Body of Knowledge

There Must Be a Better Way

How many times have we heard this?  How many times have we said it?

Personally, I am certain that I say this more than once per day. Sometimes it’s out of frustration, sometimes it’s out of amazement, sometimes it’s just a moment where I give a look and think, “You gotta be kidding me” – it’s the same look my dog gives me when I am talking to her like she can understand me.

I am also certain that if this statement is ever spoken or thought, then there IS a better way – it just has to be discovered AND implemented.

So why is the status-quo maintained?  Why are these obvious deficiencies perpetuated and their continued existence allowed?

I have devoted a few previous articles to experiences of processes and interactions which I have had in my life, where I just could not understand how they came to be – and why they still exist.

There was the article, “So – are you telling me you are going out of business?” where a COO was running his operations as if the wheels were going to fall off.  However, perhaps this was more an observation of human fear and indecisiveness as opposed to an inadequacy in a process.

In “Q: How do I increase my sales in a down economy, A: Sell”, I conveyed my poor experience of trying to make a purchase at Home Depot.  Of course, this could just be a lack of employee training or individual laziness.

The very recent article Weighing in on healthcare” – where I shared an abysmal experience at a hospital in New Jersey – was designed to demonstrate, anecdotally, the deficiencies in the delivery of healthcare.

And my personal favorite, “Absinthe, the ‘Green Fairy’, and Operational Excellence” in which I cite an experience where the Customs Control in the United States decided it was wise to spend $5,000 confiscating a $20 bottle of absinthe that nobody cared about.

But it goes on…

I am sure that we all have experienced angst when dealing with various governments and government agencies – from local to national.  New York State (where I reside) certainly demonstrates a lack of imagination and perspective in the “eyes of the customer” in a great many of its functions.

For instance, just this week, I received a notice in the mail from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance which served to notify me that they will no longer be mailing the forms for reporting sales tax to annual filers.

… Why didn’t they just mail the forms instead of the notice?

What’s even more befuddling is the manner in which New York levies certain fees, such as a fee on Limited Liability Corporations, where neither the form nor a notice is mailed.  You just have to remember that it is due, and when it is due.  Thankfully, my accountant is rather meticulous – my being polite.

I can go on and on with respect to inefficiencies in government…

There was the time when I was dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service(now part of the Department of Homeland Security) and the telephone number I was given just resulted in a labyrinth of “touch this number” or that – always resulting in my ending up being placed on Kevorkian Hold.  That is, until I was expressing my woes to a friend of mine who worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation – who was kind enough to give me the direct line.  Viola – problem solved.

Or the time I tried to send a diskette to a client in the United Kingdom by Federal Express – which was returned to me because it was not “certified as not having any information which might compromise national security”.  I would not even know where to begin to obtain such a certification.  So I called the client and asked him to turn on his modem (yes, it was that long ago) and proceeded to upload the content (painfully slow – but effective).

Or recently, when I changed the name of one of my companies and attempted to get the Internal Revenue Service to associate the Employer Identification Number with the new name (it took over a month of time and cost over a thousand dollars for my accountant’s countless attempts at getting someone at Internal Revenue who would give Service.)

Or every time I need to interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It seems that, at every turn, government agencies are doing their darnedest to thwart progress, antagonize individuals, and stymie business.  For instance, XONITEK is preparing to host a series of Operational Excellence Symposiums across the EU; one would think that the State Department or Department of Commerce of the United States would (or could) be of assistance.  Such is not the case – I could not get anyone to respond (not even the individual embassies).  But it appears that I can spend a bunch of cash to be a member of the United States Chamber of Commerceand they can help me “buy” access to my government’s assets – for which I partially pay for in taxes.

… Instead I was able to leverage the United Kingdom’s Department of Trade and Investment and East of England so that the Embassies of the United Kingdom will be our host in BrusselsBerlin and Warsaw.  Having the support of the government of the United Kingdom to further the United Kingdom’s entity of a United States company in its efforts towards third-party countries – because the United States company cannot get a response (not to mention assistance) from the government of the United States – is just plain wrong.

We should remember, “The business of America is business.” – Calvin Coolidge.

I am certain that such inefficiencies and malaise is not confined to government agencies in the United States.  But it’s what I know.

I firmly believe that cost reductions in double-digit percentages could easily be attained if government agencies truly dedicated themselves to achieving improvements in their operations.  If leadership actually wanted to bring the cost of government (and their budgets) under control, they can do it without sacrificing the services provided – they just have to be dedicated to the cause.

Such waste and inefficiency is not restricted to government – larger companies also suffer woefully.  I have usually found that customer-facing activities are fairly streamlined in companies.  But non-customer facing activities related to fulfillment, engineering, production, procurement and other back-office functions are rife with wastefulness.

XONITEK has been working with many Fortune-500 companies over the past several years and there seems to be a universal problem with the purchasing departments in getting Purchase Orders and related agreements completed in a reasonable and predictable manner.

What makes this particularly peculiar is that we are almost always engaged – working the project with the company committed – and it takes weeks (if not months) for the paperwork authorizing the engagement to get caught-up.  Sometimes we even get paid before the Purchase Order is issued.  This seemingly common practice all appears to be done with a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” – where everyone knows the reality is different from the system, and everyone works outside the system so that things can get done.

Hint: If the system does not support the reality, then either the reality or the system must change.  It’s been my experience that it is almost always the system.

So, how do we begin?

The first is to realize that an opportunity for improvement exists.  To that, I can safely say that an opportunity for improvement always exists in everything.

How do we prioritize?

We can prioritize by observing the obvious.  If we witness or experience a feeling that“there must be a better way”, then we have discovered an opportunity for improvement that is “low-hanging”.

What does it take?

Need always exists – but need is not enough.  You have to have the desire and the motivation to effect the changes – the want.  Without want, a need will stay a need.

How do we go about effecting change?

Look at the process from the “eyes of the customer”.  Everything has a cost – in time, in resources, in money.  But not everything has a value in the “eyes of the customer”.  Understand what the customer wants and how they would like it delivered as if YOU were the customer – and you will go far in taking the fist step.  Do not be arrogant and believe that you know what your customer wants better than your customer knows.

But the problem seems overwhelming.  Where do I start?

There is a saying, “The mountain is moved by the picking-up of the first stone – you cannot move the mountain for the mountain”.  In most cases, it does not really matter where you start, so long as you start – and so long as you continue the process once started.  You are setting yourself up for failure if you believe you can solve a multi-faceted and pervasive problem all at once (i.e. the Healthcare bill).

Are there any pointers in what to look for when started?

In any problem-solving exercise, it is important to focus on determining the route cause of the deficiency.  Oftentimes, the deficiency manifests itself someplace, but its origin is elsewhere – much like diagnosing an illness in a patient (see an episode of House if you don’t know what I mean).

We can improve our circumstances – and the circumstances of those who are around us.  We just have to be empathetic and want it.

Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 25,000 members.

For more information on Paris, please check his Linked-In Profile at: http://de.linkedin.com/in/josephparis

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