Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Critical Link of Activities to Business Results

If you were asked to comment on an assessment of the last year's continuous improvement, what might your review look like? Would it be a list of actions and activities completed, or might it be more in terms of impact - as in business results of the activities? Consider that the most important aspect of any improvement initiative is a direct correlation between the activities and a measurable business result. By framing a project in this way there will be alignment of actions, decisions and resources with those intended results.

Here's a deep question for you to consider - "What is the reason a company has groups of employees organized as divisions, operations and departments?" What is their reason for existing? They exist solely for the reason of producing a positive impact on revenue, either directly or indirectly. Every organization, sub-organization or organizational silo must be viewed as an element of the revenue generation machine.

It's easy to fall into a thought pattern where you believe the decisions and actions responsible for profitable revenue reside somewhere else, in fact you may be thinking that right now. When this view occurs within an organizational unit, results become unrelated to the big picture business objective of revenue. Improvement actions and objectives take on a form that produce localized, narrowly focused results. The trouble is any localized positive change may have little or possibly negative impact relative to producing revenue. Without a critical emphasis on business results, any process improvement change can end up being an expensive trip to nowhere.

When starting an initiative that is intended to produce a higher level of efficiency, never loose sight of the fact that the result must always be measured as the impact to producing profitable revenue. Any efficiency change must have an outcome that impacts at least one of these: 1) enable quicker revenue, 2) provide increased revenue, or 3) improve revenue margin. If the initiative can't be measured against some aspect of impacting revenue results, it is not a properly framed improvement project. Make no mistake, the name of the game is "making money" - bottom line.

A highly effective efficiency change will result by developing a strategy, aligning objectives and building a team with an objective of revenue impact as the motivation. And yes, for proper financial emphasis it will always mean project participation outside your organizational silo; it may even be wise to consider outside leadership! Broad participation is essential to dilute the incestuous pool of same thinking that cripples real change. Focus activities only on results that matter to the business!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Soft Skill Development Breeds Solid Leadership Effectiveness

Personal Skill Assessment – this is an area where we often have a vastly different reality index when considering “Hard skills” vs. “Soft Skills” area. Hard skills fall into the category of specific abilities such as doing calculus, working with a spreadsheet, creating a project plan or designing a new function - the technical attributes. Soft skills are more related to attributes such as leadership, communications, objectivity, decision-making, vision or problem solving – the personality attributes.

Generally, we tend to more realistic in identifying deficiencies in our hard skills than our soft skills. This may be because of an underlying fear of being perceived as broken, from a personality standpoint. Or it may be the product of our pride or ego. Regardless of the specific reason, the ability to become a stronger leader will be based on the suite of soft skills at our disposal. If we are in a leadership position, our ability to retain and grow in that capacity will be directly proportional to our continued soft skill development. The barriers to soft skill assessment and development must be lowered.

As effective leaders of new product development teams we must be “soft skill teachable”. This means that we do not have all the answers, but we will passionately seek them. It means that we are convinced there is always a better way; we are not already there. It means that we will keep our ego, pride and fear in check, remaining ever open to the possibility that we may not be right. Above all, we must continuously pursue possibilities that enable advancement in our core soft skill portfolio.

Soft skill training, coaching and guidance must be a strategic component of our development objectives. I have learned that given enough time in our own heads, the impression of our soft skill competency will become skewed and unrealistic; in time we may approach legendary status in our own minds. External input and guidance is vital for our accurate soft skill assessment and development to guarantee we are balanced towards ego deflating reality. Seek out those personal and professional resources that will provide soft skill authenticity and expansion, thus securing the reality of your leadership vision.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Six Actions to Promote Project Execution Excellence

Today is just right for taking action to remove some barriers to project execution excellence. If not today, there is a high probability that action will be either significantly delayed or never occur. How long have surprises been disrupting projects already? Below you will find a list of six "today" ideas to pick from. Take action against one of these every day and before long your organization will display a new level of productivity and efficiency, one where improvements will be obvious to all.

Ask a team member
"Is there anything you need that would improve your project contribution?" This is a loaded question and one that can provide a wealth of information about what is not working well. Ask a different team member this question every day and put actions in place to address what you learn.

Face an Issue and take action
You know of something that is a problem and may be hiding behind money, time, or that it's not your problem to be fixed. Take action today to engage on a path towards a solution. If you don't, no one else will either! Time to do this will not last forever, as many companies have already found.

Discover a Problem
Talk to your direct team and talk with other teams to find out what they believe is not working well. Step out of your organizational silo and into another to get a refreshing look at the situation. Consider an outsider as an objective source to uncover roadblocks. There are always unknown barriers to ideal execution and they must be discovered and addressed, or they will continue to silently disrupt your plans.

Issues Brainstorming
Host an informal, no-holds-barred session with your team to uncover the issues. In this case it is extremely important that a non-threatening environment is established to promote the healthy discussion of where the issues reside. Maximize effectiveness by ensuring that everyone leaves his or her healthy egos at the door. Create an actionable plan based on what your learn.

Take a Realistic Look at a Project
Is there a project that has just never felt right to you? Get answers to your concerns and take action, where appropriate. If it has not started elect to table it. If it is in execution consider killing it. Keep in mind that we are not in the business of purely creating cool products; we are in the business of generating profitable revenue. If it's innovative and positively disrupts the market, that's good. If it's an impressive engineering accomplishment that lacks market acceptance, that's bad.

Foster Innovation
Look at the innovation process. Is your organization promoting product, process and work flow ideas or are they being stifled? Create a mechanism to support the generation and resolution of ideas. Ensure there is a reward system for ideas.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Today is Perfect for Making a Positive Change

Procrastination within an organization is one of the greatest limiters of execution excellence there is. Where your competition is concerned, their postponement in the repair of a broken development process is good for your business. However, if procrastination is your organizations mantra, that's a grave situation for long term viability. The reality is that the competition has reason to cheer on organizations that wallow in a pool of delayed action, the ones that are lost in a non-action dream of one day becoming an ideal new product development machine.

In my business I am barraged with reasons why today is not the right time to make a positive change in the new product development process. Reasons for inaction come down to one of time, money, denial or "not our problem". Faced with the stark reality that there are well known inefficiencies in the development process, many organizations will remain on the course of addressing them later. Tomorrow rarely comes and a year down the road the same issues are still wreaking havoc with development projects.

The media is loaded with companies that had made the choice to delay taking action in finding and fixing business issues. They believed time was on their side and then one day found that time had run out. They believed they were too big to fail and then found them selves face to face with the reality of a chapter 11 filing. How does your organization stack up in the area of action related to product development efficiency concerns?

An organization that displays a "There is no time like the present" attitude will have a belief system in place that drives continuous improvement. These winning businesses will seize a never-ending passion to hunt for issues and solve them today; they will be a force that the competition views with envy.

Today is a perfect day to take actions that will remove the systemic project execution barriers that have been negatively impacting revenue goals. Now is the ideal time to step up to the plate and make a difference, while everyone else is merely waiting for a better time. Display leadership and secure a future by driving solutions to the execution obstacles that you know the development team is facing every day. Do it today!