Monthly Archive: December 2012

New Year, New Processes!

Lean Mean Process Improvement Machine

It’s that special time of year where the gym is full, carrot sticks are out of stock at the local grocery store and everyone is looking to get a little #leanermeanerhealthier. After a week full of delicious wine, bacon topped turkey, and more chocolate than humanly possible, I’m ready to look at how I can be a lean mean process improvement machine. Whiteboard Consulting has learned a boatload this year, and we’ve shared many of our tips and tricks with you. Have you thought about how you are going to lean out your business this year?

New Years Resolutions for your Business….

So you’ve made it through another year, new clients, new offices, new staff turnover. Many changes but you are doing well. What now? Sit back and relax? Or is now the time to really look at how things are moving, and make sure that your operation is running #betterfastercheaper than last year?

Is checking LinkedIn or Facebook your procrastination tactic because you don’t know what to start first? Are you buried in emails and running from meeting to meeting without focus? Does Steve in accounting just drive you crazy because he never likes your ideas? How can you efffectively implement a change without all the drama and naysayers? Well, you are in luck. We’ve picked our top 5 tips from this year and put them in one handy place so that you can start the new year #betterfastercheaper.

Whiteboard Consulting’s Top Five Tips of 2012. New Year: New Processes

  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. When faced with an overwhelming feeling that you’ll never get it all done, make a list. ( Click to tweet.) Write it all down in no particular order. Then, make three sub-lists: Urgent, Priority, and Later.
    First look at the Urgent list. Add due dates and times. Grab a calendar 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. (See the full article here.)
  2. Email: Info & Action please. It’s simple, cordial, to the point, and it eliminates confusion. More importantly it signals to the intended recipient, whether they need to act, or, sit back and absorb the information for future reference. Begin the subject line of your eMail with (Action) or (Info). You can provide more detail if you like, such as (Action: Approval) or (Action: Your Opinion Please). This allows people to sort on subject line and deal with action items first. The rest of the subject line should provide context for the Action or Info contained in the eMail. (See the full article here.)
  3. I HATE MEETINGS. Always have an objective for the outcome of the meeting so everyone understands why they are there and what to prepare: In today’s managers meeting, make the following final decisions for Project X: final budget and target completion date. Put this in the email request so everyone can see it clearly. Now you understand why you are there, what decisions are going to be made, and you make sure they are complete by the end of the meeting (because you arrived on time too….). AND – the magical 10% Late rule: if you are more than 6 minutes late for a 60 minute meeting and there isn’t sufficient quorum to make the decisions (outlined in a above) the meeting is cancelled and rescheduled. (See the full article here.)
  4. No Buts, AND by the way! How many times have you been in a meeting or on a conference call and heard phrases that start off like these? “I like that idea, but I just want to add…” or “I agree with everything she said, but you should also consider…“I don’t mean to argue, but …” “I’m sorry but…” Next time you hear the word “but” used like that, listen to the context. Essentially, that tiny word negates everything that came before it. (Click to Tweet.) “I agree with everything she said, but…” means I don’t actually agree with everything at all! “I don’t mean to argue, but…” means I’m about to argue. “I’m sorry, but…” means I’m not sorry. And in fact, I’m about to shift the blame to someone or something else. Why do people make this common mistake so frequently? In most cases, it’s a genuine attempt attempt to soften the blow. In others, it’s a passive-aggressive response designed to sound nice, while inflicting some kind of finger-pointing.The easy way to fix this? Substitute “but” with “and”. Easy peasy! Now you’re giving feedback AND adding to it or changing it with clear intentions. It makes you sound better and makes the listener want to hear what you have to say.My challenge to you? Listen for the errant “but” at meetings. And especially – listen when YOU say it. Replace it with “and” – you’ll see the difference, and so will your colleagues! (See the full article here.)
  5. The Squish Method of Change. So if you want to implement ANY of the tips you’ve read so far at your workplace, consider any little change to be an opportunity to practice your change management techniques. Try the Squish Method: Communicate, Role Model, and give Feedback, from the top,down, across and then right back up again creating the “squish point” where magic, and change really happen.(Click to Tweet). Communicate the change you want to make and WHY you are making it. What happens if you don’t make the change? What benefits will we see if we do make the change? Role model the behaviour your want to see (ie. use Info/Action, be on time, no buts etc) then, lastly provide positive feedback to people who change their habits and have a coaching conversation with those who haven’t made the switch. Ask why? What will make you change? (See the full article here.)

So, try these tips out this year. Tell us how they worked at or on Twitter @whiteboardcons using #betterfastercheaper.

Stay tuned for new blogs on Friday’s in 2013 for more new tips from @whiteboardcons to make you the #bestestfastestcheapest. Happy New Year.


Process Improvement for the Practically Perfect

Process improvement. Who needs it. Bah humbug, right? Your company or your team or your department has already “done process improvement”, has already “modernized”, and has been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t.

Wellll, maybe not so much.

Even a “well-oiled machine” benefits from a process review once in a while. In fact, we have found that the organizations that actively seek process improvement assistance are usually those that are doing well, not those that are in trouble. Click to Tweet.

A fresh set of eyes is always a good thing.

We have been working with a client who has been in the global production and export business since the 1820s. His organization has enjoyed great success every year and has continuously met and exceeded his customers’ expectations. Yet even he faces increasing challenges that require a focus on process.

Raw materials and inventory are not a problem, as there is a state of the art Just-in-Time process in place. Production schedules are tightly managed for the year starting in January. Employee engagement is high and work teams meet quotas on a regular basis. Delivery is only via one channel (air), and product is distributed globally within a 24-hour time period.

Operational headquarters are in the far north, accessible only by air, and with a workforce so highly skilled that additional employees are impossible to find. The client base grows exponentially each year, and has become increasing tech savvy.

Everyone is faced with doing more with less these days.

Our client had tightened budgets and reviewed processes as much as he could, and finally he realized he needed an expert opinion.

After doing a process review with his entire team, we found that there was room to improve the order process. With millions of orders arriving via snail mail each December (and with some now arriving as early as the day after Halloween), employees had been struggling to match each order with the inventory – it had just become too cumbersome, even for them.

We also found that the quality system was antiquated, and although our client refused to budge on the “Checking it twice” process step, he did agree that a third and fourth step (which you never hear about) was unnecessary.

The client has now added order channels – customers are able to submit orders via eMail, internet forms, kiosks at shopping malls, and even phone. This process enhancement has eliminated most of the manual order matching process steps. Then, by eliminating unnecessary quality checks, our client saved weeks of work.

None of these improvements were immediately obvious to people working in the system. Sometimes you just need that fresh set of eyes to help you see the possibilities.

If we could help this demanding, yet jolly, client. We can certainly help you too. Email us at or tweet us @whiteboardcons using #betterfastercheaper.

And with that, we wish you all a very Happy Holiday Season!

Until next time,


Business MadLibs

Today’s blogpost has one key theme: Project Management. It also has a “silly sub-theme” (SST): Business MadLibs. And oddly enough, they somehow manage to fit together. Here at Whiteboard Consulting, our mantra is always to make things simple and easy for our clients to apply back at the workplace instantly.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend, and I blurted out: “We sort of do business Madlibs!” (I may just be that brilliant and creative). We help people by only making them think about what is important. We provide all the structure and tools to make it easy. Just fill it out and GO!

Have you ever heard the following?

  • “We never get anything done on time.”
  • “What do you mean I was supposed to do that? I thought Finance was doing that? They never follow through.”
  • “Our timelines as are always so tight we never have time to let everyone in the company know, they’ll figure it out when we implement.”
  • “Well, I thought there was a possibility this might happen, but I didn’t really think about what we would do if it actually did happen”

Most growing organizations do hear these kinds of statements. It’s normal. But, it’s not OK! You can easily eliminate this negativity and blame game with some simple project management techniques (no PMP required!) Pssst! This also improves your workplace culture and employee engagement.

Read on for Whiteboard Business MadLibs: The Project Management Edition.

The key components of project management are: Clearly Defined and Delegated Roles and Responsibilities, Risk Management, Strong Communications Plan, and Time Management.

Below are TWO tools you can use to take ANY activity in your business to make sure it is implemented better, faster, and cheaper: a mini project charter and a project plan. The Charter addresses roles and responsibilites, risk management, and communications. The Project Plan addresses Delegated responsibilities and Time Management.

1. A mini project charter. This can be a 5 minute exercise or a much longer one depending on the breadth and depth of the activity you are working on. The key themes are:

  • Scope & Creeps: What is in and out of scope for this? What are you doing? What is this NOT fixing/addressing etc. This makes expectations clear for everyone.
  • Roles & Responsibilities: What are the accountabilities for people working on this? Who is managing the project versus providing technical subject matter expertise?
  • Governance Structure: Who is responsible for making the decisions?
  • Stakeholders: Who needs to be consulted? Who is responsible for implementing a component? Who just needs to stay in the loop?
  • Risks and Impacts: What are the possible risks to not implementing on time or on budget? What is the likelihood of those happening? Have you thought of some ideas to help mitigate those risks?

2. A project plan with clearly defined and delegated roles and responsibilities.

Quickly and simply, a project plan is easy as a,b,c,: a) identify the task, b) identify who owns the task, and c) when are they going to have it done.

A project plan helps you organize and use your time well and identify where tasks may be dependent on the completion of other tasks, and most importantly document who is going to complete the task. You’d be amazed at how a person’s name next to a task makes them instantly accountable for it and worried if they don’t complete it on time! Here’s a quick and easy sample you can use:

Just “Madlib” it and put in your tasks, owners, and dates! Start high level, you can always get more detailed as you go.

Now, some of you are thinking, “WOW that’s alot of work I don’t have time for this nonsense. I just need to get it done.”

Think of the possible outcomes if you don’t use basic project management in your next activity:

  • poor communication
  • lost time
  • rework
  • extra budget on expensive consultants
  • frustration
  • lack of job satisfaction

The list goes on and on! But spending just an hour or two up front can make all the difference.

Give it a go and tell us what you think! Email us at or tweet us @whiteboardcons using #betterfastercheaper.

Until Next week!!

What’s the Plan, Stan?

If you’re a regular reader then you might remember that I’m a list maker, so it won’t come as a surprise to you to learn that I’m a planner too. After all, a list is a pre-cursor to a plan. The essential “first step”, as it were.

Are you a planner? I expect half of you are, and half of you aren’t. Either way, this blog post is for you! If you answered yes, then you’ll be interested to know how your planning OCD will help you in a process improvement effort. If you answered no? Well, then I promise to make this as painless as possible.

Ya Gotta Have a Plan.

…especially if we’re talking about data collection.

Last week Nicole took you through three easy steps for creating the all-important problem statement. You learned that you need to be able to define the defect so you can measure it, and so you can prove that you fixed it. It follows that if you can fit in some data, then you’re more likely to be able to communicate your process improvement idea effectively, to gain buy-in, and to get funding if that’s something you need.

What if you don’t have the data? Can you skip that part?

Ummm, no actually. You can’t. Not if you want to do this right. But don’t panic – all you need is a plan.

A well-prepared Data Collection Plan helps ensure successful preparation of the business case by making sure there is useful data on hand. Click to Tweet.

Back to List-Making…

If you’re a procrastinator, now is the time to give yourself a stern talking-to and remember that it is NOT ok to put off building a data-collection plan. Do it now, before you get started on the project. Otherwise you are putting the success of the project at risk, not to mention potentially alienating colleagues when you go running to them at the last minute to ask them for information.

So get out your pen and paper, and make a list with the following:

  • What data do you need?
  • Who is responsible for getting it?
  • Why is it needed?
  • How will it be collected?
  • When will it be collected?
  • Where will it be collected?

Now work this into your overall project plan. It really IS that simple.

Not sure about a project plan? You don’t have your PMP designation? Never fear, Nicole will cover that next week. Stay tuned, and in the meantime follow us on Twitter @Whiteboardcons and use #BetterFasterCheaper to join the conversation.

Until next week,

Fa-la-la-la La-te Blog

The solution is the problem.

Okay – today’s blog is not only very late, but I’m going to try to explain one of the most challenging process improvement tasks in just a few simple steps.

Ruth reminded us that people always have issues, pain points, and things that drive them crazy at work. And moreover, people always seem to know-it-all and have solutions.

It’s easy as 1, 2, 3….

So Ruth taught us a few things last week: how not to include a solution in your problem statement and that a defect is any result of your process that doesn’t meet the demands of your customers (internal and external)

Now that you aren’t solution-ing. What about specifics? Where is your problem happening? How often? Which site? Which types of projects? Take out those statements, like “thisALWAYS happens” or “we NEVER get shipments on time”. Find out exactly what the problem is.

Ruth also taught us that defects always cost you money – they mean you have wasted time and effort, thrown away expensive materials, and perhaps even caused you to upset (or even lose) valuable customers. So there – DO SOME MATH.

So, in nutshell, to make a great problem statement make sure you follow 3 easy steps:
1. No solutions
2. Be specific
3. Do some math (Click to Tweet)

Here’s an example to help you understand:

(1) Tom’s customers are dissatisfied.

(2) Tom’s customers are dissatisfied with the coffee at the King and Bay location.

(3) Tom’s customers are dissatisfied with the coffee at the 24-hour King and Bay location. Customers complain their coffee is too cold and wait an extra 2 minutes to receive a second cup of hot coffee. A coffee re-do order happens over x times per hour. Each cup of coffee costs the company $x in time and resources. This is a loss of $x to the franchise every year.

Here’s a little handy dandy problem statement builder you can use to get you started:

(Insert customer type/name) are dissatisfied with (insert product/service/process) at (insert specific location) during (insert time frame). (Insert customer type/name) has to wait(insert amount of time) to (insert next task/ideal situation i.e.. send, receive, process etc). This results in (# dissatisfied customers) each (insert time frame – year, month etc.), and ($X revenue/inventory/profit) lost each (insert time frame – year, month, etc.).

How did it work for you? Did it help you to better define your problem?

Wait. Hold the Cinnamon!

Now before you start freaking out about how you have no data to put into those x’s and y’s – It’s okay if you don’t have all the information. It’s normal to not always have all the data you need.

That’s why next week Ruth is going to regale you with all the fun and excitement of a Data Collection Plan. I meant that seriously guys….

Let us know what examples you came up with. Email us at or tweet us @whiteboardcons using#BetterFasterCheaper.