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Process Improvement – how to make your business more efficient

Process improvement will change your business life for the better. No, you’re not reading a mantra-life-coach-change-your-destiny article. This will be pure business. You should run efficient processes. It doesn’t matter if your organization is big or small, whether you use nails and hammers or exquisite consulting techniques.

You may have already faced some of the visible consequences of lagging processes:

  • Frequent downtime
  • Inter-departmental conflicts
  • Long on-boarding for newcomers
  • High dependence on personnel remaining in the same role
  • Hard times understanding the status of ongoing projects
  • All kinds of unpleasant surprises happening within the organization
  • The necessity of detailed control over routine operations by the Management

Whenever a business owner faces these types of issues, they usually understand that it’s high time to focus on process improvement. Unfortunately, in some cases, they may be too busy to initiate the change.

The other important aspect is that process improvement is vital in many situations, not only to fix the business flow when it’s broken. You may enjoy the benefits by reducing a bit of waste in your production, saving a bit of your consultants’ time or improving your own decision-making algorithm. All of those translate easily into cash savings or additional revenues.

The need for process improvement and the emergence of the first school of thought in this area dates back to the 1980s. In the modern economy, this need is ever-growing. The competition is getting harder, the consumer is getting used to customizations, new systems emerge every year and require smart integration. The business world is becoming complex and it’s the duty of every business owner to counter it with simplicity and efficiency within the organization.

In this article, we will talk about methods and tools for process improvement. You will get the sense on where to start if you’re ready for the journey and “not too busy”.

Process improvement project example

A large call center in California had a smooth and well-documented process of accepting calls. The IT systems were well integrated, and personnel trained to perfection. There were instructions for every possible situation an operator may face. Further examination and mapping of the processes revealed that a significant chunk of operators’ activities was not bringing value. In simple terms, those were the tasks related to documenting the outcomes of the call. Documentation is essential but not something the customers are willing to pay for.

The solution was straightforward. The documentation activities were deconstructed to find repeating patterns. Then engineers automated those patterns. As a result, the company achieved the reduction of time spent on documenting from an average of 22 sec to 2 sec. Now imagine this task takes place after each call the operator makes (answered and unanswered). The organization employs more than 1,000 operators. This process improvement displayed a whopping annual saving of $5.5 million if translated into numbers.

The investments into this type of results is more than reasonable. All it took the organization was to hire a process improvement consultant for three months. He was working with the dedicated team of operators, so there was a temporary productivity decrease for ten operators out of 1,000.

While working on the project, the team used some methods, and we will review the main ones of them in the following section.

Process improvement methodologies

The major schools of process improvement are Lean and Six Sigma. They both originate from mass production sphere, and both quickly went far beyond factories. Both schools seek efficiency. The core difference between the two is the way they interpret inefficiencies.

Lean followers talk about the removal of unnecessary steps in the process. They believe the organization should focus only on the steps that bring value. In other words – on actions that the customer is willing to pay for. Six Sigma adopters pay attention to the removal of variations within specific steps. According to them, the consistency of operations significantly improves quality and reduces waste.

Unlike other “holy wars” (Android vs iOS, German vs Japanese cars, etc.) this one has a very peaceful resolution: Lean Six Sigma. It’s the modern school combining the approaches of both originals. The good thing is that they don’t contradict each other. Moreover, they offer different perspectives on the same business issue.

Going forward, we will review some of the most popular tools that Lean Six Sigma has to offer.

Process Improvement Tools

I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised that there’s no such thing as the best tool for process improvement. It all depends on the type of organization, available data, type of the issue and many other factors. Let’s take a look at the most well-known tools used by process improvement specialists.

DMAIC and DMADV

The acronyms stand for Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve / Design – Control / Verify. This process improvement tool is one of the simplest to start with. It may be especially useful for project-oriented organizations. The tool can help in finding ways to improve existing product or service or develop the new one. The team goes through five clear steps:

  • Define the problem or opportunity. The outcome of this step is the definitive list of goals the project is aiming to achieve.
  • Measure the existing process. As a result, the team comes up with a list of agreed CTQ (critical-to-success) factors. Obvious from the name of the step, these factors should be easily measurable.
  • Analyze the available information on current performance. How and why the current state is different from the desired state? This step is about understanding the gap you need to overcome and the root cause of this gap.
  • Improve / Design stage is the step when the team stops strategizing and starts acting. The idea is to assess the possible ways to overcome the gap defined in the previous step. Cost-benefit analysis should help to find the options that work best. Then the team should run an experiment or a pilot project to test the approach. Measuring the CTQs of the pilot is uber-important.
  • Control / Verify is the step most frequently overlooked. This is about making sure that the new process is cascaded throughout the relevant part of the organization. It implies a lot of communication to assure that the staff not involved in the development is embracing the process improvement. In case of development of the new process or product this stage is used to verify with the client that the outcome meets their needs.

Fishbone diagram

Also known as Ishikawa diagram, it is a famous process improvement tool that helps to find the cause for a defined problem. It’s handy for facilitation of brainstorming when a cross-functional team has to think of reasons why the particular business problem emerged. In most cases there will be multiple factors and the team will map them on the “bones” of the fish.

The process starts with a precise definition of the process improvement objective, and the whole team needs to align on that. As a next step, the moderator is guiding the group through various factors do dig on the possibility of each one becoming the cause of the problem. The classic approach to the tool uses 6 or 8M factor list: Measurement, Material, Machine, Mother nature, Manpower, Method, Management, Maintenance.

You can expand the list of factors to adjust the model to your organization. Alternatively, you can change the list of the factors all together to work on projects not related to production. One of the great alternatives is the marketing 7Ps: product, price, place, promotion, people, processes, physical evidence.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is an advanced process improvement tool requiring a deep understanding of the methodology. One session can last up to a week. It best suits large organizations with complex processes involving different departments. The idea is to write down every smallest action within the process and assess if it can be optimized or removed. To get a better overview of the tool, you may want to read this article or this book.

The following case is a very descriptive example from FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) market. Tactical initiatives of Marketing department often mean urgent requests for the additional volume of product that Factory cannot meet. All the parties involved in the process improvement gathered to see the communication and production flows. The Marketing person was surprised to learn that based on their promotion plans a large chain was activated:

  • Sales Planning is changing the shipments forecast
  • Production Planning is changing the production forecast
  • Procurement Analyst is adjusting purchase orders for raw materials
  • A similar process is launched on the raw materials supplier side

The Supply Chain representative learnt that Marketing is unable to plan the promotions eight months in advance as they are often prepared in response to competitors’ actions or opportunities arising in retail chains.

In result, some of the steps were removed and the monthly Marketing – Supply Chain alignment meeting was established. This allowed shortening of lead time by three months.

Completed process improvement projects often create the false impression of a done job. However, one useful habit of successful business owners and managers that guarantees better results is to put in place the continuous process improvement practices.

Continuous process improvement

The concept of continuous process improvement is straightforward. There’s always a place for improvement. The markets keep changing, the product keeps evolving, the organization keeps generating data. You should be targeting your efficiency improvement pace to be higher than the pace of complexity increase.

The key factors of continuous process improvement are the ability to run PI (process improvement) projects and the availability of infrastructure. We talked about the projects before. The infrastructure stands for the following elements:

  • Purpose: buy-in of the team that the organization needs to improve.
  • Process: a set of standardized approaches to running process improvement projects.
  • People: personnel with the right set of competencies to run the initiatives.

The more you think about ways to improve your business processes, the more possibilities you will come up with. At some point, you will need to make decisions, which improvement project to start next. The classical solution to this problem is the Pareto priority index calculated by the simple formula:

This index will help you prioritize the process improvement initiatives. Obviously, the higher the probability of success and the lower the time to complete – the better. There are two ways to improve these parameters over time. One is learning through trial and error. The other one is using the services of third party process improvement specialists.

Process improvement specialists and their role

Working with third-party process improvement consultants can save your nerves and time. They will ensure that your process improvement initiatives will end up with successful projects, and not just bravado speeches in front of your staff.

Here are the core benefits of working with our process improvement specialists:

  • Many years of experience working in different business spheres. Integrating into new companies is part of our job. We will quickly learn the nature of your business problems and will be able to suggest the optimal methodologies to run process improvement projects.
  • Proficiency in technologies. Our process improvement engineers will handpick the right tools built to facilitate the classical process improvement methodologies. We will be using them to ensure our workshops are efficient and your team is not getting any additional paperwork.
  • Over 1’000 projects completed. We will definitely improve your probability of success.
  • Process improvement plan tailored to your business problem. It will be going far beyond the standard Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle. The plan will help you maintain positive results and drive for improvement within your team even after the finish of the active part of the project.

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Improving Businesses by way of Digital Transformation

Recently, there has been much discussion around the revival and transformation of legacy industries that have embraced the age of Digital Transformation. In an article from inc.com, the Oil & Gas industry was specifically mentioned as not keeping up with the times. It’s no secret that Oil & Gas has been a big time money making industry for quite some time. Perhaps there is a general “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality amongst enterprises within this field. Although this may be true to some extent, failure to keep up with the digital age will undoubtedly result in a competitive disadvantage to those unwilling to innovate and evolve.

There are many options available to streamline Oil & Gas industry practices, or any industry/enterprise for that matter. Though many of these technologies can be costly to implement, there are affordable tools that can make an immediate impact within your business.

Take Slack for example. This simple chat-focused application allows for cloud-based team collaboration. Users can communicate individually, amongst a group, or even within a topic based channel that you can create and invite others within your organization to join. Based on surveying it’s own users, Slack reports 25% fewer meetings, 32% more productivity, and 50% fewer emails. You can also utilize chat bots  (an easy intro to the world of automation) within slack to streamline workflows and boost productivity. With multiple pricing options, Slack is a low-cost implementation that improves team collaboration.

If your Project Management team needs some assistance, take a look at www.monday.com. Monday’s platform also allows you to track everything your team is working on. You can see who is working on what, if they’re on pace with timelines, and assign specific tasks or projects to members of your team. Pricing varies depending on the number of users, but you can choose your from different plans and select your preferred billing cycle (monthly, yearly, or two yearly).

Whatever your budget or business needs, there are solutions that can impact your enterprise. Emerging technologies are easier than ever to implement. So, if you’re behind in these adaptations, take a step in the right direction and give one of these options a try.

A Historical Account of Spreadsheet Mishaps

There are MANY reasons why companies are moving away from excel, but the largest one is increased financial risk. Companies simply cannot afford to the effects of fatal spreadsheet errors. The smallest clerical error can have the largest impact, so it doesn’t take a big stone to create a tidal wave.

Fidelity’s Magellan Fund learned this the hard way, by projecting they would make $4.32 per share. However, this turned out to be false, as an accounting error in excel resulting in the omission of the minus sign on a net capital loss of $1.3 billion. As a result, the estimate spreadsheet was only off $2.6 billion dollars.

The scariest part, is that this sort of thing happens all the time:

  • TransAlta loses $24M over a simple “cut-and-paste” spreadsheet error
  • Fannie Mae discovers a $1.136B error made in a spreadsheet
  • The London Whale suffers a $6B trading loss via a (VAR) Value at Risk model containing standard Excel flaws

The list goes on. The impact of errors such of these not only impacts a company’s finances immediately, but also hurts future business. With the ease in which information is accessed and shared amongst consumers, it can be almost impossible to bounce back from bad PR.

Often times, financial officers worry about the cost of implementing new platforms into their business. Yes, some options are very expensive. However, as a consumer, you have choices. You can have a customized platform built from scratch, you can use an out-of-the-box platform and work your business around it, or you can hire a team to customize an out-of-the-box platform so that it works around your business. The only option you can’t afford, is to continue to rely on spreadsheets.

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Oil, Gas, and Cloud-based Solutions

If you’re in Oil & Gas, you might want to give this article from Energy CIO Insights a read:

How Technology is Changing the Oil and Gas Landscape – For the Better

The bottom line is that companies who are willing to evolve with technology will remain competitive in the industry.

  • Issues with Supply-Chains?
  • Poor Data Management/Analysis?
  • Project Management in chaos?

Let us help, we provide the solutions you need to operate like a well-oiled machine.

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From Columns and Rows to Automated Workflows

If you do a bit of googling, you’ll see article after article with mentions of corrupted data by way of spreadsheets. In fact, 88% of all spreadsheets have “significant” errors in them. In the past, the lack of industry-wide standards has largely been to blame for these discrepancies. However, the point remains that over-complicated spreadsheets are not only difficult to read and analyze but are prone to data entry errors due to sheer size.

Is there a better way?

There’s always a better way. New technologies are revolutionizing the way we share and analyze data. Platforms with the capacity to process huge amounts of data across different sources make the access and manipulation of data quick and easy. These applications contain powerful analytics tools, allowing for reports to be configured to specific business units and roles. You can even have your reports automated, so you never have to manipulate a spreadsheet for data discovery ever again.

So, what are the key benefits to using these platforms and services over spreadsheets?

  • Data integrity – make decisions with confidence, with information you can trust
  • Data discovery – gain a competitive advantage with powerful analytics for insights
  • Speed – access your data, live, whenever you want
  • Efficiency – no more wasted hours performing data entry
  • Collaboration – share your data with your team whenever/however you want
  • Scalability – your platform can grow with your business
  • Simplicity – your data is easy to understand and manipulate. No complex formulas or pivot tables needed.

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Enhancing Unified Communications as a Service

Streamlining Enterprise Applications and Communications

Earlier today it was announced that Workato and RingCentral are now teaming up to enhance/revolutionize the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) business model. This combined service is sure to be a game changer across multitude of industries, especially those that are highly customer-facing. What are the deliverables of these conglomerates, and how can their services change your company. 

What is Unified Communications as a Service?

Techopedia defines UCaaS as “a service model where providers deliver different telecom or communications software applications or services, generally over the global IP network.” Essentially, UCaaS allows for enterprises to utilize scalable/low-cost communication services (voice, video conferencing, text).

How can UCaaS be improved/expanded?

This is where Workato’s partnership with RingCentral makes an impact. Previously, UCaaS was a valuable but seemingly limited service. Most companies utilize multiple applications for information sharing and streamlining communication between these apps and respective UCaaS providers was something not well known to companies in desperate need of such a service. By providing this offering, a critical service has been brought to light.

Integrating Workato/RingCentral!

Workato and RingCentral can be integrated into nearly any low-code system. Whether you use Salesforce, Quick Base, or Zoho (to name a few), these services can be integrated into your business applications so that your information sharing, reporting, and communication mediums can all be in sync.

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Creating Automation with Integrations

Get Back those Wasted Hours!

Today, more than ever, companies rely on multiple systems to manage day to day operations. The issue with utilizing a variety of different systems is the inability for one application to talk to another. This delays data share, slows productivity, and increases the need for manual reporting.

Finally, you decide to integrate your systems. Now what?

Time to automate!

The major benefit of connecting your systems is to minimize man hours that are wasted on tasks that can be automated. By doing so, you can eliminate human error and increase productivity. No more double entries, no more data entry errors.

How to create automation?

By setting up the proper triggers and/or time-based actions, data can be moved from one user/system to another automatically. A trigger is essentially a contingency that initiates a reaction if met (i.e. “if this, then that”). For example, “if” you input a new lead into your system, “then” an automated report will be sent in whatever frequency you determine. In this scenario, the “if” is the trigger and the “then” is the action.

Consider Webhooks

In addition to actions and triggers, QuickBase Webhooks can automate workflows for businesses wanting to connect Quick Base with other systems. This function enables Quick Base to notify a Quick Base application or web-enabled system about real time changes in data. By using Webhooks, you can connect Quick Base to multiple systems and increase workflow automation.

Software integration enables you automate daily tasks that are critical to your business. Why not get those hours back? Focus on things that require the human element, like engaging with coworkers and creating personal relationships.

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An Over-Simplified Guide to Creating Usable Software

As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, many enterprises utilize multiple systems to store and access data. Additionally, many of these systems are outdated and simply not as powerful as more modern platforms. So, how can you ensure the roll out of a usable system? Let’s reverse engineer the build process and find out.

There are several common roadblocks that can prevent the creation of a successful system:

  1.     The stakeholder. Most of the time, the person(s) buying/owning the software is not the end user. This causes a difference of opinion: budget vs usability.
  2.     User experience. This couples with the above disconnect. Without proper consultation, the needs of the user(s) can be overlooked.
  3.     Old dogs and new tricks. If a business doesn’t see the flaws in its current system, then it sees no reason to implement a new one.

How can you break through these roadblocks? The most invaluable answer is transparency. Be honest with your stakeholders about the timeframe, the resources required, and the cost. Consult with users, both those in favor and those opposed to a new system. Use these conversations to detect pain points and gaps in the current system. Once the build is complete, test it. Testing is the only way to ensure that the needs of the individual and the needs of the organization are met. Get your users involved, be transparent about your deliverables, and be an available resource after implementation – not just during.

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Quick Base 101

If you’re trying to decide between Quick Base and another product, let’s first define what Quick Base is and how it might be the right workspace for you and your business.

What is Quick Base?

Quick Base is a cloud-based platform-as-a-service (PaaS) workspace, built for business users, that allows you to customize or build any type of application where you have multiple users sharing/moving/viewing data. It contains basic database features such as tables and fields, which can be connected with relationships, as well as out of the box reporting (graphs and charts too!), roles and permissions. You can use your application to streamline your team’s communication as you input and share business data.

How do Quick Base applications work?

A Quick Base application consists of one or more tables, which are lists of information. Each table consisting of rows and columns (fields) that are related to each other. Each table can be thought of as a single spreadsheet, so an application is essentially a collection of spreadsheets that can be related to each other. This means that you can look up a customer, for example, and see all of the activities related to that customer. Each piece of information you want to collect is a field within a table, that can be viewed via reports/charts so that you and your team can stay on task.

How is it customized?

The reason Quick Base is so powerful is that it can be customized to suit the needs of your business. There is virtually no limit to what you can do and the number of applications you can use within your personal workspace. You can track anything you need, and you can create custom home pages for different users within your organization to show each team member just the information they need to get their job done. For example, members of your sales team can have their custom homepage feature only information that help them manage the sales process.

How can you use it?

When you first login to Quick Base, you immediately have access to a countless range of applications via the Quick Base exchange. These ready-to-use applications contain sample data, which allows you to familiarize yourself with how fields interact within a table. You can delete this sample data and enter your own when you’re ready. You can also start from scratch, building your own application from nothing or import your data from excel any way you would like for it to be structured.  

In short, Quick Base provides an extremely simple user interface for interacting with an application that you build. Once your application is created, you can add new records, create new tables, create relationships, manage users/roles, and sending reports via email. If properly utilized, Quick Base can be the lifeline of your daily tasks.

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Connecting your Business with Systems Integration

It’s no secret that developing a successful business requires collaboration, whether it’s one business unit or cross-team communication. Most companies utilize multiple applications and systems to store and access data. Sometimes connecting these systems can be difficult, which can inhibit productivity. Integrating your systems will help streamline your business for success.

Many businesses are still using legacy systems (such as MS Access, or even worse, green screens). These systems, though effective, are outdated. There are new platforms, like Quick Base, that can be molded to fit your business. Furthermore, different business units see data differently. Stepping away from legacy systems will allow for you to engage in a systems integration partnership that will provide custom solutions to account for these differences.

Although a systems integration seems like a no-brainer, many businesses are weary of implementing new platforms for several reasons.

  1. Cost of implementation
  2. Fear of end user buy-in of a new platform

Yes, integrating systems can be costly. But the return of investment is invaluable if done properly. By migrating or integrating with a cloud-based system, your team can access and share data in real time across multiple platforms. The key to gaining a successful ROI is not so much in the product you use, but the company you partner with to build, migrate, and manage your system.

Integrating all of your systems can be easier than you think. Workato (www.workato.com) is an excellent tool to take the guesswork and coding out of integrating some of the most popular platforms today. Their easy to use and replicate recipes will have you up and running in no time.

Quandary is a certified Workato partner and has the resources you need to ensure a seamless transition from your old system(s) to your new systems. We take the time to understand your business, so we can identity gaps in your process and implement solutions. Not only does this increase productivity, but it also increases end user buy-in as we collaborate with your team to build you a better system. We provide dedicated consultation, custom builds, systems integrations, and continued support beyond initial implementation.

The biggest challenge with integration is, in fact, integration. Allow us to do the legwork, so you can focus on doing what you do best.

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