Categories
Leadership Management

Entrepreneur, self-heal thyself

Have you ever gotten to the office in the morning and found a tool missing that you were planning on using that day? It creates some frustration borne in the inability to do what you’d been planning all along. For some, it might make your work more difficult to do, or delay the finish time. For others, the inability to use a certain tool might turn your day upside down.

Time is more than money

“Time is money”, you might think. “The inability to use this tool is costing me money”, you continue, and you’d be right. Now consider the cost when your entire team is unable to work. In some businesses, you might simply send the team home. While your team isn’t getting anything done, at least they aren’t racking up hourly pay. Small victories, I suppose – but every hour they’re down (even when off the clock), your backlog is growing. Customers who are depending on an on-time delivery based on work you intended to have done today might also find themselves in a pinch. It might be a pretty big deal.

It’s possible that the inability to use a tool in your business today could cost your customer(s) business. They might lose a strategic moment, a customer, or a valuable employee who simply decides they’ve had enough of the frustrating inability to do the work they love.

Do you want to be the vendor putting customers in that situation?

Customers aren’t the only ones

It feels like it might be worse if you do this to a customer. If the impact is solely internal and isn’t detectable by your customers, your team will just have to deal with it. Still, it has a cost. In frustration. In time. In “Really? this machine / tool / system is down AGAIN?”.

At some point, your team is going to lose patience. If the problem is bad enough or happens with enough frequency, you could lose key staff members. The folks you depend on most are likely to be the ones frustrated first. They’re the ones who may have the least tolerance for the working conditions caused by outages or downtime. They’ll perceive these issues as a lack of professionalism, or a lack of concern for their career or ability to make differential pay, or whatever. They simply won’t put up with it at some point.

Dial tones

Remember when you never doubted that when you picked up the phone, you’d hear a dial tone. If you’ve never had a landline, think of it as you do your expectation for electricity or running water. While those things do occasionally have problems, your expectation is that they will always be there.

That’s where notification of problems is helpful, but notification doesn’t make things significantly better. Imagine if you got a text message at 6:45am telling you that all the roads in and out of your town would be closed for 72 hours. Or a text that says “Sorry, no electricity until next Thursday“. Sure, it’s nice to know, but without a correction on the way, your day just got turned upside down.

If your internet is down too often and the vendors available to you are limited, are you going to choose one and simply tolerate the cost of downtime? Why not choose two or more who aren’t dependent on the same infrastructure? It may cost a bit more, but so does a few hours (or worse, days) of downtime.

Self-healing

Notification is old news. If a system can monitor systems, assets, working conditions (etc) and notify you of availability problems, why stop there? Why not enable these systems to correct the problem? Can your systems be setup to repair a failing systems, restart it, automatically dispatch service people, etc?

These issues should be part of your risk assessment. If power outages are a frequent thing, you’re need to weigh the cost / benefit of uninterruptible power supplies, a generator, or some other solution. If machinery / tool breakdowns are a significant impact, should you have spares on site? Can you work out an arrangement to have temporary replacements provided / rented? If there is a possibility of contention for rented resources, can you pay extra to make sure your needs take priority, get delivered first, etc?

Your team, your business partners, and your customers see your systems, equipment, & infrastructure as an extension of you. If they can’t depend on those things to be in place and working, they can’t depend on you.

Photo by Saad Salim on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Small Business

Constraint and risk avoidance

How do you manage constraints and risks?

The two significantly impact your company’s ability to stay alive, much less grow.

Constraints appear in many different forms: people, equipment, capital, cash flow and mental bandwidth are just a few.

Being constrained by hardware actually makes it impossible to do the things that you want to do as a business.” – Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels.

Computer server hardware and manufacturing gear like a CNC machine or 3-D printer speeds are constraints that could prevent you from keeping up with demand, much less expanding how much and how many different things you can deliver.

While Vogels’ comment is a little self-serving, it doesn’t make it any less accurate, nor does it change that Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) has commoditized server hardware and eliminated server capacity as a constraint.

Constraints are risks

If you look closely at them, constraints are risks because they limit your ability to grow, deliver and respond to client and market demands.

When you can’t address those demands, your business risks not only the loss of critical staff members and clients to competitors, but potentially deadly stagnation.

Stagnation creates problems with design, engineering, delivery, creativity and new product development, as well as staff retention and sales.

Scalability problems are a common symptom of hitting constraints. Are you dealing with increased delivery turnaround times? Do you have increasing customer service or professional / consulting services response times?

If you think about what prevents you from delivering 30% more product next quarter, it usually comes down to scalability-related constraints.

Raw material availability, production capacity, quality control, engineering/design and other staff and/or manufacturing limits can all cause you to hit a wall where you simply can’t produce more, creating a situation that feels like walking in quicksand. Increasing price pressures are a form of risk that can push those limitations even further.

These issues can be growing pains, but more often than not, they indicate too little time is being spent running the business.

Spend less time running the business?!?

Yes, absolutely.

When you spend too little time running the business, it’s often because you’re spending most of your time on production-related duties.

It may seem counter-intuitive for owners and senior managers to spend less time doing production-related work, but you simply cannot spend all time on these things without putting your management obligations at risk.

For example, it’s your job to make sure that the business can handle the increases in production that your marketing and sales efforts are working toward. Most managers can’t do that when they are solely focused on production.

You can’t lose sight of your primary obligation to manage risk and eliminate constraints in your business, any more than you can prioritize a nice tan over the health of your body’s circulatory system.

A visible constraint changes behavior

A good example of a visible and behavior-changing constraint can be seen in change at Apple.

One of the unique aspects of Apple new product delivery during the Jobs era was a lack of vaporware. Most tech companies have gotten into a habit of announcing a product months (or longer) before delivery, wasting the media attention these announcements create.

When Jobs took the Apple stage in June and September to announce new products, he frequently finished his pitch with an availability date of “Today.” This took advantage of the excitement his announcement created by allowing buyers to purchase and take delivery minutes after Jobs left the stage.

That significant advantage changed in the last two years at Apple, making them like everyone else.

Staff and mental bandwidth

Most businesses have a backlog of physical tasks, workload and services. This isn’t a bad thing, unless the backlog is so big that your ability to promise and meet delivery times has you months out.

Most clients can’t or won’t wait that long. For service-oriented businesses like tech businesses, mental bandwidth can create significant problems for delivery and deployment, as well as constraining the ability of management and design teams to spend time on “the next big thing”. Stagnation results.

These constraints point directly at your ability and willingness to delegate. You and your staff have to be able to focus on the tasks that they perform at levels no one else can reach.

The bandwidth question to ask is “Is this work that no one else can do?”