Monthly Archive: August 2012

How Mr. Pareto Head Saved the Day…Again!


On the topic of data and numbers, I was recently working with a client in the piano industry to try to determine the biggest cost to his business as a result of defects.

I got a lot of great data sent my way, and a strong, ahem, nudge, towards what he and his team thought was the problem.


This is when I decided to call on Mr. Pareto. Mr. Pareto, although now long gone from this world, created a wonderful tool called the Pareto Chart. How do you pronounce that you ask? I used to say Pa-rei-to (with a long e-i ), until I was corrected by my good Italian friend, “It’s Pa-RE-to. Short E, get rid of the I, and roll your R!”. Yes Sir!

Regardless of how you want to call it, it’s a great tool. What this tool does is that it allows you to see the trees from the forrest. My client insisted that his most common defect was sticking keys on the pianos. He was right. He dealt with 268 sticky keys this past year at a cost of $200 each to repair.

So using the Pareto Chart, I tracked all the types of defects he received, their frequency, and their cost to fix. In doing this exercise, I found out that although it’s true that the sticky keys are the most common problem, it’s not the most expensive! The mystery deepens…..


It turned out that the ‘pin block’ (or the thing-a-ma-jig that makes sure the piano doesn’t go out of tune), which costs $3,000 to fix, was defective in 29 pianos.

Thus in essence, even though his team had to deal with more sticky keys than pin blocks, sticky keys were only costing half ($41k) of what pin blocks were costing him to fix ($87k).

Moral of the story; Don’t judge the book by its cover. Open it up and read it. You might be surprised with what you find.

Have a great long weekend everyone!

Until next week…..

What’s Fat Got to Do With It?


Today’s blog is all about data. Being a group exercise instructor in the fitness industry always has me looking into the latest thing, and while I’m not a firm believer in quick fixes, Tim Ferriss’s The 4 Hour Body has a really strong data component that really got me excited.


Earlier this month we were preparing to deliver a Change Management Course, and one of the key themes was that you cannot effectively change an organization with big sweeping changes all at once. The key to success is many people implementing many small changes that contribute to the overall goal. Click to Tweet

Have you ever wondered why there is so much resistance to change?

Often organizations implement changes and they are met with resistance – [enter surly employee: “This idea is STUPID and is never going to work”]. By understanding how people deal with change and applying that understanding to your transformation will make your project far more successful.


So, the 4HB has this great story about a man who tracked his weight loss using a target weight loss, maximum acceptable weight loss, and minimum acceptable weight loss. And although he didn’t make HUGE changes to his diet and exercise, he consistently lost weight. And he chalked it up to a year’s worth of tiny incremental changes. Tiny changes are way easier than big changes, right?

I chalk it up to the fact that people respond well to numbers and controls and, that VARIATION IS EVIL….but that’s Ruth’s line so I’m going to let her do a whole blog post on that.

SO WHAT? My point is, if you want to see some changes. Start by tracking your data. You might see a change without even really trying. Change by osmosis. See Ruth’s previous post on process improvement by osmosis here. Apparently you can do almost anything without really trying.

Until next week…..
PS – Make sure to follow us on Twitter @whiteboardcons to stay up to date on what we’re up to this week. Have thoughts or ideas? Use #betterfastercheaper to join the conversation!

Physician, Heal Thyself!

You know that expression, right? It implies that doctors are the worst patients and that they should take their own medicine without lecturing others.

How many times have you felt that way about your own profession and applying its principles in your personal life?

Well, this week it happened to me.

Say It Isn’t So!

No, it’s true. Even a process geek like me can have moments of utter chaos which induce that scary blank stare. You know the one – you have so much to do that you just stare at your calendar/inbox/voicemail and do nothing. Just stare. Hoping it will go away.

Well last Saturday I had everything under control. My to-do lists were all in order, and I planned on getting a bit of work done in advance of a very busy week. And then there was a thunderstorm and a subsequent rainy afternoon and I thought it would be better to take the afternoon off and read on the porch and listen to the rain. And the next day I got an offer to visit with a friend and thought that would be more fun than getting a jump on work. After all, I had all the tasks planned out for the week and it would be fine. Busy, but fine.

Sunday evening I found out about a business opportunity that had to be responded to within 48 hours. The response required (and I counted afterwards to verify) 48 person-hours of work.

That’s when the blank stare hit me.

Monday morning was awful. My morning routine was a disaster as I hadn’t slept well. I wasn’t prepared for the day ahead and was lucky that I’m pretty good at winging it. Instead of getting to work I ended up procrastinating and making things worse!

A digital slap upside the head

Like many people, I procrastinate by checking Facebook, and I posted that my ability for procrastination would win an Olympic gold medal! A friend commented “Ruth, you need to take your own course!” And by that, he meant that if I’m able to teach Process Improvement 101, I ought to be able apply the tools and tricks to get myself through this crisis.

That was just what I needed to hear, and he was exactly right.

Prioritizing tasks is nothing more than a process, and all good processes should make you more efficient, not less. My process for prioritizing tasks is so simple, and actually quite calming – I just make a list. (or two or three)

When faced with an overwhelming feeling that you’ll never get it all done, make a list. Click to tweet. Just write it all down, in no particular order. When every single thing you need to do is listed, make three sub-lists: Urgent, Priority, and Later.

Now look at the Urgent list. Add due dates and times. Grab a paper calendar (use a ruler and make one if you don’t have one) and plot the things you need to do urgently into each day. Cancel or move meetings or social engagements that are in the way.

Do the same thing with the Priority list, and finally the Later list. The tasks from these two lists may stretch into two or three (or more) weeks, giving you some breathing room to focus on the urgent items.

Once you see things on paper and have the time mapped out, I guarantee you’ll feel better and the blank stare will go away. It worked for me! I had a heck of a busy week, but it all got done.

Now go get your paper and pencil and get started!

Until next week,

PS – Make sure to follow us on Twitter @whiteboardcons to stay up to date on what we’re up to this week. Have thoughts or ideas? Use #betterfastercheaper to join the conversation!

The Process Swiss Army Knife

Have you ever been frustrated because you KNOW that a specific tool is all you need to fix something? Maybe you believe you need to hire an assistant to ease the office workload. Maybe you want a time tracking tool to keep track of the hours you can bill to a client.

Then some process geek comes along and tells you that you need to take certain steps before you can get that tool that you know you need.

Typical process consultants making mountains out of molehills (or peacocks out of processes), right?

Maybe You’re Both Right

Perhaps it would help if you thought of business process analysis like a Swiss Army knife.

There are many sub-tools in the famous red pocket knife, and each one is important in its own way. If you’re out fishing and the only thing you brought with you besides a fishing pole is your Swiss Army knife, you know that you are ready for all the stages of the fishing process.

You might use the pick to dig for worms, the screwdriver to tighten the screws on your fly reel, the scissors to cut the line when you land the big trout, the knife to clean the fish, and the bottle opener to have a celebratory drink! (Or you may use the saw to cut the branches that have ensnared your line, but that’s another story.)

If all you brought with you was a knife, you might be ok, but you would be making things harder for yourself. Sometimes, the tool that is so obvious to you is only part of the solution. click to tweet

First Time Right

In the world of business process analysis, you need a Swiss Army Knife of tools. You need a proper problem statement, a couple of process maps, maybe a fishbone diagram, some data, and a communication strategy. Without using these tools, you’re only doing half a job, and you may just cause more problems for yourself that you’ll have to fix later.

Why not do it once and do it right?

Let’s use an example: Things are crazy busy in your office, and you just cant keep up with administrative demands. You know that you need an assistant, and you are annoyed when your office consultant advises you to do a bit of process work first.

You may very well be right. But without process analysis how will you know you’re getting value for the salary dollars you will expend? How will you describe the assistant’s job duties and ensure that they fit in with the rhythm of your office activities? Will you simply hand over current processes, without knowing if they are efficient and effective?

Being the smart business owner that you are, you’ll take the time you need to structure things properly, so that not only can you hire that assistant, but you know that it will be money well spent!

Do the process work. Prove the solution. Be first time right.

Until next week,

PS – Make sure to follow us on Twitter @whiteboardcons to stay up to date on what we’re up to this week. Have thoughts or ideas? Use #betterfastercheaper to join the conversation!

Change: The Big Bad Wolf

Change. It’s one of those scary words, that to many, illicit the symptoms of fear; nausea, heart palpitations, knots in your stomach, and the list goes on. But why, considering our world is always changing?

Well, probably because in many occasions, change has turned our lives upside down, hitting us in the face without the opportunity to prepare for it. For some, change equals the unknown, and for others, change equals opportunity. Whatever way you look at it, we can’t escape it, so how do we deal with it?

Change? But Why?!

In the world of business, ‘change’ is generally JUST done; it’s a deliverable, and objective that is met through planning and implementation. A service needs to be cut? Done. Teams need to be merged? Done.

Often what companies fail to realize, is that in between these deliverables and objectives, there are people (alive, kicking and fearing everything they can possibly conjure up in their mind about this change!).

The thing is, change is an event. It just happens. Deliverable completed. Check . But, we as humans need time to adapt and get on board with it. So how do you do it? How can we help employees and team members adjust to change?

The Path of Least Resistance: Communicate

Helping people adapt to change is not easy, trust me; a few may stay in denial for ever. But some, and hopefully most, will start to budge and jump on board with the change.

The key here is communication.

Here are 3 ways you can help people adapt to change through communication:

1. Bring them along with the story (in this case the change): If you can involve them in the development of the change, then do so. People will be less likely to resist if they feel that they’ve had a say or have been exposed to the thought process, and thus understand the whys, the what’s and the how’s, etc.

2. Paint the Whole Picture: Don’t just tell people the pro’s about the change. They’ll think that you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and in return they won’t buy-in to the change. Be honest. Discuss the cons as well, and what you’re doing to address them.

3. Open the Forum!: Sometimes hearing you talk or reading materials you’ve provided is not enough. Some people need to share their feelings openly and in a group who is experiencing the same impact . This approach allows for a healthy discussion and it allows for people to share thoughts or opinions they might not have done so one on one with you.

Until Next Time!