Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Is it a book or a load of laundry?

I sometimes hear my clients use the terms "project" and "operations" interchangeably. I was thinking about this as I was reading a book, recently. Even if I read only one page a day from a book, I call that progress. If I do one load of laundry a day I don't see that as progress--I see it as keeping up. What's the difference? Easy. The book has an end. At some point I will get to the last page. Laundry just keeps coming.

A project has a beginning and an end. Operations keep going. Getting everyone in accounts payable to switch from using software package A to B is a project. Processing the A/P is operations. This can start to get fuzzy when you look at a big production line that is cranking out the ABC model this month and then switches over to producing the DEF model next month.

Being able to make the distinction between a project and operations is helpful because each domain has its own skill sets, areas of study, credentials, and vast bodies of knowledge. There is some cross-over, but ideally you'd like to put your Operations Research major running the production line or handling logistics and not your newly-minted PMP (and visa versa). If you're truly fortunate, you have some individuals that are equally comfortable and capable in both arenas. These folks are ideal in situations where you need to kick off an initiative as a formal project, and then transition that into daily operations down the road.

So if you're ever wondering what type of work you're doing, ask yourself if it feels more like reading a book or doing laundry.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Another business lesson from the kitchen: the order matters

I mentioned in a previous post how I love to cook and often have a cooking show on while I'm preparing dinner at night. I was watching Emeril as he made a bolognese sauce (which I tried along with him and it turned out fantastic!) and he commented that when you start by putting the olive oil and bacon into the pot you need to wait to add the onions and garlic and other ingredients. If you add everything all at once the moisture from the vegetables will prevent the bacon from crisping which needs to happen in order to get the full desired flavor.

In other words, using the proper order matters just as much as using the right ingredients.

Let's switch gears. Business. You're trying to make something work better, cheaper, faster. You've got a gal that's a black belt in Six Sigma. You have a guy who did a stint at Toyota and loves Lean. And you've got another gal who loves the Theory of Constraints or TOC. Do you throw them all at the problem all at once and say, "have at it"? You can, but I wouldn't.

If you have those three skill sets in-house you're fortunate. You have the ingredients you need. But the order in which you deploy these resources matters just as much in business as it does in cooking. The research that's coming out in the continuous process improvement literature strongly suggests using TOC as a focusing mechanism to determine the optimal place to start. You can't work on everything all at once and you need to know where to focus first. Bring in your TOC expert. Then bring in your Lean SME to reduce waste, then your Six Sigma person. These results will typically yield far better results than trying to "cook" the approaches all at once.

What works even better is to have a person, a firm, a team that not only knows each discipline well but also how they work together--the Integrated TOC/Lean/Six Sigma (iTLS) approach pioneered by Bob Fox and others. Instead of having one person cook the pasta, someone else come in to make the sauce, a third to make a salad, and someone else to plate it, you just bring in a chef who can do it all. Ideally, bring in a chef that can teach you how to make the dish yourself the next time.