Does Your Company Have a Weak Link?

Some time ago, I noticed that some part of the investment businesses made in technology was wasted. It’s not that the technology didn’t perform as advertised, it’s more about the business and the benefit it expected to get from the technology.
It’s only recently that it dawned on me that the problem has to do with weak links.
I have started to think of businesses as chains of events. Marketing does its job; a prospect responds; sales takes over; the sale is made; production makes the product; shipping ships it; customer service supports it. Without sales, production can’t do its job, and so on.
Without realizing it, businesses try to optimize specific links in the chain. Production tries to do its job “better.” Marketing tries to do its job “better.” This is where the problem is.
If the weakest link is sales, improving marketing won’t do any good. If the weakest link is production, improving sales won’t do any good. In fact, improving anything but the weakest link can be counter productive.
This is the explanation I’ve been looking for–technology investment is wasted if it does not strengthen the weakest link.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be more than one weak link. But there can be only one weakest link. Until the weakest link is strengthened, strengthening any other link won’t have an effect.

How Do Companies Benefit from ERP?

We’ve been analyzing the past five years of projects, asking some probing questions about why clients invest in ERP systems. We’ve located three primary benefits our clients have gotten.
Here’s the first: Making more time for sales.
I’m not sure I would have named this one on my own, but once I looked at several of our projects, I realized that this was what the clients were doing. I’d feel like I missed something, but I don’t recall the client (except in a couple of situations where it came up as part of a ROI analysis) mentioning it either.
Here’s what I have realized: When there is a problem with processes or systems, sales people fix it with labor.
I’ve talked with salespeople about orders they took which didn’t ship because inventory was wrong (inventory said 10, there were only 5 on the shelf). They go into the “back” and count after that happens a couple of times.
Or orders that don’t ship because shipping missed the picking slip on the counter, in the inbox, or on the computer. Sales walks the order through the process after that.
So one of the major benefits clients got from their ERP implementation was fixing the problems that were leaching huge amounts of time from their sales force.
Seems like I should be telling companies about this!

Not Done on Thursday at Noon?

This may seem like a really silly question, but it has a basis in some information I’ve been sharing lately.
When Microsoft initally studied the new “Ribbon Bar” interface for Office 2007, a study that showed a 34% (roughly) improvement in productivity was done. Thirty-four percent is roughly 1/3, and 1/3 of a 40 hour work week is about 13 hours. Logically–I suppose–if you get a 34% increase in productivity, you’d finish your 40 hour work week in just 27 hours, or about mid-day on Thursday. So what’s wrong?
Perhaps it might be the study. Another study showed only a 17.4% increase in productivity. Still, that’s almost a full day off during a 40 hour week, and I don’t see the parking lot empty on Friday morning in my building. Do you?
So what’s the deal? Is there really a productivity increase with the new office interface?
I would argue that yes, there is an increase in productivity with the Office 2007 and 2010 interfaces. I have experienced some of this in doing tasks myself. As long as I can let go of the “I know it was on this menu…” logic and go with the current way of doing things (which involves checking Help on a regular basis), things are better and faster.
However, I don’t get a 34% increase, or even a 17.4% increase. It might be 5%. Maybe less.
The reason is in the method. Microsoft’s study gave a number of guinea pigs a set of tasks to do. They measured how long it took people with the old (Office 2003) interface, and how long it took with the new (Office 2007) interface. The time savings was 34% on those tasks.
It turns out that I don’t do that same list of tasks. Neither do most of my clients and friends. So we get a fraction of the 34%. It doesn’t mean that the 34% is not real; it means that it is only real for a small part of the tasks I do.
In other words: Office 2007 solved problems I do not have. Here is my conclusion: Money spent to solve problems you do not have is wasted! Even money spent on technology you like.
Am I beating the drum loud enough yet?