Monthly Archive: October 2013

Process Improvement via The Whiteboard Way© – Step Two

Last week Ruth started a series on The Whiteboard Way©, our very own process improvement methodology (this proved to be advantageous for me, as I was at a creative standstill with blog ideas. Thanks Ruth!)

First, a Little Background

A little recap – last week Ruth talked about the most critical step in The Whiteboard Way© – Define it! By removing assumptions and pre-conceived ideas about the solution, it allows you to be unbiased and creative in the possible solution.Today I’m going to delve into my love-hate relationship with process mapping.

Why do we process map?

Approximately 65 percent of the population are visual learners and people process visual information much faster.  Visually representing a process allows you to see things that may not necessarily jump out at you when you read a procedures document or when you just “imagine” the process in your head. Here are some things that jump out at you when  you process map:

  1. Touch points. How many people, teams, departments must a product or service pass through to reach the customer? The higher the number of touch points in the process the longer the process will take, and the higher likelihood that a defect (or error) will occur.
  2. Duplication. Process maps are great at visually highlighting work that is duplicated across the company by different teams. With our clients, we usually see a map highlight, for example, people that enter the same data into different databases, or forms in different areas of the organization.
  3. Bottlenecks. Bottlenecks occur when there is a blockage in the flow of information or work. For example, when a busy executive is holding an approval at their desk for days upon end.

So Ruth helped you develop your problem here. Some examples of  “Good” Problem Definitions are below:

  •  In the last 3 months we have had to fix this issue 6 times for four customers, causing dissatisfaction for our customers and wasted processing time for our staff.
  •  Each month we are 5-7 days late completing this process, impacting other departments and generating late fees for the company.
  •  This piece of work costs the organization $5,000 per month. Best practices in similar companies is half that amount.


Step Two: Draw It!

So now, take your “good” problem definition from last week , and think about the process(es) that contribute to it. There are many types of process maps out there, each serving a different purpose. We like to use the swim lane process map because it allows you to identify the ‘hand offs’ or touch points in the process. At this point you are mapping the As-is current state process, not the Should-be (in an ideal world), or Thought-to-be (what we think it looks like).  Get everyone in the room who touches that process and talk about what “ACTUALLY” happens.

There are four steps you need to remember when mapping a process.


  1. Determine level of detail. A high level view of your process will require 3- 5 process steps, while a more detailed view can have up to 20 process steps.
  2. Lay out your swim lanes. Identify how many people, positions, teams or departments are involved in the process (keep in mind the level of detail you have chosen to map it) . Create a swim lane for each. Your process should flow from the top to the bottom, left to right. So if your administrative assistant or your client starts off the process, their lane should be placed at the top. The same, if your shipping department is the last to finish the process, their lane should be placed at the bottom. Peacocks and Processes
  3. Use your Shapes. The are 4 key shapes to use when mapping. The oval represents the start and the end of your process. The rectangle represents your process step. The diamond represents your decision point. The arrows represent direction and connection. The diamond is the fork in the process and therefore will always two arrows, a Yes and No.
  4.  Number your Steps. Although the arrows help with direction, sometimes with complicated processes, you lose track of the flow, especially if there are a lot of decision point. For this reason it is important to number your process steps.


So get out your whiteboards, sticky notes, and markers, and start to Draw It! Let us know what you find out!

Leave us a comment below!


Until next week,




Process Improvement via The Whiteboard Way© – Step One

This week we’re starting a series on The Whiteboard Way©, our very own process improvement methodology.

First, a Little Background

When we started Whiteboard Consulting Group, one of the things we wanted to do was develop a way to do process improvement that would be easy for people and organizations who had never tried it, never heard of it, or thought that it had to be big, cumbersome, and expensive.

Our method is simple, has only 5 steps, doesn’t rely on expensive software, and can help you begin your process-improvement journey. Think of  The Whiteboard Way© as the act of “tilling the soil” – getting it ready for the culture shift towards continuous improvement that will surely follow.

Step One: Define It!

Perhaps the most difficult part of getting a process improvement project off the ground is actually defining the problem. Why is this so important? Because if we really take the time to think about it, removing all assumptions and pre-conceived ideas about the solutions, we can ensure two things: 1) an unbiased approach to problem solving, and 2) an open approach to all possible solutions. In other words, we can guarantee the best solution.


“But Ruth!” you exclaim, “that’s the easiest thing to do, isn’t it? If we didn’t know what the problem was, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, right?”

Not necessarily.

It is absolutely true that you have an idea of the problem. We like to describe it as a “pain point”, or something that keeps you up at night or frustrates you and makes you listen to angry music on the way home (I recommend Nine Inch Nails or Metallica for those days). You sit at the dinner table with friends or family and say things like, “I can’t believe we had to fix this issue for another customer,” or, “every month it’s the same thing – we scramble to get this done at the last minute,” or “it shouldn’t cost this much to do this work”.

The hard part is defining what’s wrong without assuming why it’s wrong.

Here are some examples:

“Bad” Problem Definitions

We have to fix this issue all the time for our customers because we just don’t have time to train our people.

We never have enough time to do this process because other priorities keep getting in the way.

It costs too much to do this piece of work because I can’t hire the right people.

“Good” Problem Definitions

In the last 3 months we have had to fix this issue 6 times for four customers, causing dissatisfaction for our customers and wasted processing time for our staff.

Each month we are 5-7 days late completing this process, impacting other departments and generating late fees for the company.

This piece of work costs the organization $5,000 per month. Best practices in similar companies is half that amount.

Here’s how we do it in The Whiteboard Way©

  1. State the pain point.
  2. Add data – how much, how often, what’s the impact
  3. Add no solutions

It just takes practice. And we can help you with that. Comment below with your “pain points”!

Next week: step two. Draw It!

Until then,


How to Hire the Right Consultant

consultantSo you’ve decided you need a consultant, right? No? Not sure?

Well let’s tackle your decision before we get to the “how to hire the right consultant” question. Because actually, the decision of whether or not to hire a consultant is just as important to your overall satisfaction as is the hiring process itself. Click to Tweet

Many people experience angst when deciding whether to bring in outside expertise. After all, we consultants are right up there with lawyers in the ranks of professions who often get a bad rap. Therefore, we recommend you think about it like a business case: if you have a piece of important work that needs to be done, and either a) there is no one in your organization with the right skills to do it, or b) they aren’t available… then you need a consultant to help you. There’s just no way around it.

So now that’s taken care of. You need a consultant.

How then, do you go about finding one that won’t leave you feeling “shmoozed” and left with a bunch of expensive binders and documents that aren’t helpful and aren’t what you need?

Would it surprise you if I said it’s all in the process?

Well it’s true, and it’s really just a matter of asking and answering the right questions, in the right order.


  1. Do you have a realistic budget? This may seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised. Some organizations agree they have a budget but haven’t decided on exactly how much. Then, when they finally map out the work they want done, they find they can’t afford it. So first consider the budget. Then when you get to scoping and hiring, your expectations will be aligned with your budget.
  2. Have you decided whether you need Advice or Implementation? The distinction is important. Are you looking for a person(s) who can do a review and provide you with considered advice and best practices for comparison? Or do you already have a clear idea of what you want to do, and therefore you simply need someone to confirm your thoughts and then execute on the strategy? Perhaps you need both, and that’s fine – just remember they are very different skill sets.
  3. Have you clearly defined the outcomes you expect and the timelines in which you expect them? It’s dangerous to be vague in this area, and yet so tempting. We have read many proposal documents that ask for “high level plans” and completion “in the fourth quarter”. (By the way, good consultants will clarify these things via a scoping conversation.)
  4. Have you written a fantastic proposal? Many proposals are dozens of pages long depending on the industry and the sector. Most of them have a “core” section that describes the environment, the challenge, and the expectations as clearly as possible. The better this section is set out, the better the quality of responses you will get from potential consultants.
  5. Are you interviewing more than one candidate? Whether you are in the public sector and required to interview at least three, or in the private sector and can hire whomever you like, it’s important to keep your options open. Why? Because at the very least you will be able to determine a personality fit (which is a key to a successful relationship), and at best you will hear about potential approaches that you never even considered.
  6. Have you set out some on-going support and touch-points for the consultant once they start? It’s often the case that there is a kickoff meeting, a few introductions are made, and the consultant is then left to fend for him/herself. If you can provide a single-point-of-contact for them, set up a few touchpoint meetings in advance, and show your interest and support throughout (even if you assign the oversight to someone else), it goes a long way to building that trusting relationship, which is likely to make the consultant go that extra mile to make sure you’re happy (even delighted!).

We’d love to hear about your “consultant hiring” experiences. Please feel free to comment below, or Tweet us @whiteboardcons!

Until next time,


All for One and One for All!

all for one

Ah, the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and, of course, d’Artagnan – righting wrongs, fighting evil, and sharing witty remarks along the way (essentially the 17th century version of The Avengers). Their motto, “all for one and one for all”, has become the norm when cheering for teamwork and presenting a united front in the face of hardship or a common goal.

Interestingly, in the late19th century, the Swiss used the phrase as part of a campaign to bring about a feeling of solidarity and national unity during troubled times (following widespread flooding in the Alps), and it’s become their unofficial, but traditional, national motto.

The phrase was perfect for that particular campaign, as it really evoked that spirit of support and common accountability, reminding everyone that one is not successful unless everyone is successful.

So what does that have to do with business processes?


All too often Nicole and I come across organizations with detailed strategic plans, tactical plans and clear roles & responsibilities, and yet they are either failing in their execution, or executing on the backs of employees who are demoralized, frustrated, and just plain tired.

Nine times out of ten, they’re missing that “all for one and one for all” mentality. Instead, they have organizational structures that promote an insular focus based on empire-building and individual success. Common accountability is nowhere to be seen.

The people in an organization are like the players on a sports team. On a winning team, each individual has a defined role, interacts with other people at set times, understands their goals and can compare themselves against performance metrics. Most of all, they know they simply can NOT be successful unless their team mates are successful. Who cares how many goalsteam you can score if no one can pass you the puck and the defense can’t keep the other team away from the net? (I can’t believe I just used a hockey analogy… I don’t even watch it. Go Leafs!)

A successful organization is one in which it behooves someone to make a colleague successful, because the individual’s gain is tied to the colleague’s success. It’s nice to take the high road and hope everyone will be altruistic in their approach (helping the other person be successful simply because it’s the right thing to do). However we know that although many people operate this way, it is often not the norm in a culture of pressing deadlines and reduced budgets.

Therefore, whether it’s via financial reward or some other kind of reward or benefit, mutual goals are critical to developing that atmosphere of collaboration and camaraderie.

Five Ways to Instill that “All for One” Culture

  1. Start to change your organizational culture by referring to employees as team members, and not as “staff”. It’s a small thing, but it really helps.
  2. If you have a bonus structure, create bonus criteria that include a shared or common accountability as well as individual performance. Many companies have 1/3 individual performance, 1/3 divisional performance, and 1/3 company performance as the weighting.
  3. If you don’t have a formal bonus structure, develop another means of rewarding collaboration. Tie performance to a common goal, and reward successful teams according to the type of reward that is most meaningful for them. (Don’t know what that is? Ask!)
  4. Develop key corporate processes and performance metrics that support both the ability of teams to work together towards the goal and their ability to measure progress towards achieving that goal.
  5. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! It sounds simple, but it’s often left out. Don’t forget to communicate the way people need to hear it – for some it’s visual, for some it’s written, and for others it’s auditory. Do whatever works, even if it’s all three.

Do you have a structure that encourages collaboration? Tell us about it! Give us a shout via Twitter @whiteboardcons using#betterfastercheaper or email us at

Until next time,



Making Efficient Business Decisions

frankenstein-monster-the-green-terror Frankenstein Decisions

It used to drive me crazy.  Busting my buns on another PowerPoint Presentation on a new strategy/project/or idea.    I’d done my diligence . I’d told a story using some data (check out our previous blog post here). I went to dazzle them with my presentation skills and present my options and recommendation, and here’s what I started to hear:

“I like recommendation 1, with a bit of recommendation 2.”

“Can you do recommendation 2, but with recommendation 1’s budget and timelines?”

“Did you consider a hybrid option?”

As a real “doer”, this frustrated me as an employee, and I interpreted it as an inability to take a risk, or low risk tolerance on behalf of my executive leaders.  And worst of all, it wasn’t efficient use of my time, or theirs.


Success (including employee engagement) in organizations today is hinging more and more on the ability of leaders to optimize operations by making quality decisions quickly from a data rich environment.

As a process improvement specialist, I also aimed to ensure that my options were efficient, and these hybrid or Frankenstein options were’t the most efficient solution -much like Frankenstein himself – big, burly, and slow moving.

While the individual solutions may have been better, faster, or cheaper (or hopefully all three) – the hybrids were unattractive, difficult to put together, and didn’t yield the best results – even if they were technically feasible, or “alive”.

3 Tips to eliminating Frankenstein and Promoting Efficient Decision Making

  1. State  your case upfront. The solutions and alternatives your are recommending are standalone.  Use data to support this, but demonstrate right at the outset that it has been evaluated as an option. Or create a hybrid option to present that IS efficient.
  2. Make sure your data is accurate and timely.  Encourage to drive a data driven culture forward buy using data to build your case.
  3. Be collaborative.   Bring as many people into your story during to development, so that people aren’t tempted to make a monster mash of your hard work.

Do you have a Frankenstein experience? Give us a shout via Twitter @whiteboardcons using#betterfastercheaper or email us at

Until next week,