Big Important Things – risk and opportunity identification

30 11 2007

“Big Important Things” (BITs),  are local, regional, national or international circumstances or events that cannot be controlled or prevented, that have a significant effect on current and future business practices.

One should always keep in mind the impact of the “Big Important Things” (BITs) on the supply chain, customers, the competition and your industry.

Those involved in strategy and planning must understand how BITs create enormous risks and opportunities.

One can only react to BITs, they cannot be created or eliminated by an organization.

BITs would include, but not be limited to:

  • Natural and man made disasters – hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, explosions, flooding.
  • Massive economic changes – depression, recession, inflation, currency devaluation, massive layoffs
  • War and Terrorism – security measures, logistics, international trade limitations
  • Government policies – trade barriers, laws and regulations, economic sanctions, embargoes
  • New technologies, – trends and tendencies inside and outside of the industry
  • Environmental or health issues – contamination, unsafe products, epidemics
  • Legal issues – pending or current lawsuits, documentation and reporting, legal precedents
  • Significant global changes in demand or supply – shortages, increased demand
  • Energy costs – trends and tendencies

Contingency plans should be created, worst-case and best-case scenarios developed, and efforts made to lower the risk profile or strategically position the company to take advantage of possible changes in the business environment.

How to use BITs to identify areas of risk and opportunity 

  1. Analyze each of the following elements independently;  strategic raw materials, suppliers, logistics, major customers, the competition, your company, and finally your industry (local, national and internationally).
  2. What is the probability that a BIT would affect each element (impossible, low, medium, high, inevitable) and when (short-medium-long term)?  “My supplier is the only manufacturer in North America of the widgets we need, they are located on the western Florida coast and annually are affected to some degree my hurricanes and flooding.  There is a high probability that a major hurricane will hit them in the short to medium term.”
  3. Use a “what if” line of questioning for those high risk or high impact areas.  “What if a major hurricane hit my supplier and disrupted their production?
  4. What are possible scenarios to reduce your risk, or take advantage of the opportunity.  “Do I have alternative suppliers in place, extra inventory, insurance, how can I protect my customers, who else will this affect and how?
  5. Review this process at least twice a year to take into account changes in the probability of the BITs and modify the contingency plans or strategies accordingly.

Related Links

Analyze and Plan Using 7 Simple Questions

How to Systematically Analyze Any Situation for Better Decision Making

9 Steps to Better Decisions

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Commoditization, is it happening to you?

28 11 2007

“We are living in an era where there are too many retailers serving too few customers and where there is no longer any brand loyalty or retail loyalty” Kevin Burke, President/CEO. The American Apparel and Footwear Association.

From this comment by Mr. Burke I believe the apparel and footwear industries are in the midst of an important struggle, to move away from their current status of a commodity business.

The winners will be those with strong design, distinct brand, and smart developed distribution systems. The same can be said for almost any current industry.

Too many retailers and points of sale? I doubt it. What I interpret from this comment is that there is intense competition between retailers, and instead of seeking exclusivity or innovation to attract and maintain customers, they are using the oldest,simplest trick known….lowering product prices and with it, the quality of the shopping experience.

It is a classic example of commoditization.

Manufacturers are also to blame. The rush to sell their product to high volume buyers insures loss of control of the marketing and retail channels.

The rush to sell everywhere, to everyone, at the same time allows and promotes price competition and price wars between the various manufacturers and retailers.

Too few customers? The real problem is overproduction. Current manufacturing focuses on high volume production and this encourages the standardization of product. The desire to reduce fixed costs drives manufacturers to seek out cheap world labor, increase productivity through mechanization (which encourages product standardization) and the outcome is a mountain of finished products, created all over the world, that are indistinguishable from one another.

Commodities. Most apparel and footwear companies focus on low cost, high volume manufacturing, they sell to wholesalers or retailers that also focus on volume. So suddenly branded products can be found in department stores, boutiques, grocery stores, flea markets and the Internet. The product is everywhere, consumers have learned that one should just look for it where the price is lowest.

This also makes it easier to pirate and sell a product to a growing network of sales outlets focused on offering a brand name for less.

No brand or retail loyalty?
If there is no customer loyalty (read as no perceived advantage to shopping with you versus the competition), and loyalty is important for continued growth, profit and success, then it’s time for a serious reevaluation of how one is doing business.

How can one stand out from the crowd, do something different and unique, and create a sense of exclusivity and prestige for the consumer?

This is the future.

Related Links

The easy way

10 top reasons for poor customer service and their solutions

Give this away

Are you listening to what the customer needs?





Can’t make a decision?

23 05 2007

 There are times our decision-making is stalled due to fear of making the wrong decision.

Next time you’re in that indecisive state of mind, answer these questions and see if it pushes any buttons to move the process forward.

  1. What is the “best case”desired outcome?  Will your decision move you toward that outcome?
  2. What is an “acceptable” outcome?
  3. What is the worst thing that could possible happen if you make the “wrong” decision?  Can you accept this?
  4. Is your decision reversible?
  5. Will a wrong decision destroy value, confidence or trust of anyone involved?
  6. Do you have enough information to make the decision?
  7. Do you have too much information?
  8. Who knows more about this subject than you….what are their recommendations?
  9. Are you the right person to be making this decision?
  10. Will avoiding making a decision now make the situation better, worse or have no effect?
  11. Does the decision provide a short term fix or will it solve the problem permanently (long term)?

Related Links

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

Why don’t they?

9 steps to better decisions





Don’t find a solution, find a way to make it better

12 03 2007

We make a large error in our business and personal lives if we believe that every problem or situation can be solved immediately or in the short term through our decisions and application of resources.

Theoretically it’s possible, but our focus on solution instead of optimizing and making changes to make it better can blindfold us toward evolutionary processes that in the long term provide better, stronger and long lasting solutions.

I’m suggesting that every situation should be initially evaluated based on two basic criteria; can it be solved now, or can it be improved now.

The situations that can be solved now or in the short term, should be. The organization should dedicate the time and resources toward the solution.

An example would be a delivery service that has 3 trucks and cannot cover the current delivery area on-time due to an increase in customers and package volume. A possible swift solution would be the purchase of another vehicle and hiring of a new driver.

A situation that cannot be solved now or ever should be approached by identifying areas where improvement should be made. The time and resources of the company should be focused upon the improvement.

An example would be government’s attempt to eliminate poverty or disease from a population. A perfect solution is not possible or practical, but by focusing on specific areas one can find great opportunities for success or enormous impact (vaccinations for children against polio).

When we look at every situation as a problem that needs to be solved right now we may be missing the best solutions and strategies required to resolve the situation over the long term. Ask yourself:

  • Can we solve the problem quickly and efficiently with simply modification of variables or a shift in technology? If the answer is yes, then set the process and resources in motion.
  • What if the problem is not able to be solved quickly or has no practical or economically viable solution? This is where the approach of resolving and modifying parts of the problem comes into play.

This evolutionary approach to problem solving is not often requested or expected in business (the quick fix is always applauded and sought after), but often the best long term strategy is optimization and gradual modification.

This evolutionary problem solving process will provide new opportunities for change and solutions to be developed in the future.The identification of areas, processes or resources that are the bottlenecks in your organization become areas of opportunity.

Modifying and improving these bottlenecks will automatically create new bottlenecks, in new areas. The focus on identifying and solving these “new” situations leads to a process of continual improvement and a better, stronger organization.

This is one of the fundamental ideas behind the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Common sense tells us that in a complex world not all solutions are simple, quick or painless. The “quick fix” is a great idea, but not often found in everyday life.

Observation of science, technology, philosophy and business ideas and strategies show us that change occurs through the rare revolution (paradigm shifts and new discoveries) and through the more common evolution (gradual modifications leading to continual change.

What can be changed, fixed or modified today to make the organization, process, product or service incrementally better?

Related Links

Why don’t they?

Starting over

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

AGI Institute – Theory of Constraints

Evolution (Disambiguation)





The point of no return

18 01 2007

The hardest part of decision making is passing the “point of no return“.

While the situation is being analyzed we’re safe.

Wacky, imaginative and wild solutions can be discussed and their impact and effect weighed and discussed. But it’s theoretical, it’s safe.

The minute we have to make the decision, take responsibility for the action and outcome, then we enter into scary territory.

The key to decision making is to get the momentum, confidence, courage and motivation in order to pass the point of no return.

I’m not saying that your decision will always be correct. But what is important is to make a decision and not spend hours, days and weeks agonized and postponing the process and decision.

Picture yourself on a diving board. High above the water. It’s scary to think that you may not perform the dive perfectly. A belly flop would be embarrassing and painful.

There are three options available.

  1. Stay where you are, agonizing over the decision to jump.
  2. Go back down the ladder, let someone else jump.
  3. Jump.  Leave the diving board, cross the point of no return, make the dive.

When we are sure of our abilities and understanding due to good research and experience, we have confidence.

When we are not afraid of making a mistake, we have courage.

When we know the decision is important and necessary in order to keep things moving and get on with other activities, then we are motivated.

Focus on the task and problem, create the solutions and make the decisions on time.

Push yourself to pass the point of no return quickly and with confidence.

Jump.

Related Links

Why do we fail

Motivation – Heroic Moments

Decision-making, how they used to do it 400 BC

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making





How to determine who is your best customer

21 12 2006

How do you determine who is your best customer or best employee?

The usual method is by analyzing revenue or sales.  The customer who buys the most, or generates the most profit is the best customer.

We almost never pin the “best customer” award on the client who pushes us, complains and forces us to change, unless they meet the sales volume or profit test.  It is exactly the “uncomfortable” customer who may be providing the new ideas required in order for your organization to survive in the future.

The same criteria applies to your employees and staff.  Who is the “best employee”?  Is it the conformist, the one who never makes any waves, never creates conflict or challenges your ideas?   The disruptor, the individual who questions and challenges the status quo,  might be your organizations best friend.

There are three types of organizations; one that creates the future, one that adapts to changes in the future, and one that fails to survive.

Your “best” customers and employees should be helping you prepare for tomorrow, not just sustaining your operations today.

Related Links

The Easy Way

Does your company like new ideas 

Individuality and chaos in the workplace 

Successful managers should be breaking the rules





Mexico manufacturing, US inventories and safety stock

21 10 2006

Manufacturers are returning to Mexico after “experimenting” in the Asia Pacific region. Some of the big reasons for this return are ; to reduce time to market, eliminate the financial costs of inventories in transit, lower the logistics costs, and to strengthen the supply chain by moving closer to just-in-time deliveries.

But moving to Mexico isn’t going to solve all the problems.

A September 2006 article in CFO magazine points out how US businesses are increasing safety stocks “just in case”. Delayed in the USA The article points out how supply chain disruptions are being provoked by an increasingly saturated US highway system and bottlenecks in deepwater ports and railyards.

The good news is that Mexico is close to the USA, a truckload of goods can leave any point in Mexico and arrive at the US destination in as little as 4-5 days. The railyards and new multimodal Interior Port in Guanajuato, Mexico allow manufacturers to establish production facilities in the interior of the country. Exporters can now clear customs and load the sealed container onto the rail-car at the new (2006) high capacity Customs port located in the geographic center of Mexico.

The bad news is that unless the US begins to upgrade their highway, port and rail facilities, supply chain managers in the US will be buying and storing higher levels of inventory to assure continuity of operations, “just in case”.

Related Links

Delayed in the USA – Supply Chain

Industrial and Business Parks in Mexico

AMPIP Mexican Association of Industrial and Business Parks