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About Small Ideas

Getting Out of Ridiculous Operations

This is a blog for all corporate citizens who, at one point or another, have wondered how their companies managed to succeed despite being entangled in massive inefficiencies.  This blog shares lessons I learn in the field as a consultant whose job is to fix big problems in the back office.  I assess operations for opportunities to streamline  processes, eliminate waste, and improve internal controls.  Time and again, what I see is that big problems are build ups of a hundred little things—an issue here, a work-around there, and they mutate from there.  Tack on long periods of neglect due to bigger and more immediate problems at hand, and one day everyone find themselves a part of a ridiculous operation that needs lots of effort and “busy-ness” to sustain but produces little results.

A ridiculous operation is one that is poised for elimination, especially today.  Everyone is looking to cut dead weight.  Your company, likely many others, has probably implemented drastic measures to cut cost, increase efficiency, and solve other big headaches to clean house.  But that’s the thing.  Big headaches require big fixes, and big fixes come with big disruption and big pain, for everyone.  And as the business struggles to get past the pain, employees pay the price through rounds of lay-offs, re-orgs, process overhauls.

Get out of a ridiculous operation (and out of management’s cost-cutting radar) by cleaning house yourself, one small effort at a time, by finding small issues to fix.

Why small?  Why not tackle the big problems?

  • Small issues need only small, simple ideas to fix.  You can try out a small idea quickly in a way that is not disruptive to the organization.
  • The consequence of failure is minimal, so no face is lost if turns out poorly.  Just tweak it or toss out the window.
  • And bottom line, it is free almost all of the time and can be implemented without a lot of outside help.  That means no multi-phase project plans, PMOs, and ten people to report status to.

And when it’s all said and done, the credit is all yours.  

It adds up. A bunch of small ideas implemented timely equals one big process improvement success that will prevent a big headache and a big painful fix.  And that is the secret weapon to making big problems go away.  It’s like flossing versus getting a root canal (I’m going in for my second one in a few weeks.  It goes to show that sometimes it takes a scary experience to learn a lesson.  And sometimes it takes two.)

My goal is to share small ideas that I come across through my work, research and the people I meet.  None of these ideas will be million-dollar fixes, and that’s the whole point.  In fact, some may seem quite obvious, or maybe it’s stuff that you’ve already thought of.  That’s great because we have now reinforced each other, which probably means that the idea will work for you.

I do not disclose information about past or present clients.  The views expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or its clients.  This is not a sponsored blog.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Natalia Lech permalink
    May 11, 2010 4:08 pm

    Nancy, you delivered an excellent presentation today at DePaul University, Internal Audit course. I learned a great deal about enterprise risk management specifically because you linked book concepts with real world scenarios. The material you presented will be most helpful and I look forward to contributing it throughout my studies and career. Thank you for such an informative and pleasant presentation.

  2. November 5, 2010 9:56 am

    I heartily agree. Small fixes can resolve larger problems and large issues are often caused by a series of unresolved smaller issues. Even the most detailed financial reports are not structured to fix a problem, at best they quantify the $ impact of the problem. A different level of thought is required to analyze a problem and set a course for improvement.

    Several experiences:
    Billing issues that affect cash flow – creation of an invoice is delayed, or the invoice rejected by the customer, because the sales order did not contain sufficient information (incorrect contact name, address or description of services). The issue is resolved when accounting and sales sit together to understand their internal needs and the needs of the customer.

    Sales are not meeting targets – which button do we press to fix the problem? Is it the “need more sales” button, the “unrealistic target” button, or do we step away from the big problem to look at backorders, late deliveries and margins/pricing?

    Yes, we can take a bulldozer to that mountain of a problem and spread it over a larger landscape… or we can use a shovel to remove the problems one-by-one for a more lasting and profitable solution.

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