providing much in the terms of support.

Instead let’s say we are ending the 3rd quarter and our numbers are a little behind and the pipeline is not as strong as we would like.  We know we have some time, but the programs have to be very tactical to find low hanging fruit. Instead of reviewing the potential marketing programs or trying something new, we cross our fingers and yell at the sales team. We could cull the DW to find large groups of customers who had not bought specific groups of products and offer incentives for them to buy.  We could identify the groups/verticals of customers with the shortest sales cycle and build a promotion and program for them as well.

Yet why do we not do this…we typically lack the information in a format we can use in a timely manner.

So if we design the data warehouse (or perhaps data marts) around specific business levers we stand a better chance of answering the one question we need. We just might trigger some very interesting questions about our business.






Why, Ask Why

1 06 2009

I recently watched the 2005 documentary Enron: The smartest guy in the room.  What struck me more this time was the tagline “Ask Why”, yet it appeared more like “Why, Ask Why” in the animation.  

Most organizations promote “yes” men and women.  They want people to just agree and move on.  Part of this is that we lack a mechanism to challenge conventional wisdom or leadership opinion.  While this is dangerous on a few levels, it also stiffles innovation and ultimately performance potential.

  • When was the last time you found a new way to value a customer?
  • When was the last time you found a way to measure process improvement on a key process?
  • When was the last time you specifically assigned a trusted advisor to attack business assumptions?
  • What happened to the last really good change agent in the organization?

All to often we answer requests with “yes, we can do that” when we should on occasion ask “why do you want to do that.” We need to break old molds and challenge ourselves to create a culture of action, a culture of 5% better everyday.





Initiative Performance Indicators (IPIs)

8 04 2009

I made the argument that Key Performance Indicators and Key Risk Indicators are really the same thing, yet a nuanceworth discussion is initiative management.  We launch new factories, new products, training programs, marketing material, etc all the time, yet often do a sub-optimal job managing the project.  And execution waters down further as we try to manage the portfolio.

Even though initiatives are different than performance indicators, we need to account for their management within the same framework.  We need to understand our objectives, the priorities, resource constraints, milestones, etc in order to more proactively manage the business to achieve more strategic goals.  We need to enhance our ability to discuss our progress to our goals (both annual and strategic) and how all the KPIs and Initiatives are working together to achieve the end.








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