I get asked questions all the time that center around why my engagements seem to always bear good fruit. From my perspective, that's actually a pretty easy question for me to answer. It certainly isn't because I'm the brightest lighbulb on the block and it isn't because I have superior facilitation skills because if you knew me, you would say, "Gee, Bob's a pretty normal guy." No, the reason isn't what you might expect it to be. The reason is actually pretty basic.
When I go into a new consulting engagement, it's normally because the organization is under-performing in some fashion and typically it's because their bottom line is woefully short of where it's supposed to be......or at least where someone in a higher level thinks it should be. I do meet with the leadership team primarily to get their pulse on why they think they're underperforming, but also to find out how I can get to the supporting data. Many times after I have done a quick analysis of the data, I discover that what the leadership team told me isn't necessarily true. So what do I do?
After I have a better understanding of the performance metrics, I head to the shop floor to talk to the true subject matter experts (SME's) of the organization....the folks who make the products or deliver the service. I learned a long time ago that if you truly want to know what's going on in a company, spend as much time as possible talking to the shop floor folks. Out in the real world (the shop floor) things are much different that the office world and it won't take you long to discover just how stark the differences are.
So once I have a good understanding of the real issues facing a company, I go back into the office world and have a heart-to-heart with the leadership team. Believe it or not, many times there is a look of surprise all over everyone's face when I explain to them what I believe their problems are because they are usually 180 degrees away from what they had originally explained to me. But their look of surprise becomes even greater when I tell them that I want to form an improvement team based almost exclusively of the SME's from the shop floor. That's because historically they've never really involved these folks on a team. Yes, they've had their token members, but never really considered having a team of SME's dictate changes that need to be made out there in the real world. That's a real shocker for many leadership teams and quite frankly, some of them can't or won't accept this approach. The purpose of this SME core team is to identify and fix the issues on the shop floor and the tool I have found to be most effective is something I've written about before....the Interference Diagram (ID). You'll recall that the ID's structure is a stated goal in the center of the ID with the interferences preventing you from achieving the goal surrounding it with arrows connecting the interferences to the goal. The prmise is that if you can eliminate or significantly reduce the interferences, goal achievement becomes much easier.
The other thing I always do is lead the leadership team through a strategy session using the Intermediate Objectives Map (IO Map). I have found that the IO Map is very well received by most leadership teams primarily because of its necessity based logic approach. You will recall from previous postings that the IO Map has three primary entities....the Goal, Critical Success Factors (CSF's) needed to achieve the Goal and Necessary Conditions (NC's) required to achieve each of the CSF's. The IO Map uses the syntax, In order to achieve (x).....I must have (y). Because the IO Map is a logical approach to strategy development it is very easy for everyone involved to understand. And because it's so easy to understand, usually everyone involved with its creation contributes something to it. And when that happens, everyone owns the final version. Same thing with the SME team owning the ID.
So on a typical engagement I spend much of my time developing these two tools and voila, we have a plan for improvement that's simple to follow and owned by the perspective members. One delivering the overall organizational strategy and one fixing what's wrong on the shop floor. Before you ask........yes, I do use other tools, but they are situation dependent. In fact, I use a variety of Lean and Six Sigma tools on every engagement, but the two constants for every engagement are the Interference Diagram and the Intermediate Objectives Map. I have written extensively about both of these in Epiphanized, but the real key is to turn the shop floor improvement effort over to the SME's and if you will do this, you truly get the ownership that is required in any improvement initiative.