The focus of many ERP implementations, at least initially, is to get an integrated system in place that reduces the workload of non-integrated tasks. This ensures more accurate and timely data for decision-making and that the stage is set for moving to a second phase of improvements. These goals and the tasks related to achieving them are without doubt ‘big rocks’.
Part of the hope is, by laying the integrated structure, some of the other issues in the organization will become ‘small rocks’. In fact, many searches for new solutions occur because a belief that the myriad of small tasks, or small rocks, are strangling an organization’s effectiveness. But that belief includes an idea that fixing these small rocks can only happen after bigger changes, big rocks, take place.
Overall, not a bad premise.
But What If You Never Get to the Small Rocks?
The focus for many quality initiatives is generally found around improvements in production steps. The rationale that “no errors will reduce costs” is easy to conceptualize and accept when dealing with physical output. But unless we are a bank or other service organization we don’t tend to be as sensitive to the other kinds of transaction errors that are not directly tied to products.
Sure, programs like “lean” and Six Sigma have identified that tracking human error (or the opportunity for error) is a legitimate focus for improvement programs. But how often do organizations really stop to examine the impact to the bottom line of cumbersome, multiple hand-off, administrative processes? This would be things like generating a certificate of analysis, reliably holding or releasing lots in inventory or completing vendor qualification processes.
The answer is… not all that often. This is mostly because of these perceptions:
- There are bigger fish to fry.
- There is sufficient complexity in these tasks that we really can’t expect to find a system so we will best achieve our desired outcome if we let a human being, with the help of a spreadsheet, handle that complexity.
- Staff are rigorously opposed to the required changes and have difficulty getting out of their own way to see the big picture.
If an organization is really going to maximize the value of their investment when implementing their new systems, they must sort through perceptions like these first. Then they must continue their progress and face the small rocks like they are big rocks too.
3 approaches to combat “status quo” mindset – get those rocks moving!
It is a challenge to move the organization onto the second and third (or more) phases of projects. After all, a lot of heavy lifting has already been done and the team may feel a bit worn out. But without that effort to keep moving forward, full value of the earlier efforts is not realized. At this point most organizations can benefit from considering a few new tools.
- Develop a method of objective measurement of impact. If you are running your quality system with a focus on improvement management then you likely have data you can access or develop. This puts an objective measurement of cost or value on handling critical sub processes in your current manner.
- Offer and encourage outside education opportunities. Helping your staff recognize and understand what the best practices of other companies or professional organizations are can be a great way to bring the energy of new ideas to your team and help move the needle.
- Formally consider worse-case scenario. If you suddenly lost critical staff (assume by a lottery win, not hit by a train!) or spreadsheet data that was corrupted or destroyed, do you have back-up plans? No one wants to expect worst possible outcomes but as the upcoming new ISO9000:2015 standard reminds us, assessing risk is an important part of management responsibility.
These tools and ideas are easily accessible. With a little goal setting as leaders, we can encourage them to take place.