Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting


Recent Posts


  • I just finished reading, “Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right”, by Atul Gawande.  Atul is a MacArthur Fellow and a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The book captures medicine in all of its complex and chaotic glory and at the same time shows how simple checklists can greatly improve the outcome of complex processes and procedures.


    In today’s high tech world checklists can seem simplistic and mundane.  However, they can be a powerful tool in situations where a process is not codified in an IT system.

    To illustrate the benefit of a checklist in the business world I would like to share an example from my work in finance.  Most of my career has been in finance and one of the key responsibilities is to provide a CFRR (cash flow rate of return) or NPV (net present value) financial analysis for outlays of significant capital.  It was always interesting to me that these analyses had to be re-done multiple times due to forgotten critical elements.  To solve this problem, I created a business case checklist for the entire finance department (500 people), provided a short training seminar and received support from the controller who reviewed all business cases.  As a result, business cases never had to be re-done due to omission of a key element.

    The finance department supported a very large manufacturing plant.  The financial analysts used the checklist to ensure all elements were considered.  That did not mean that every analysis included all items on the checklist.  It meant that the financial analyst did their due diligence to know if it should be included or not.  The use of a checklist meant that there was now a standard approach to every analysis which would be followed by every analyst.

    Here are some of the elements on the checklist.

    • Capital outlay, including the timing of cash-flows
    • Tax impact
    • Direct Labor
    • Indirect Labor
    • Supplies
    • Maintenance
    • Health, Safety and Environment
    • Changes in working capital:  inventory levels, accounts payable and accounts receivable for example
    • Shipping and Transportation
    • Changes in support organizations such as finance, HR, supply chain and IT
    • Impact on machine utilization
    • Impact on product quality
    • Impact on other manufacturing plants around the world
    • Impact on customers
    • Import duties, export fees

    Looking at this list you can see that we ensured the impact, on all financial statements, was considered.   The checklist included an individual to contact for each area since no one can be an expert in everything.  Knowing who to contact in an organization of over 50,000 people is extremely helpful.

    Would a checklist help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your processes and procedures?

    For a complimentary discussion on how to improve your end-to-end business process or how to increase your profitability, please give me a call.  Judy:  585.329.3754

    Note: By the way, the book was excellent.  I recommend it if you are looking for your next book to read.

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  • Let’s start by acknowledging that it is really hard work.  At one point in my career I was on a leadership team that was created to transform a manufacturing organization of approximately 1,000 people.  A company officer gave us a pep-talk on what was expected:  you have one year to make this business profitable or else it will be totally shutdown.  Then he went on to say, if you feel you do not have the stomach for it….talk to me after the meeting and you will be reassigned.   The officer made his point – this is going to be really, really hard and the company needs you to be fully engaged to make it happen.

    The first task we set for ourselves was to quantitatively understand what we were aiming for; in other words, our crisp and concise goals.  We then made sure everyone in the organization understood what the organization needed to accomplish.

    Next we reviewed every manufacturing step, along with the financials for each step.  We broke all costs down into discrete elements.  We did not simply say that a roll of photographic paper costs $1000*** to manufacture.  Instead we looked at all elements of cost:  direct labor, indirect labor, staff labor, employee benefits, manufacturing supplies, depreciation, equipment maintenance, travel, utilities, and etc..  In addition, we tracked down external benchmarks.  All this data was used to analyze where the opportunities were in the manufacturing flow.  Transparency was the key in everything we did.  All team members got to see all the data.  In doing so we had the maximum brain-power working to solve the problems.

    In parallel to the work above, we also evaluated the organization structure, decision making processes, skills required to do the work and the overall culture.  We found opportunities to streamline the organization structure, speed decision making and enhance employee skills.  We worked diligently to move decision making closest to the individuals doing the work.  We also found that the culture needed to change from a traditional command and control style of management to an empowered workforce or people-centered style of management.

    With the difference between the As-Is state and the To-Be vision understood, we were able to prioritize our work and implement the needed changes.  In the end we reduced the overall product cost by 25% and improved the quality.  The journey took us one year.

    Significant change is possible when you know where you want to go and the entire workforce is engaged in helping to create and implement the solution.

    Do you have business transformation challenges that you would like to address in your organization?  Give me a call for a complimentary session to review the opportunities in your company.  Look forward to talking with you.  Judy: 585.329.3754

    *** $1000 is not the real cost.  It is used for illustration purposes only

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  • My previous post talked about the steps you would follow when attempting to identify process improvement opportunities.  When doing something for the first time do not jump into the hardest stuff immediately.  Try out some of the basic tools first to build your knowledge, confidence and success.  Mastery of any topic is a journey.

    Based on my experience of leading and implementing significant process improvements you need a quality toolbox that contains tools, techniques and concepts.   Below you will find key elements of process improvement work and the list of tools/concepts that will help you get started.  [Note:  there are definitely more tools that are not mentioned.  For a full description, of the tools, refer to the books I have listed at the end of this post.]

    [1] Working with numbers and analyzing data:  You need to be able to count things, identify and track trends, measure relationships, summarize data, recognize the source of variation, present frequency distributions and pinpoint key problems.   These tools provide the ability to analyze the data: tally sheet, histogram, pareto analysis, run chart, scatter plot and control chart.

    [2] Generating Ideas: To improve you need to generate a high volume of new ideas, gather/group the ideas, find relationships, identify root cause, visualize the process, understand the positive and negative impacts of change, weigh your options and rate organization performance.  Here are the tools to use when evaluating ideas: affinity diagram, brainstorming, cause and effect diagram or fishbone diagram, flow chart, value stream map, radar charts, force field analysis, 5 whys and prioritization/voting.

    [3] Working together as teams.  Idea generation and the creation of solutions can only happen with a team.  The process improvement team will need at least one person skilled in facilitation and conducting effective meetings.  Energy is drained from a team that is not focused and efficient.  A good facilitator understands many of the lean/six sigma tools and when/how to use them. They are trusted by the team and support/manage the group’s social and cognitive processes so that the team can put their full energy into the issue at hand.  [Note: Much has been written on conducting effective meetings so I will not duplicate that information here.]

    [4] Concepts of Lean: Tools and techniques are necessary, but so is a belief in the concepts of lean. My favorites are:

    • Genchi Genbutsu:  to best understand an issue go to the place where the work is done.
    • Kaizen: change for the better requires a focus upon continuous improvement
    • Muda: all processes contain waste.  A key element of improvement is the elimination of waste in all of its forms.
    • Poka-yoke: fail-safe your processes to prevent mistakes.


    There are many wonderful books where you can gain significantly more insight into the tools, techniques and concepts mentioned above.  Of course, Wikipedia is also a wonderful source of information as well.

    I would value the opportunity to have a confidential and complimentary discussion of your company’s situation.  My phone number is (585) 329-3754.


    Brassard, M., and Ritter, D., The Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement & Effective Planning. Methuen, MA: GOAL/QPC., 1994. Print

    Crosby, P., Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York, New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1979. Print

    George, M., Lean Six Sigma For Service. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2003. Print

    Ishikawa, K., Guide to Quality Control.  Tokyo, Japan: Asian Productivity Organization., 1984. Print

    Keller, P., and Pyzdek, T., The Six Sigma Handbook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2010. Print

    Liker, J., The Toyota Way. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2004. Print

    Wikipedia Lean Concepts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lean_concepts

    Womak, J., and Jones, D., Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.  New York, New York: Simon & Schuster., 1996. Print

  • My last post outlined 6 steps for developing a strategy. To have meaningful discussion and develop a robust direction, data is required.  Data helps you get the full picture. If developing a strategy is a relatively new undertaking for you and the team; start with what you know. A word of caution at this point, do not fall into the trap of trying to get every single last piece of relevant data.  You will find it a never-ending quest which distracts you from the real purpose and value of a strategy.

    Advance preparation essential.  Assign data categories to various individuals and have them bring the data to the meeting, or better yet, provide it in advance.  Identify an individual to take ownership for planning and leading the strategy work.

    Listed below are the 7 data inputs to strategy that have worked well for the organizations I led and supported. [Note: sample questions are provided but by no means consider it a holistic list.]

    [1] External Realities: What is going on in the economy?  What are the trends for our specific industry?  How do governmental regulations impact our business?

    [2] The Competitive Landscape: Who are our competitors?  How is the market segmented?  What are our strengths and weaknesses and those of our competitors? What are our core competencies?

    [3] Our Customers:  What are their wants and expectations?  How well are we meeting them?  What is the customer experience when interacting with us, for example, customer service, sales, website, and other forms of communication?  Are we “user friendly”?

    [4] Our Products and Services:  What is the range of products/services we offer?  What is the geographic scope of our offering?

    [5] Human Capital and Organization Structure: Does our culture support our vision? Do we have the right people in the right jobs? Are there impending retirements of key resources? Do we have an excellent employee development process? Are we relentless in the pursuit of putting the customer 1st and driving operational excellence?

    [6] Internal Operational Excellence:  How are our internal functions performing?  Are they supporting our end-to-end business process effectively? Who are our suppliers?  Do we have too many or too few?  Are there any risks associated with them?  Are we successfully eliminating defects and reducing cycle time in our operations?

    [7] Success Factors and Business Results: How do we measure success?  What are the financial outcomes of our business?  What is our market share?  What are our customer satisfaction scores? Are we measuring the right things?

    In summary, to launch a strategy planning effort, collect the data you already have, and follow the 6 steps listed in my prior post.  You and your team will find the strategy picture crystalizing in a way that allows you to create a clear path forward.  Along the way, you will discover additional data you want and will need to make minor course corrections during the year.  Your strategy should be a living process that provides overarching guidance to real time decisions.

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  • Have you found yourself wanting to work on the strategy for your department, organization or company but not knowing where to start?  It is a common dilemma and easy to procrastinate when you do not know where to begin.  Here is an approach that I have used to help myself and the team set off on the strategy journey when we were initially unsure of how to do it.

    Before starting there is one critical paradigm you must buy in to.  Strategy work is not linear. That means that periodically you may have to circle back and revise an assumption or two.  You and your team know your business better than anyone else.  Be confident to make changes and adjustments through-out the process.  Aim to be roughly right; not at perfection. Striving for perfection only slows down the process.

    6 Simple steps for developing a strategy:

    [1] Define the challenges facing your organization. You and your team are in the best position to know what these are.

    [2] Clarify the current state.  The prime rule here is you must be intellectually and brutally honest with yourselves.  If not, you will not uncover  the elements that can lead you on the path to excellence. [Note: It is important to have data regarding the business.  My next post will discuss the data that is relevant.]

    [3] Envision the future.  Articulate and picture the future state. Develop the metrics to understand your progress going forward.

    [4] Face the obstacles getting in the way of your vision.  Describe the obstacles but be ready to course correct, if proven otherwise.  Listen to the data.

    [5] Determine the path forward. Create an action plan and set future meetings to ensure you are on track.  This is where many plans falter.  The devil is in the detail and the follow-up.

    [6] Monitor your progress. Dedicate the time to periodically review your progress and make course corrections as needed.

    There are many excellent books on strategy. You may want to consider reading one or two books prior to starting.  This allows you and the team to have a basis for commonality, instead of starting totally from scratch.

    By following these 6 steps you will off to a great start on the creation of a strategy for your business.

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