Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saucepan in a saucepan

According to Joe Shepley on his blog, Cereal in the Saucepan:
If we wanted to organize our kitchen to maximize space, we would never do things like store empty pots and pans or glasses in one place and disposable boxes of dry goods in another…we’d dump the dry goods into those empty pots, pans, and glasses and toss the disposable boxes they came in–et voila: maximized space!
Put in simple terms, Joe says that we should organize the filing of our documents on the processes behind information as much as the storage of those documents. If we have masses of information and documents, how useful is the traditional Windows file system approach to document storage? Who really cares that a document is on the C: drive? The C: drive is like the mechanics of the filing cabinet drawers that allow them to slide in and out easily despite being full to overflowing. It doesn't tell us anything about the information we have stored on it.

It gets slightly better, as savvy computer users (not my mother-in-law) start to put things into folders for each type of work they do. Now in an office, we end up with the F: drive being the place where people throw all the junk, with a folder of "Accounts Receivable", one for "Travel and Entertainment", etc. Careful filenames keep the documents in order. But frankly that offers us little better options than knowing that an expense claim is in the bucket, and got dumped there around 3 months ago.

Why is it so hard to classify our documents by business process, and the meaningful business information that generated them? You know, keep them in context, rather than make them an issue of searching for them? Because the good-ol' PC doesn't let us do that, and we don't want to spend time naming documents and hundreds of folders in a way that lets us find them.

I have always been a great proponent of keeping documents in the context of the processes that created them. Not in the old workflow / document automation way of "it arrived in the workflow, and its stuck there", but a meaningful classification that let's us use the fact that an employee travel expense claim has meaningful attributes (or metadata) for the employee, for the accounting group, and for the auditor. Keep the information (expense form, scanned receipts, manager approval) organized in a meaningful structure, and the attributes used to identify the processes information belongs to just takes care of itself. Yes, just have an information management app that is meaningful while documents are in the process and when we are finally done with them, without having to waste time filing after the face.

Me, file documents? The documents were filed in Consected almost before they were used. Put another way, my saucepan is already in the dishwasher. My cereal is in me. And its time for another coffee...

A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The value chain doesn't have to be linear

Porter Value Chain (from Wikipedia)
Working with clients face-to-face is always interesting and enlightening. However much a company may need help from a consultant in a specific area of their business, the consultant always learns a new way of looking at business problems. For me, a recent trip to a client led to many discussions about strategies for improving the business, both the little things and the big things. The big things, such as M&A and moving to a new headquarters, often have the greatest payback, but in terms of looking at the day to day operations of the business, looking at how a firm can improve its customer service quality while reducing wasteful activities can also pay back big.

During my visit, we started discussions about the value chain. We envisioned a long paper chart, pinned to the office wall, showing everything from prior to attracting a new prospective customer to the business, through serving them successfully and profitably, to finally ending the relationship and eventually dissolving that closed account completely. Its a compelling visual, since it touches so many pieces of the business, and can help business people who have become so entrenched in their piece of the puzzle to look around and see how their work impacts others, both positively and negatively. This long value chain / enterprise business process will make a great project for somebody, one day.

The issue I have whenever I look at the value chain, is that it is often viewed as a fairly linear and blocky thing, showing a flow of activities leading to value at the far end. Maybe this is just because many examples focus on manufacturing and the success of production lines. Of course outside of a production line, we all know that this linear view is just not the case. Activities go on in all areas of the business that deliver value, and different departments aren't always as remote from the action as the Porter Value Chain diagram (above) would suggest. Especially in services industries, I would suggest that we would end up with a series of segments of an orange all pointing in to value generation in the center. After all, it is hard to say whether a client will be more upset about a screw up in one group or another, when the financial outcome is about the same. In financial services, if a firm delays a wire transfer for $100k, or a rep delays placing a securities trade that increases the individual's risk, the actual cost may be small, but the perception from the client may be huge. Finance was responsible for one error, sales for the other, and only an orange slice view of the value chain puts them on equal footing. Reversing the view and delivering top quality service in both areas of the business may also deliver equal financial and value to the customer and then back to the business.

The issue with all of this is that the orange slice view of value does not help people understand the business processes that are being performed. It highlights that we are all one "big happy team", but in terms of understanding, it shows little else that is tangible to a business person. So the value chain can not replace business process definitions, which show the way work related specific transactions flow through the organization. And business processes rarely show where the valuable work is done in the organization, just showing where work gets done in an overall timeline. So my reminder to myself as a consultant is this: "just because I can make a business process work better, I must look at the value chain to understand where to focus my efforts". Nothing new, but a good reminder to all of us to get out out the weeds and look at the orange. And when things start getting a little too high-level-strategic with little focus, I can alway dive back to fixing specific business processes that I've now shown will deliver value to the business, and importantly its customers.

A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com

Monday, November 08, 2010

Advertise all you want, but what happens to the leads?

Advertising a small business's products is great, but the leads you get from your advertising investment are what matter. I spent a morning at the Javits Center in New York City last week, thankful to be out of the rain for a little while. One side of the building was taken over by the super-fit marathon runners preparing for a grueling 26 mile Sunday with some retail therapy buying fitness clothing. The other side was largely taken over by ad:tech, a chance for media channels, technology and ad buyers to uncomfortably mingle in one place. It is interesting that LinkedIn ads occupied a booth maybe 8 times the size of Microsoft advertising.

For me, where the rubber meets the road for advertising is when all that spending pays back and you get solid leads. The ad:tech presenters I heard were so overcome with excitement that you could count and measure these leads, slicing and dicing them in every way, that nobody seemed interested that you might actually want to follow up on those leads. You know, see if the leads are real, what the potential customer's need are, start building a rapport with the buyer. Nope, the most exciting thing apparently is drawing a pretty chart so you can optimize your advertising messages the next time.

So, you all shout, "just put the leads into Salesforce". Yeah, well how many small businesses have got through the learning curve of Salesforce to actually make it a useful system? In a quick poll I made, only one had finally invested the resources needed to get it to work. Even then, the leads coming in end up being entered laboriously by hand from the website. But hey, they can now get fancy reports to see how many leads are in the funnel. And it only costs $25 per user unless your are considered 'professional', in which case start considering how it will impact the kids' college funds.

Along the same lines, I have to relay the little chuckle I had when I walked past an expensive ad:tech expo stand (I won't name the company). The rep was talking to some interested people about the service he was touting. They asked for a copy of a case study, which he didn't have to hand. So what did he do? Scribble the person's email address on the back of one of his own business cards and promise to follow up. "But if you don't hear from me, do drop me an email to remind me", I heard him say. Yeah, lost cause I thought to myself - I wonder how many leads like that were wasted?

So, Salesforce takes some effort to get start on. If you already have it and are advertising to get some real leads, bite the bullet and work out if it really will work for you. I use my own software to capture lead information received face to face and on the web, through a simple contact web page powered by Consected. It gets the information directly into a lead workflow, helping us follow-up and track the responses. Fancy analytics, not so much, but to be honest I wouldn't know what to do with them even if they were there. It takes a company investing way more in marketing than we do to be able to really make use of that information.

If your company would like to improve how it captures and tracks its all important customer leads, contact us and I can help you get up and running in about an hour.

A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com