When Semi- is Better than Fully Automatic

semi-auto
Christopher Hatcher published a great article over at 21st Century Supply Chain about when semi-automatic processes are better than automatic ones. As an example, he talks about the exciting day in army basic training when he switched his gun from semi- to fully automatic. His observation is important: accuracy often goes down dramatically. He says,

“I can’t remember if I actually hit any targets that night, but it was so cool to try the automatic setting.”

Many companies go through a similar exciting phase – especially young companies that are learning how to expand their operations. Instead of taking time and really thinking out each move, we often want to find an automatic process that will “just make everything work and not bother me anymore.” When making investment decisions, it’s tempting to buy the Ferrari solution with all the options when the less glamourous bicycle product might actually work better.

In addition to spending too much on the automatic solution, we often create additional problems or miss valuable opportunities by letting processes run on autopilot. Many opportunities for improvement present themselves through deep understanding of how processes work. That understanding can only happen when we participate in the process.

What processes in your business would benefit from switching to semi-auto for a trial period? Which might benefit from a permanent semi-auto setting? Could less automation make some of your processes more efficient in the long-run?

For example, I often learn more from updating important metrics by hand than metrics that update automatically. That extra attention frequently brings me important insights.

Hatcher’s article includes these wise words:

“Running most operations in automatic mode is likely a wise choice, but it’s important to understand which parts of the process can trigger the responsible party to intervene when necessary. Automatic sometimes just scatters lots of bullets with a great deal of sound and fury, but semi-automatic usually hits the target every time.”

Check out the full article here: Will that be automatic or semi-automatic to manage your supply chain?

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    5 Questions on How Startups Should Begin Improving Their Supply Chains

    Improving Your Supply Chain
    Hundreds of businesses are facing the exact same problems as you right now. Many are figuring out how to take their supply chain to the next level. What are some ways other companies have tackled what you’re up against?

    In this latest podcast, I address five questions that have come up repeatedly in my conversations with small businesses:

    1. What are some ways to reduce costs and improve performance without sacrificing quality?
    2. How can a small business use technology to improve its efficiency?
    3. How can small business owners get employees and others to buy into managing their supply chain better?
    4. How can a small business oversee and boost the performance of their supply chain partners?
    5. What are some of my best suggestions for making the management of a supply chain more efficient?

    Download or listen to the podcast from the link above, or check out the full podcast transcript. Also, be sure to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or your other podcast app.

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      The Most Popular Supply Chain Cowboy Articles of 2014

      We’ve seen significant growth this year – online traffic and subscribers have more than tripled from 2013. It’s great to know there’s so many people working together to tame the wild west of supply chain management.

      Below is a list of our five most popular articles from the past year:

      Number 5 – How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

      How Skullcandy Rocked S&OPFor Supply Chain Cowboy’s first podcast, I had a great interview with Mark Kosiba, former VP of Operations at Skullcandy. He shared a ton of great advice on how small companies can leverage their nimbleness to grow and become world-class operations in competitive fields. If you haven’t yet listened to what Mark had to share, be sure to download it now so you can listen to it during your next commute.

      Check it out here: How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

      Number 4 – Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

      Mark DwightWant an example of what supply chain excellence and lean production really look like at a San Francisco bag company? Then be sure to check out this Q&A interview with the CEO of Ricksaw Bagworks. The article received a lot of positive social media attention, especially from people passionate about US-based manufacturing and small business entrepreneurs.

      Check it out here: Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

      Number 3 – One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

      Ship Track Excel FromulaIf anyone in your organization tracks packages, then they’ll definitely want to take a look at this article. It reviews a free excel add-in that lets you track shipments from most major carriers with a single formula. Even if you’ve shied away from tracking your shipments in the past because of how much work it can be, the article shows how that might now be possible.

      Check it out here: One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

      Number 2 – Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

      Tips for the APICS CSCP ExamSupply Chain Certifications are growing in popularity to not only help build an educational base, but distinguish job seekers looking to advance their career. This article details what I learned while preparing for the APICS CSCP exam, including useful advice for how to tackle the test. The first section about whether the exam is even worth pursuing is a great read for supply chain managers wanting to develop their team’s skills.

      Check it out here: Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

      Number 1, the Most Popular Article in 2014 – Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

      Vendor Scorecard ExampleThis vendor scorecard how-to article won by a wide margin, attracting one in every four visitors during 2014. As supplier relationships become more important to a firm’s success, scorecards provide a simple and effective method of managing those connections. The downloadable template, included in the article, is a great place to start in building your vendor metric program. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in improving your supply chain, be sure to check this article out now.

      Check it out here: Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

      What’s Coming in 2015?

      Here’s a sneak peak to a few articles and podcasts coming in the next couple months.

      • The First Steps in Improving Small Business Operations
      • Fighting Fires – a How-To Guide
      • More Business and Lean Quotes
      • Bringing Lean into Your Organization

      What else would you like to see as topics for articles? I’ve had some great conversations with readers this past year, and I’d love to hear from you too. What topics are you interested in – and what challenges are you up against? Shoot me an email, or post in a comment below.

      As always, thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season and a happy new year! Grab your cowboy hat and join me in riding your forklift into the sunset of 2014.

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        Interview for Bank of America Article

        A couple weeks ago, I did an interview with Robert Lerose, who writes for the Bank of America blog. His article was posted this week, and it has some great advice for small business supply chains.

        Check it out here:

        Optimizing The Pipeline: Managing your supply chain more efficiently

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          Everything is a Change Management Problem

          ChangeManagement

          Back to Marketing Class

          In a recent marketing class, we discussed a case of a startup company segmenting its customers. The startup had two primary customer types that were beginning to require different solutions. The company had to decide which segment to focus on and which one to let go.

          Running through the numbers, we came to a clear conclusion that customer segment A would be more profitable with the largest growth potential. The class wrapped up, and we all felt good about successfully using our marketing tools. Marketing lesson accomplished.

          After class, I asked the teacher what actually happened to the company. She replied that even though segment A was more profitable, the company went after segment B. The founders and investors all felt better about Segment B, so they decided to take the riskier option and drop A.

          I joked to the professor, “Oh, so it really wasn’t a marketing case – it was an organizational behavior and change management case.”

          With a smile, she quickly responded, “Every case is a change management case.”

          Everything is a Change Management Problem

          My teacher’s response has stuck with me. On one hand, it seems so obvious and something I already knew. On the other, it seems like a deep insight – words a wise, gray-haired sage would whisper from the shadows. Everything we try to do within our own team, across the company, or personally depends on changing current behavior. The hardest goals of all require us to change ourselves so that we can then change others.

          Change Management in Supply Chain

          When skilled change management leaders enter supply chain and operations, companies tend to do quite well. Toyota, for example, rose to prominence through its culture of embracing constant change toward improvement. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a systematic way to enact change on a recurring basis. Just as McDonald’s realized in the 1950s that their main product is a franchises rather than food, Toyota realized its product isn’t just cars but an improvement system.

          As I’ve tried to make changes, I’ve looked to Toyota as an example. The temptation I’ve faced is to take Toyota’s tools and copy their processes completely. When changes weren’t implemented as quickly as I’d like (or not at all), I would get frustrated and wonder if Toyota’s tools really held the answer.

          Eventually, I realized they don’t.

          Toyota’s problem-solving tools work at Toyota because of its culture of embracing changes TPS suggests. Those tools are great if you’re in that type of environment, but most companies’ cultures are very different.

          In fact, the actual tools, numbers, or improvements often become much less important than how you manage the proposed change.

          The best ideas, implemented poorly, will always lose to decent ideas implemented well.

          How to Change

          So how do you effectively lead change? The right answer varies by situation and personal style. Here’s five suggestions to help you find what works for you.

          (1) Remember the Primary Issue is Always Managing Change

          No matter what type of problem you think you’re trying to solve, there is always a bigger question of “what will I do to get to enact this idea.” Figuring out the right segment to target is one thing, convincing the company that it’s the right thing to do is the real issue.

          (2) Spend a Ton of Time Getting Buy-in

          I’m an ‘act now, fix it later’ kind of guy. I’m constantly running experiments to improve processes. When I see an improvement, I jump on it and move forward. Why waste time with a less-efficient process? This is often a common mentality within groups of operationally minded people. It’s a skill that helps reduce costs and improve efficiency. But this can also be a weakness when working with others.

          Change management often requires a much different approach. People take a lot of time to prepare of major changes. Communicating all the knowledge you’ve gained to the rest of your organization on why the change needs to happen is very challenging. Resistors, supporters, and bystanders emerge, and it takes a lot of work to convince others to change their behavior.

          A common thread throughout change management literature is the time it takes to get buy-in. Getting buy-in from your own team of five may take a five-minute conversation, but an organization of just fifty people can take five months of meetings. Bigger companies can take five years. Investing in buy-in upfront can be a frustratingly slow change of pace, but it’s the best way to enact significant changes in larger organizations.

          (3) Give Others Credit

          If you really care about the change, don’t care about who gets credit. Make others look good, especially superiors, and you have a better chance of your mission moving forward. Even if you’re name is never mentioned, most people will recognize your role if you repeatedly bring others success.

          (4) Show Leadership by Following

          My favorite TED talk is only three minutes long, and it’s called How to Start a Movement. It shows how a lone dancer at a concert creates a movement to get everyone at the concert dancing. With that dancing movement happening in the background, Derek Sivers explains the characteristics the video exemplifies of how to make change happen.

          It’s a fantastic video – take three minutes watch it here: TED Talk – Derek Sivers, How to Start a Movement

          My favorite insight from the video is, “The first follower turns a lone nut into a leader.” There’s lots of people trying to enact changes. By becoming their first follower, you can make those changes happen. You can pick which “lone nut” to follow and pick which change succeeds.

          (5) Read Switch

          Finally, read my favorite business book:

          Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

          This book is simply fantastic in every way. It’s entertaining, easy to read, and the advice applies to changes of all types. Whether you want to change your personal diet, change how we address world hunger, or change your company’s procurement policies, Switch has real-life advice you can use right after you read each chapter. I can’t recommend this book enough.

          If you’ve already read Switch, Decisive is an excellent follow-up about how to make better decisions.

           

          As you tackle your problems this week, choosing between A and B, remember that the biggest issue is how you manage that change.

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