Driving a Porsche with holes on its engine
Recently I met one of my close friends at a technical seminar. It was since a long time we had a conversation and it was obvious we were firing on all cylinders to catch up with the lost time as if there is no tomorrow. During our discussion, we had a chance to bump on the subject related to Process improvements. Basically our point of discussion was whether an ERP consultant really need to take initiative on process improvements and to what extent, apart from the regular implementation/development stuff. My friend was having a view that the ERP consultant’s job is to gather the requirements of the existing process analyze and implement/automate the process. His argument was why a consultant has to bother about the pitfalls in the physical processes and it’s up to the business (Or somebody but not ERP consultant) to take care of. Well, I expressed my views on this and argued that automating an ill driven process will have a negative impact on the whole objectives of the organization. It’s something that you have done your job but it’s not working efficiently and effectively so what’s the point in automating? My point was, when you see something that’s obviously not doing that’s intended then better take the initiative, highlight to the concerned persons and if possible try to fix those gaps within your scope. So I explained him my views with a couple of situations that I encountered…
Situation 1 – In the third week of Sept 2010, the manager of Material Review Board dept rushed to me and said
“Hey, I have a high priority task of clearing the cycle count documents related to the storage type but I see some number associated with each quant and I don’t know how to clear these and I want to finish off this task in a couple of hours.
I said “why rush? Please refer your instructions and clear those documents in a systematic way it has been described and I can help you understand any step that you have a problem”
“I don’t have the instructions, I can’t clear these quants….you know how it happens in Inventory management, you can clear all in a single step and I don’t see those numbers…well my boss wants to see these cleared ASAP ….you know it’s yearend buddy”
Well, I knew how the system was set up and what he wanted to do. The storage type was SU managed and each quant was having an associated SU number and he doesn’t know which part on the shelf belongs to which SU number. The reason, the parts were sitting on the shelf without the SU label and the users have been receiving without following the intended process. The manager including the staff weren’t aware of what’s going on in their dept.
I told him it’s not possible and you have to clear these parts with the related SU number associated with each part (associating the SU number and the part) because your storage type has been set for SU managed and you need to follow the process associated with it.
In turn he replied “Please turn off that SU thing so that I can move these in a mass way, finish off my task”
I asked a few questions to the manager.
- Are you aware of how you need to store the parts received in your dept – Answer “No”
- Do you know what process to be followed for counting and clearing these parts and has this been done before and how?– Answer “I am not aware of anybody doing this and I have to do this now because my boss got an order from Finance dept asking us to do this”
- Ok, even if the SU is turned off and somehow you achieved this task, are you aware of the serious impact in auditing and meeting the compliance rules – Answer “not sure but I don’t care at this moment”
Finally I asked him “What you are going to achieve at the end of the day”
With a million dollar smile on his face he said “Well buddy, I feel like driving a Porsche on a sunny day along the pacific high way”….Well he wasn’t aware he is driving a Porsche with holes on it’s engine.
Situation 2 – In the last week of the same month Sept 2010, one of the business users from planning dept came and complained that the parts are appearing in the shortage report even though he fill these parts to the sales order. The user came to a conclusion that the report critical to the business is broken and it has to be fixed ASAP.
I listened to him and investigated about the issue and told him that there is nothing wrong with the report and it is behaving as intended and advised him to contact the warehouse personnel to ask why they are not picking the parts and why he has been instructed to fill these as shortages even though these parts are very well available in the stock room.
The user replied that it’s not his job and not aware of what needs to be followed. All he wanted was to see that the report works fine and doesn’t want to see the parts re-appearing. He was instructed from his boss to ship these parts as shortages as soon as possible, the reason its year end, lot of pressure and a little short can reduce the work load in great deal. Well, the user and the folks at the warehouse weren’t aware of the complications downstream for the short cuts.
These are some of the situations that almost every day we come across isn’t it? What commonly we see in the above two situations? Is it the lack of process knowledge, non-availability of instructions or lack of trained personnel. Well it could be one or more reasons but in a short we can say that it’s the lack of Business Process Management in the organization. Well I am not advising here to implement a full fledged BPM solution (Business Process Management) but it’s concepts can very well be leveraged at the task, dept and cross functional level to achieve the process improvements and eventually the strategic objectives of the organization. So an ERP consultant can definitely do this job, advise the business on the gaps in their physical processes and can help them fix. This will help a great deal in streamlining the processes before automating them in the IT systems.
What we see in today’s business is mangers spend most of their time to reacting to critical situations and treating the symptoms and not the causes (Crisis Management). The business has a tendency to think that the software can resolve all their issues even if their processes have loop holes. The business needs to understand automating something doesn’t fix it’s underlying problem; it just helps them to occur more quickly, in vast increased numbers and greater frequency. So an ERP consultant has a significant and a crucial role to play in making the business understand the impact of the ill driven processes. I strongly believe that before automating any process, an ERP consultant should make sure that business understand their process deeply and thoroughly and help in making the business managers from reactive to proactive and then to predictive management. Well, of course many times it’s challenging and tough dealing about this with the business but the results are tremendous if achieved. Most of the time business has a tendency to resist the change. The common tendency is “this is how we do and doing this for years and would like to automate in the system”. However I believe the consultant should communicate to the right stakeholders about the gaps existing in the processes, the impact of the automation of the ill driven processes and the benefits of improved processes in terms of cost, quality, compliance and customer satisfaction . The small process improvements chunks done at the department levels can have great impact on the supply chain line delivering a great organization performance as a whole.
So how the process improvements were handled or could have been handled in the above two situations? Make the business users in the warehouse understand their process thoroughly and set the physical process in place by bridging the gaps/re-engineer the process(to a smaller extent within the scope of the process task), delegate the roles and responsibilities, document the process flows, train the personnel and finally monitor the process for continuous improvement. The missing link in the first situation was the SU label on the shelf. Develop a small program to print the labels and assign these to the parts. In crunch situations of printer issues have the labels printed through the MS word and assign those to the parts (The business now has become from reactive to proactive and finally to predictive management).
With all the explanation above the two most commonly asked questions by the IT.
- Why an ERP consultant/IT has to bother about the pitfalls or loopholes in the business processes( My job is to implement/automate the existing process)
- Is streamlining/improvement the process pose a risk to the IT business (More improved process means less automation)?
Personally I don’t think IT/consultants have to worry about these things. In fact if there are visible gaps which potentially impact the tasks downstream then it really makes sense to communicate these things. Who knows, a gap communicated might turn out to be a critical and crucial in meeting the organization’s objectives if not fixed and might call for a whole re-engineering of the process. Additionally the organizations are well aware of the role of ERP consultant/IT in automating their business processes and meeting their objectives. All that is needed for an ERP consultant is to communicate across the key stake holders about the impact of the ill driven processes and the benefits of the improved processes in terms of cost, quality, customer satisfaction and organization’s strategic objectives.
Well, both of us were almost finishing our third cup of coffee. My friend finally gave me a smile, that itself expressed his agreement on my views.