Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting


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  • 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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  • During my career I have had the wonderful opportunity to work on and solve very complicated process issues.  My success is based on 8 steps that I follow when faced with a complex situation.

    [1] Have the knowledge and skills to pursue the problem.   First, be sure you have generic “lean/six sigma” skills. [My post next week will address what the key skills are and how to get them.] These skills are vital and transferrable from project to project.  Second, read existing process documentation.  Third, talk to people who do the work; leaders, experts and anyone else you believe can provide pertinent perspectives and insights regarding the overall process.

    [2] Create a business process flow chart or value stream map.  Using a white board, large piece of paper, Excel, Visio or any other flow chart software, create a complete business process flow chart. In one case, the company I was assisting had a very well written and thorough brochure which included terms and conditions.  By reading it cover to cover, I was able to accurately create a flow chart of the business process flow.  If you are the individual charged with leading the change, creating the flow chart yourself gives you unparalleled insight into the process.

    [3] Corroborate the business process flow chart with others.  Once created, review the chart with the people doing the work.  Almost always, you will find a few things that need to be adjusted.

    [4] Identify where problems occur in the process.  In a facilitated discussion with staff, using the flow chart, identify where problems in the process occur.  Every time I have led such a session, numerous problems were identified.  Then prioritize the list to determine what the most pressing issues are.

    [5] Understand current written work instructions, policies and procedures.  During this step you may find inconsistencies that must be rectified.

    [6] Identify root cause for the top issues.  Uncovering the issues is just the first step.  Now you and the team have to dig into the detail [peel the onion] to determine what the true root cause is.  You must do this for all the key issues.  In this step it is absolutely critical to get the data.

    [7] Develop potential solutions.  With the root cause of an issue clearly understood, the team can create potential solutions.  It is important to have several to choose from because the perfect solution may be too costly to implement.   The team should then select what they believe to be the optimal solution.  Gain approval as needed.

    [8] Implement and monitor the solution.  Once the green-light is given, plan out the implementation.  A robust project plan will ensure success.  [Note: trying to implement a change without a project plan is a recipe for failure.] Be sure to create the appropriate process metrics so that the team can track how well the process is doing after the changes are implemented.  Nothing is ever perfect.  It is likely that the team may need to make some slight modifications.

    You can see how this becomes a continuous cycle of improvement.  Select the most pressing process issue.  Fix it.  Then select the next process issue.  Fix it.  Repeat this again and again.

    Call me if you would like to discuss the 8 steps in more detail:  585-329-3754.  I love discussing operational excellence and continuous improvement.

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  • Perusing the internet recently, there appears to be a lot of energy around improving meetings. Atomic Object is holding stand-up meetings to help speed them along – which I heartily endorse. While participating in conversations, the topic of meetings frequently comes up and not in a favorable light. So what can be done about it? Here are 7 easy steps that can be used immediately.

    [1] The leader of the meeting must have a clear and specific stated purpose for the meeting which should be shared ahead of time with all attendees. If that does not exist, there is no sense in holding the meeting.

    [2] There should be an agenda which is published ahead of time. Each agenda item should note who will lead the discussion, what the end result of the discussion will be and approximately how long the agenda item will take. The length of the meeting should be determined by the length of each agenda item. If you need 40 minutes, plan for that. Not 30 minutes or 60 minutes, which seem to be standard default duration for meetings.

    [3] Pre-work may be required on the part of the attendees. Ensure they are aware of it and have the proper time to prepare.

    [4] Use an action register. Meetings should not be just information sharing. There are many other ways to do that. The entire point of holding a meeting should be for people to work together and accomplish something. However, all work cannot be done at once. There will be action items and the action register allows proper follow-up. An action register contains: the action item, the person responsible for the action, the date assigned and the due date.

    [5] Create meeting ground-rules everyone can agree on. This brings order to meetings and opens the door for useful participant feedback during the meeting. Having the team create their own set of ground-rules builds camaraderie and trust. Some of my favorite ground-rules are:
    • I will only make statements that add value and stick to the purpose at hand.
    • I will behave openly with others.
    • I will focus on a one-conversation concept.
    • I will look for “how we can” rather than “why we can’t.”
    • I will honor my commitments.
    • I will offer alternative proposals to those things with which I disagree. But when I leave the room I will support the majority.

    [6] The chairperson must be a leader during the meeting. They are ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track. They need to know when to speed things along and when to give more time to a topic than was originally allocated. They need to ensure participants are full participants, not texting, playing Angry Birds or otherwise multi-tasking.

    [7] Appoint a note-taker and publish the notes right after the meeting. Meeting notes should be a summary of decisions and actions decided upon in the meeting. It is extremely helpful in the case of weekly team meetings. It allows people that could not attend to quickly get up to speed. The note-taker can be a rotating responsibility.

    In summary, meetings are a necessary part of the business world. However, they must be crisp, concise and to the point. If you do not like how meetings are being run, use this list to make some suggestions. I think it will be appreciated by all attendees.

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