by Jan Richards
“I’ve had it! I just want this pile of problems to go away!”
Does that sound like something you’ve said (or a cleaned up version of it)?
The person in this case was overwhelmed and dispirited by the problems of rapid growth, as was his whole team.
“I just want to get things done, and to solve problems so they stay away!” he said, dejectedly.
That sense of frustration, and momentary futility affects startups, mid-size companies, and corporations, as well.
For example, “No one has time to improve the way we get work done,” said a beleaguered colleague recently. She’s a long-time manager at a leading high-tech firm.
“We just have to keep pushing work through the processes we have, hoping they’ll get the work done well enough,” she said, in exasperation.
Surely there is SOMETHING you can do if you’re feeling this way, right?
Start simply, but start.
One way to begin is by answering one or more of the questions below.
Your answers can guide you to begin making improvements, the benefits of which add up in a big way.
1. What isn’t working?
Make a list. Start with the things that are causing you and the people at your company the most pain. Then, in front of that list, put a list of the problems that are causing your customers pain (you know what those things are, right? If not, find out).
2. How do you know you have a problem?
Gather the facts. You may discover, in the process, that there are, indeed, problems, but they’re very different from what you expected they would be.
3. What does the problem cost you or your company now?
Once again, you may be very surprised. Sometimes problems that seem small are costing you a lot of money, or may in the future. You won’t know until you check.
4. How does the process work now, before you improve it?
Draw a picture of the process, the way it works now. Then, ask a sample of other people who use the process to draw a picture of how it works, as they see it. The differences may be eye-opening. This may show you that another problem is also in play: poor communication.
5. Who do you do your work for?
Be clear about who the customers are for the work that you, specifically, do. In many cases, this is someone inside your company.
6. How do your customers want the work done?
These tell you what your customers’ requirements are. These often include details such as what your customers mean, specifically, when they say they want something that is “on time,” “accurate,” or “cost-effective,” for example. Customer requirements are your standard for success. Know what they are and meet them.
7. If you don’t know what your customers want from you, how can you find out?
Then, do that.
8. If the process were working perfectly, what would it be like?
Imagine the process working easily and effectively, with little or no waste. Describe and then write down a few of the most significant details in that perfectly-working process.
9. How is that perfect process different from the way the process works now?
Make a list of the differences between the way things could be, and the way they are.
10. Who are the customers your entire company does its work for?
These are the people who ultimately pay your salary when they decide to continue to do business with you, and to refer you to others.
11. What do your company’s customers want?
Make sure everyone in your company knows who your shared customers are, and what success means to them in terms of the products or services they buy from you.
12. How you know this is what they want?
Often, companies guess about what their customers want. Or they may assume they know better than their customers do about what’s important or valuable to them. Few companies last long if they follow this, “We know what’s best for you” strategy with customer needs and requirements. Don’t be one of them.
These 12 questions, and your answers to one or more of them can go a long way toward helping you start to solve the problems that typically cause you pain now.
About the author
Jan Richards mentors and provides online training for leaders and teams who want to change or improve, but the desired change hasn’t happened yet, for any of many reasons. An experienced entrepreneur and business consultant, Jan has led many teams and businesses through major change and improvement projects. She is based in the always-rapidly changing Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area. Her clients include large and small companies, primarily in tech, biotech, financial services, and telecommunications. She has an MBA from UC Berkeley and a BS in journalism from Iowa State. She was a national examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for five years. Prior to starting her consulting business, Jan worked for seven years at Apple Computer where she worked on and led teams that improved key business processes in product development, manufacturing, distribution, finance and administration, and sales and marketing. To learn more, visit her website at http://jan-richards.com