Off Target

When Target came to Canada in 2011, not only were consumers surprised that the retailer opened up over one hundred stores across the country, but so was the business community. To do such a “big bang” approach, you either know what you’re doing or you’re taking a major risk. Unfortunately for Target, its major risk did not pay off.

Target’s biggest failing was in not piloting its entry to Canada with one or two stores before launching full scale. Any project manager worth their trade will tell you that starting small and building up when it makes sense to do so is the best guarantee of success.

In addition to missing the mark with their full-scale roll-out across Canada, Target missed out on the basics of operations management. For one thing, their demand forecasting appears to have been a dismal failure. If they had forecast properly, they would have learned that Canadians preferred the U.S.-type Target stores and not reincarnations of Zellers.

Target also missed out on strategic capacity planning as well as facility layout design. Their inventory systems management was absent, to say the least. This also speaks to their lack of adequate supply chain management. When inventory is scant (as it was at Canadian Target stores), one might reasonably presume that the retailer was using some type of customized just-in-time fulfillment. However, this, too, appears to not have been part of Target’s strategy.

A material requirements planning or enterprise resource planning software would have helped Target manage its stocks and stores. However, we can see that even if Target had such a system, it, too, failed them.

And what about quality? Quality and price are generally prominent factors for consumers. Integrating quality into every element of an operation allows an organization to reduce its prices while still remaining profitable. Clearly, quality does not appear to have been a high priority for Target.

While one can hypothesize about Target’s demise in Canada, it provides little comfort to Target employees. As well, the company itself is now targeted (pardon the pun) as a losing venture:  At least, in Canada.

One thing is certain, though: Target really did miss its mark!

Six Steps for Achieving Quality

We all intuitively understand quality. It’s that “something” that makes us appreciates a product or service; but describing that “something” can be difficult. 

From a customer’s perspective, quality is what the customer is willing to pay for. From the organization’s perspective, quality relates to a product’s or service’s conformance to specifications. And these specifications are not only according to what the organization prescribes, but they also relate to the customer’s expectations. 

Organizations that spend money on achieving quality systems and programs are, in the end, more profitable than those that do not. This is because quality management programs not only prevent poor-quality products or services from reaching the customer, but they also continuously improve on existing quality practices to ensure that products and services are done right the first time.

Here are six steps (adapted from Operations Management by Nigel Slack, et al) to help you or your organization produce a quality product or service.

  1. Define the quality characteristics of the product or service. These characteristics will be different for every type of product or service, depending on the industry. For instance, you may be evaluating on functionality (how well the product or service does its job), appearance (sensory characteristics), reliability (consistency of performance), durability, or some other quality.
  2. Decide how to measure each quality characteristic. Depending on the quality characteristics, how will you measure functionality, for example, a restaurant, airline, bank, or computer? What characteristics of appearance are quality characteristics? What about reliability? And so on.  
  3. Set quality standards for each quality characteristic. This is the level of quality that defines the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable. This can be difficult. For example, if one restaurant customer out of every 1,000 complains about the food, does that mean the other 999 are satisfied and, therefore, quality is good? Or are there other equally unhappy customers who did not complain? If this level of complaint is similar for other restaurants, do we regard this as satisfactory quality?
  4. Control quality against those standards. When standards are set, the organization needs to check its product’s or service’s conformance to those standards. This means that product or service delivery is “done right the first time every time.” As part of this control, the organization needs to decide where in the process that checks should occur, whether every product or service should be checked (or should checking be confined to sampling), and how the checks should be performed.
  5. Find and correct causes of poor quality. Implement total quality management tools and techniques to find and correct poor quality.
  6. Continue to make improvements. As with step 5 above, total quality management tools and techniques will help the organization cut its costs of poor quality and improve overall quality.

As your organization implements quality programs, remember to include employees in all quality improvement initiatives. If your employees are not happy, there is a strong likelihood that your customers are also not happy (even if customers are not complaining – see note under Step 3 above).  

Consider this evidence compiled by the British Quality Foundation:  About 68 percent of customers will stop doing business if they perceive an attitude of indifference from your staff. However, only 14 percent will leave if they are dissatisfied with your product or service, while nine percent leave for competitive reasons.

Include your employees in all quality programs for a healthy work environment and bottom line.

Types of Clients

Let’s face it. There are clients and then there are clients. The great clients (or customers) are those that are ready, willing, and able to work with experts to achieve organizational efficiencies.

And then there are clients who fall short on anything from initial meeting to following through with an expert’s recommendations – these latter clients are wasting not only the expert’s time, but their own, as well.

As experts in our various fields of work, we have all run into a variety of clients. Here are some of the more common types – if you’re a client, maybe you see yourself in one or more of these descriptions: 

Bargainers. These clients want everything you’re proposing, but they can’t pay for it. Or maybe they’re doing the project “under the table,” and don’t want to ask the “real boss” to pay for it. Solution: If the client does not have the money for the full project scope, downgrade the scope – phase the project into manageable chunks.

Naysayers. These clients just can’t believe the project will take six months to complete. Certainly they can do it in a fraction of the time. Solution: Explain why the project will take as long as it will (perhaps a timeline depicting steps is helpful here); if the client does not believe you, suggest a mix of internal and external resources to complete the project faster. Client is still a non-believer? Walk away.

Stealth Implementers. They insist that no one else from their organization needs to be involved in the project. Just do it. Solution: Stress (and demonstrate with examples) how involving others in the organization will greatly enhance the success of this project as well as change management when implementation occurs. 

Self-Made Experts. These clients believe they can do exactly what you’re proposing without you, so why are you charging them so much? Why don’t you just tell them the steps that you would take and then leave them to it? Solution: Walk away.

Call 9-1-1. These clients think everything is an emergency. They need your proposal “yesterday” and the work is required within the next month. However, when you give them your proposal, you don’t hear from them for six weeks. Solution: Develop a project timetable and meet each deadline. Build in “slack” time for all steps involving client input.

Weekend Schmeekend. This is the client that sends you e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Weekends are for working. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Solution: Say no when appropriate. Just because the client works all hours does not mean everyone else needs to, as well!

Committee Monger. The client who believes everything needs to be decided by committee. The end result? Everything gets decided by committee, no one takes responsibility for decisions, and decisions take much longer. Solution: Ensure that there is one “point” person (typically a Project Champion) that will sign-off on all deliverables.

Wordsmithers. You know the ones that review your work and almost re-write the entire content? Solution: Set a time limit for review and stress that only key content requires review. Provide an example. Or hand out the report ahead of time and then convene as a group to review the feedback.

In the end, it’s up to the expert to determine whether they are able to work with the client. If the decision is to fire the client, provide them with the name of another expert – even if it is a competitor. You’ll be glad you did!

Solving Problems using an A3

An “A3” is an international size piece of paper, approximately 11-by-17 inches. Using an A3 is an effective way to present a situation – a story that anyone can understand – all on one page. 

It is a visual tool for problem-solving because it presents all of the main elements in a condensed space, allowing for on-the-spot review. It is a powerful management process encouraging learning through a scientific approach to problem solving. It includes a description of the current conditions, goals, analysis, and an action plan for implementing solutions.

There is no standard format for an A3. Each A3 suits the situation. At the end of this blog, a detailed example is provided that you can use and modify to suit your organization’s situation.

Regardless of format, A3’s answer the same basic questions:

  1. What is the problem or issue?
  2. Who owns the problem?
  3. What is/are the root cause(s) of the problem?
  4. What are some possible countermeasures?
  5. How will you decide which countermeasures to propose?
  6. How will you get agreement from everyone concerned?
  7. What is your implementation plan – who, what, when, where, how?
  8. How will you know if your countermeasures work?
  9. What follow-up issues can you anticipate? What problems may occur during implementation?
  10. How will you capture and share the learning?

The key to using the A3 and, in fact, to any approach in problem solving is defining the problem. As Charles F. Kettering, inventor, said: “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Too many times, people start “fixing” symptoms of problems rather than the actual problem. This never achieves the desired long-term results.

In its simplest form, a problem is a barrier that prevents the organization from achieving its goals. A problem may also involve the design or performance of work.

The gap between the existing and desired condition is the problem. Achieving performance improvement occurs through understanding of the gap.

At its core, an A3 template helps solve problems by describing the following:

  • Background or context of the problem
  • Current conditions including facts and data about the problem
  • Goal that the organization wishes to achieve in addressing the problem
  • Analysis of the problem to describe why the problem exists
  • Recommendations for how to address the problem
  • Plan for implementing the recommendations
  • Follow-up after implementation to ensure continuous improvement

The A3 is also useful for describing action items – a condensed project charter for each item covering one or two 11-by-17 inch sheets instead of multiple letter-sized typed pages.

Once you start using the A3 format to assess your organization’s problem areas, there’s a good chance that you will never go back to using traditional methods.

Out with the Old; In with the New

Here’s a surprising fact: Most of us have NO difficulty accepting change. And this is despite the fact that 80 percent of change initiatives fail first time out of the gate. What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? 

It appears that the difficulty in implementing change is not in accepting the idea. The difficulty is in the sustained practice or application of the idea (or improvement initiative). In other words, the problem with our reaction to change does not relate to our ability to let new ideas in. The problem is in getting our old ideas out.  

Either you believe the new initiative is the best way or you believe that your old way of doing the same thing is better. Believing in both simultaneously creates discord.  

You can’t have it both ways:  Discord leads to failed change initiatives. 

Successful organizations remove the discord and it is likely that they incorporate the practice of bio-psychology of change into their change projects. According to Sherry Campbell, Director of Management Consulting at Sierra Systems, there’s a difference between a rational approach to change management and a bio-psychological approach.  

It is only through the bio-psychological approach that change initiatives are successful. Here is how it works. 

  1. Communicate the vision. Before change can occur, people need to be aware of potential changes. Working in small groups and with key individuals will go a long way to ensuring that the idea for the change initiative is firmly planted and people are primed to listen.
  2. Identify the area for change. Have individuals focus on the change and relate their thoughts, feelings and experiences around their existing circumstances. In doing so, individuals are able to “see” that their existing circumstance is in need of change.
  3. Assessment and diagnosis. With existing circumstances described, have the individual talk about their conflicting behaviours, feelings, and thoughts that may get in the way of accepting the change. What coping patterns are they using in the existing circumstances?
  4. Plan the change. Once assessment and diagnosis is complete, ask the individual what behaviour they can do less of (e.g., coping behaviours), so that they have room for this new behaviour (new change initiative) in their brain map space. Discuss their feelings relating to letting go of the old behaviour.
  5. Implement the change. Through pilot projects or visualization steps, implement the change incrementally until you reach your goal. Repetition of incremental steps may be necessary until you reach success.
  6. Monitor the change, successes and risks. Use coaching to help individuals stay on track with their new behaviour; accepting the change, and inserting it as the behaviour of choice in their brain map space.

Conducting regular check-ins after implementing change will help identify areas for further improvement. Early detection helps with early correction of failures and continuing reinforcement of new behaviours. 

Improving Work Performance

How’s your productivity? Does the mere mention of the word stir unease? And what about all those uber-organized work colleagues? How is it that they really seem to be on top of their work and, yet, here you are constantly struggling to keep up?

You may be surprised to learn that there’s no secret to improving work performance. It’s all about being organized. And the best part of all is that it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Improving work performance is about being productive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way to yield maximum output. It’s about planning and prioritizing to make that happen. And it’s also about protecting your time.

To help you be more productive and use your time effeciently, here are ten suggestions.

  1. Arrange your physical work environment. Organize your workspace so that everything you use has a “home.” After use, always return items to their home. This takes discipline and a lot of work at first, but becomes habit with practice.
  2. Arrange your electronic files. When electronic files are arranged in a hierarchy that enables cross-organizational sharing, there is less duplication of files, no silos of information, and retrieval time is improved dramatically. Use a functional subject-based classification system for optimum efficiency and productivity.
  3. Use appropriate tools. No amount of arranging or organizing is going to help you work at your best if your tools are out-of-date. Still using Windows 95? Or DOS? Invest in current technology, a nicer website, and appropriate resources to help you be more productive. Not making the investment will bog you down, create frustration, and lead to regularly “burning the midnight oil.”
  4. Check-in with your list. As you make commitments, write them down, and check-in with your list every day. Lists help us manage our time and free our minds of mental energy that we would otherwise spend on tracking our “to-do’s.” If you write down what you need to do instead of keeping it in your head, you’ll also experience less stress and better sleep.
  5. Do it now. At work or at home, if a task takes five minutes or less, then do it now. If it’s going to take longer, then write it on your list and schedule time to do the task. Organized people don’t procrastinate on tasks that they can easily complete within a few minutes.
  6. Uni-task. While multitasking may seem like you’re accomplishing more, you are in fact accomplishing less across more area. To be truly efficient, effective, and productive, focus on one task, giving it your full attention. Turn off email pop-ups and calendar reminders. Protect your time to gain productive results.
  7. Problem-solve; don’t blame. If you happen to get sidetracked or encounter a challenge that impacts your work, use a problem-solving approach. Author Hillary Rettig gives the following example about someone engaging in inner defeatist dialogue: “What’s wrong with you? This is easy! Anyone can do it! Why are you so lazy? And with all the money you just spent on classes! What a loser!” Instead, focus on a solution: “Oh, I’m underproductive. That’s interesting. Let’s see what’s going on and how I can fix it.”
  8. Work with your energy cycle. Instead of time management, work to suit your daily energy levels. If you have high energy in the morning, then schedule the most difficult or more creative work in the morning. Don’t try to accomplish critical tasks when your energy is at a lull.
  9. Know thyself. Organized people know their strengths and weaknesses and reflect a high sense of self-worth. Ask for help to complete work on time. Just because it’s in your job description does not mean you need to do it all yourself. Think of your time as a resource that has value. Perfectionists and high achievers may not be comfortable letting anyone else share the reins, but interpersonal support goes a long way in managing stress.
  10. De-stress. Most people operate in a state of chronic stress, but those who are able to focus and stay organized are able to manage stress. The most effective way to manage stress is to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. This can be a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you – just don’t sit at your computer all day.

Practicing the above suggestions takes motivation to get started. Once started, habit will keep you moving to become more organized and productive. You will also become a happier person, overall.

Leveraging the Power of Stakeholders

Do you know that excitement that goes along with your great idea for improving your organization’s processes? From great idea to project charter, the momentum you have is at a peak when you present your project charter to the project champion for approval.

At this point, your project can go one of two ways: it gets approved by the champion or it gets denied. If it gets approved, great! You’re on your way to making change. If it gets denied, there is a strong likelihood that you did not engage and secure the support of all stakeholders.

We often talk about engaging and getting “buy-in” from stakeholders. But what, exactly, does this mean? And who are these stakeholders? And what is their interest in your project?

To answer this question, consider these key steps for determining and evaluating your stakeholders:

  1. Brainstorm to identify your stakeholders.
  2. Prioritize stakeholders based on their power and interest in your project.
  3. Understand what motivates your stakeholders and what actions you need to take to persuade them to support your project.

Stakeholders include all people who have an interest in your project and are affected by your work. They can include, for example: senior managers, your colleagues, customers, suppliers, banks, government(s), unions, community groups, and others. As you brainstorm with your team, you may come up with other unique categories.

Once you know who your stakeholders are, you need to determine their power. That is, what is their desire and ability to exert influence over your project? Stakeholders can disrupt your plans, cause uncertainty in plans, or be your staunchest advocate. In short, businesses both need and rely on their stakeholders.

It is important to understand stakeholder power and interest. Leveraging stakeholder power and interest is key to getting support for your project. The matrix included at the end of this blog provides an overview of power and interest. It illustrates the following:

  • If a stakeholder has high power and high interest, they are a key player. Take notice of them and collaborate with them to achieve project success. You must fully engage them and make the greatest efforts to satisfy their needs.
  • If a stakeholder has high power and low interest, involve them in the project by regularly communicating with them or asking them how they wish to be kept involved/informed.
  • If a stakeholder has low power and high interest, communicate frequently with them. These people can be helpful with project details.
  • If a stakeholder has low power and low interest, monitor their input, as necessary to the success of the project.

With the above in mind, you need to identify your stakeholders and how they fit on the Power-Interest matrix. The best way to determine this is to meet with your stakeholders and ask them directly – this is a great first step to building a successful relationship.

Knowing all of the above – your stakeholders, their power and interest over your project, and their motivation – you can now use an appropriate method of engagement to win their support for your project and its success.

And don’t forget to review your Power-Interest grid to ensure that stakeholder influence has not changed. If it has, get in touch with your stakeholder and determine how you can maintain their support for the project.

Motivating for Change

Conventional organizational change usually fails. That’s because you and your employees look at things differently.

In traditional organizations, employers expect employees to do what they are told (i.e., their jobs for which they are paid). Some leaders still believe that the way to motivate people to change is to tell them, or persuade them. This stems from an early age of having expectations imposed on us—first by our parents and teachers and later, by our employers.

But times have changed.

Organizations are now judged on how well they meet corporate responsibility, fair trade, sustainability, and triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet). And the judging is coming from all levels—customers, employees, and the public at large.

Because people have this new perspective on their world, imposing change on people will not work. Here’s why:

  • Individual needs are not the same as those of the organization.
  • Individuals lead busy lives (even outside of work), so they are not able or willing to assimilate change just because the organization says so.

Given these new paradigms, organizations that implement successful change are those that are able to align their aims with the total life needs of their employees—that’s why addressing WII-FM (“what’s in it for me?”) is so important. Leaders that know how to tap into each individual’s WII-FM will not only build an urgency and momentum for the change, but they will also make change stick.

To help you with your change initiative, consider these facts:

  1. People will never align with bad aims. Reassess and realign your organization’s vision and mission to ensure that it meets corporate responsibility, aims for sustainability of the environment, favours fair trade, and is opposed to exploitation and executive greed, to name a few.
  2. People cannot multi-task or learn new skills without some job realignment. Several things need to be considered, not the least of which are individual capacities for change (“absorptive capacity”). Consulting with employees to learn how they think change will impact their jobs helps to see change from both perspectives.
  3.  Ignoring the above facts is a sure guarantee of failed change initiatives.

Consider also that at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership must buy-in to the change if it is to be successful. What this means for the organization’s change leader is that they must provide compelling evidence of the change to leaders first and staff second.

When at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership supports the change, selling the change to staff becomes much easier. Then the potential for change to stick becomes a reality, rather than a hope…and as one of my friends astutely noted – “hope is never a strategy.”

Preventing Projects from Going Sideways

Your project is humming along when, without warning, the scope expands. In the consulting world, this may or may not be a good thing. Within organizations, however, scope creep can be a real problem—usually hurting the bottom line.

The secret to controlling scope creep is to control it from day one of the project. This means ensuring that you thoroughly understand the project’s deliverables and carefully tracking that all efforts go into only those deliverables. As soon as you notice work being done outside of the scope, stop the project. Examine why things are off track and work on re-focusing the project.

To help you successfully control your project’s scope, follow these five rules.

  1. Understand the project. Before writing the project charter, make sure you understand (really understand) the project’s deliverables. Ask for and make sure you get all the information you need to understand the project.
  2. Build a Gantt chart complete with time and resources. Understanding the tasks involved in the project is critical to writing the project charter. This includes anticipated timelines and resources for each task. A Gantt chart can be a powerful tool for visualizing the project’s work requirements at a glance.
  3. Write the project charter. With Gantt chart in hand, you can now write the project charter. The charter should include relevant information that both you and the team can use to manage the project. This includes: definition of the project scope (what is and is not included in the project – be specific), project assumptions, project objectives and deliverables, project organizational scope, project timeframe, project team and other stakeholders, risk management strategies, project communication plan, and a project change management plan.
  4. Work on the project based on the approved project charter.
  5. Manage project changes using the strategies outlined in the project charter.

A final word: Expect that there will be scope creep. Sometimes projects evolve into bigger undertakings as they progress. This is not a problem as long as you manage the change effectively. Refer to your project charter for appropriate change management measures. This includes obtaining necessary approvals and adjusting your timelines and resources before continuing with the project.

By keeping everyone informed about project progress on a regular (usually monthly) basis, potential changes or problems can be caught early and the project adjusted, accordingly.

Here’s to your project’s success!

Not all Priorities are Created Equal

Many clients ask me how I manage to juggle so many competing priorities—they seem to think that I’m always multi-tasking. My response is that not all priorities are the same and you can only work on one priority at any given time. Let me explain.

If you feel as if you have many priorities that all need to get done at the same time, you know that it is impossible to do them all simultaneously; let alone do them all well. So what is the solution?

The solution is to prioritize your tasks based on their long-term importance and short-term urgency. The goal is to focus first on those tasks that are important. Then evaluate the “urgent” tasks to determine the true nature of their urgency. You may be surprised at how few urgent tasks are truly urgent. And some may have little importance, as well!

Writing down your tasks allows you to see them in front of you and provides you an opportunity to evaluate them. Also, by writing things down, you get them out of your head—this eases the burden of “mental clutter.”

Here’s a simple “priority matrix.” This matrix was originally introduced by Dr. Alec Mackenzie in his book, The Time Trap.

Here is how to use the matrix:

  • List 10 tasks you need to do tomorrow.
  • For each task, assign a rating for Long-Range Importance and
    Short-Range Urgency, as follows:

1 = high importance or urgency

2 = medium importance or urgency

3 = low importance or urgency

  • Add up each row’s Long-Range Importance and Short-Range
    Urgency to get a “Total.”
  • Using the number in the Total column, rank your tasks under “Priority.”
  • The category with the LOWEST TOTAL is your #1 Priority and
    it should be done FIRST.

 Here is an example of the completed matrix:

What is evident in the matrix is that there are several priorities with the same rank (e.g., five tasks show up with the priority 2). When this occurs, take the competing priorities and re-prioritize them against each other until you end up with a list of priorities that can be handled one at a time. If this cannot occur, then speak with your executive and let them determine which priorities come first. Alternatively, delegate, so that the work can get completed in a timely manner.

Prioritizing your work comes down to your ability to plan your day and stick to your plan! Consider that for every hour you spend in planning, you will save three hours in execution. You can see that it pays to prioritize and work on your number one priority each day.