Friday, June 29, 2012

Customer Service For All

Organizations get feedback from a number of sources – email, social media, word of mouth, even from other employees.

There is a strong tenancy to jump into action when a complaint is registered – all in the name of customer service.

The urgency and energy spent to respond is almost obsessive in nature – we gotta fix it; we must change it; we have to overcome it.

It is not a bad thing to pay attention t onegative feedback and work to satisfy the disappointed customer or patron.

In the frenzy of the moment, does the remedy become so large it over shadows all the satisfied and loyal customers and patrons. This raises the question – are you serving your strongest supporters? The satisfied customer.

Top notch customer service addresses problems promptly, but also conveys appreciation to the happy users as well.

To illustrate the point – I was in line at a fast food restaurant behind a couple suffering (loudly) an error in their order. The manager rushed out to sooth the situation, offered some free stuff, and ushered the two to a table. Meanwhile I was waiting to order – which went smoothly. Unfortunately, neither the server or the manager offered a comment about the delay or thanks for patience while they addressed a problem with the prior order.

This is a minor event, of course, but it often occurs on a grander scale with similar results – a little oil on the squeaky wheel and ignoring the downstream effect on others.

Customer service is serving the customer – it's a 360 degree activity.

How would you create exemplary care for the customer or patron? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rainmakers 14 - The Myths of Full Capacity

Full Capacity is an estimate of possible revenue and a gauge for sales planning, by projecting output of resources, availability of materials, and logistical elements. Assumes optimal output with no disruptions or changes.

You can capitalize on an opportunity by busting the myths and leveraging their operations.

full capacity is the maximum output of the organization. No –more resources may increase production volume.

Myth: sampling throughput can project capacity. No – not each person works at their best pace for all hours on the job.

Myth: all resources are being used fully throughout the organization. No - starting up and winding down require different intensity and pace.

Myth: productivity is constant. No – productivity is increased by repetition.

How could you leverage ability and experience to help an organization at ‘full capacity’?

Definition: A Rainmaker creates a significant amount of new business for a company. The Sales Lab Rainmaker Series is one rainmaker technique for technologists during the first 300 seconds (five minutes) of the monthly Capital Technology Management Hub Meeting.

Here's the growing collection:

Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity
Rainmaker 13 - Making the Most of Opportunity?
Rainmaker 12 - The Future is NOW - Makers
Rainmaker 11 - What Have I Done For You Lately?
Rainmaker 10 - Tune Your Work for the Internet
Rainmaker 7 - Mark Your Territory
Rainmaker 6 - Networking IS Business
Rainmaker 5 - Start With an Offer
Rainmaker 4 - Time, Talent, and Treasure
Rainmaker 2 - The Name Tag
Rainmaker 1 - Gifts
And The First Rainmakers (11/3/10)
Go to:

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The main speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

The Third Industrial Revolution Is Beginning

Edmund Pendleton, the Assistant Director of the Mtech VentureAccelerator at the University of Maryland, was a panelist at The Democratization of Innovation meeting.

He observed we are entering the third industrial revolution. The shift from local shops to locating multiple crafts and trades in a factory setting was the hallmark of the first industrial revolution. The second revolution was the creation of mass production of products. The emerging third industrial revolution is digital building.

Instead of working by hand, or through robotic assembly, digital building combines digital files and duplication equipment – 3D copiers – to create the product. This is an additive manufacturing process – start with nothing and end with a finished product without human or robotic assembly.
This star was created from code sent to a MakerBot Replicator – it is made of white plastic. This technique is being used to fabricate 32 panels for the new Boeing 787 aircraft – and these panels can not be made using traditional assembly or subtractive manufacturing methods.

Before this technology was available, products were made primarily by custom assembly or subtractive manufacturing – taking away from the raw material to yield the finished part or product.

Beyond the technical novelty, this approach fits perfectly in the Maker Economy of 1-2-3 member organizations who collaborate with others and seek the most efficient materials and production for their goods.

The digital file – coded in one location – shipped by email to a manufacturing location anywhere there is capacity and price efficiencies – the user buy on-line – a shipper delivers it to the user directly or via a local retail outlet.

Sounds futuristic – but Amazon and Barnes and Noble are doing something similar today for books. How far away are we for receiving a replacement part for the dishwasher, ordered by the on-board computer chip in the dishwasher itself?

What are your thoughts about a third industrial revolution?

Don't File It – Use That Data

Big Data is a means to extract useful information from great volumes of data collected from various inputs. If the data is available and accurate, the distilled information can be useful if the project is well conceived.

Last week we attended a Big Data session put on by NCA-GTUG to highlight some successful in-use projects with Splunk boiling down huge quantities of continuous real-time data into useful information about monitored activities – almost real-time. Fascinating.

Next day I participated in a GovLoop Webinar on Optimizing Service With Big Data, which outlined the expanding use of the Big Data approach in the Government sector – and an example of effective use of police data to reduce crime.

The city of Santa Cruz applied Big Data tools to 10 years of collected police crime data. They cut the data by type of crime; they sliced it by location; they diced it by time, day of week, day of month, and month of year, to get a detailed picture of the characteristics of crime occurring in Santa Cruz.

Then the process was reversed to create when, where, and what predictors of crime probabilities as a data based tool to apprehend or prevent area crime.

By manipulation of large volumes of existing data, the police department created a knowledgebase analogous to the instincts of long-service patrolmen with a 'feeling' about crime activity and targets. This predictive tool is intended to help the SCPD be more effective in the reduction of crime. Of course, personal experience is what sets the Doers apart from others – this data approach is a supplement, not a replacement for experience.

The results bear out this supposition: property-based crime is down by 12% and burglaries down by 25% since implementing the project. Good results, which supplement the other tools available to the police in doing their jobs – like when the two-way radios replaced the call boxes on the street.

This example demonstrates a valuable subsequent use of gathered data to glean information about patterns, trends, or other relationships among the measured items. Two important element to a successful project with massive volume of data is the relevancy of the project to get usable information and the completeness and accuracy of the input to get sound information.

What are some Big Data applications that could create valuable information for your operations or future planning?

Back to the Frontier and Expansive Growth?

When I think of the frontier, I picture Westward-Ho wagon trains with settlers and supplies, or prospectors in the gold fields of California. However, the domestic frontier has been 'closed' for about a century.

The frontier offered an environment of unlimited opportunity, participants with a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, and plenty of raw materials or other assets for the taking. For those willing to take the risk the reward could be outstanding – exploiting the frontier led to robust markets between traders and merchants back in the civilized East. The frontier resulted in the dramatic expansion of the USA footprint and an explosive growth in commerce rich with a wide variety of goods

Is a new frontier era possible? Consider this:

David Miller, at the recent Democratization of Innovation program, listed the three elements of frontierism (citing Frederick Jackson Turner's book) as:
  • Abundance of assets – e.g., pelts, farmland, gold, wood, minerals
  • Diversity of people – people from all over Europe, Russia, and elsewhere
  • Lack of control – west of the Alleghenies, no one could tell you what to do.

Miller's contention is that the frontier has returned - the university is the modern-day frontier and hotbed of innovation. Here's why:

There is an abundance of assets available at universities in the form of materials, equipment, and a knowledge pool of the top minds in the technical and scientific fields.

There is a diversity of people with students and professors from a wide variety of countries, viewpoints, and cultures.

There is a great deal of freedom within the university environment - freedom of inquiry and laxity oversight.

What has contributed to this environment?

  • Communications and computing power has evolved to be more powerful and less costly, to accommodate changing needs
  • Global resources combined with the hacker's mentality of trust and collaboration for talent and materials
  • Project or work groups of 1-2-3 individuals is the source of innovation – an 'I don't accept that this can't be done' attitude – working without the larger organization constraints of assignment and reporting.

Google, which grew from the ideas by a couple of students at Stanford and Facebook, the brainchild of a several Harvard students, are successful examples of what can come from this frontier setting. In addition, a growing portion of universities are encouraging entrepreneurship through courses, incubators, and start-up competitions. Innovation is aided by a favorable environment, but come from the individual, as in the examples above.

Miller raised the question – with this activity in the university environment of rich assets, diversity of participants, and unbounded exploratory freedom – does this predict a new expansive period of innovation and economic growth?

Looking beyond the university setting, we see a Makers Economy evolving. This is also powered by inexpensive communications, global resources and markets, availability of powerful computing equipment and tools, and an additional element: hacker mentality.

The hacker mentality is a combination of the challenge of doing something new or improving something now existing, collaboration with others, sharing what's been learned, and trusting others not to hijack their work. Hackers use social media, blogs, and hackerspace message boards to research reputations and reliability to determine who is trustworthy. The final element of the hacker mentality is – nothing is impossible, it is limited only by the span of interest – keep pushing on while interest is glowing (set it aside when it wanes).

Cory Doctorow wrote Makers, a futuristic novel describing a similar environment, absent the university element, where individuals would come together to create a solution for an issue by repurposing parts and components readily available. A non-traditional market developed with sales directly to the end user, often from a table in an outdoor bazaar, or by word of mouth. While the story may have been fiction as written, this is a comprehensive blueprint for the growing DIY (do-it-yourself) movement and the Makers Economy.

Today individuals and small clusters of individuals are collaborating to develop innovative solutions for existing issues or improving functionality for open source software, or creating entirely new uses. Projects are imagined not assigned, and the market is primarily the Direct Economy with sales directly to the end user via the internet and other direct sources.

Apps for the iPhone and Android phone are examples of the Makers Economy, as is the Android operating system which is open source with a multitude of independent coders constantly improving and expanding its functionality.

This is a good example of a new frontier opening up – Angry Birds was not a project assignment by Apple, it was an idea by a developer for a new game and it went viral when released. Philippe Kahn was the innovator behind making a camera for the mobile phone – which changed how people record and share experiences and activities. Would either have made it through a traditional new product approval process?

The Makers Economy, like the old frontier, is rapidly opening new channels of commerce (e.g., 0.9B on Facebook and 7B smartphones, tablets, and other addressable devices), becoming a greater contributor to the economy and its place continues to evolve.

Thanks to the new frontierism, we may be watching an evolutionary growth engine getting under way.

What are the implications to traditional markets and the existing regulatory structure?

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The main speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Government as a Platform

Tim O'Reilly speaks about Government as a Platform to address the issues of today for the next generation of Government.

Interesting observations about what's possible – much is already being done or in the works.

O'Reilly's final point: Government and Private Industry are the two halves of the solution.

Does Tim O'Reilly have it right - Government as a Platform?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Drift and Clobber Management / Leadership

Inattentive or laissez faire oversight, followed by sudden, harsh enforcement of rules, followed by inattentive or laissez faire oversight.

Sound familiar?

Is the drift and clobber style ever effective?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What's the Customer Think?

This past weekend I went to Product Camp DC – a 'un-conference' for product managers and others interested in the business to consumer segment; individuals interested in leading a session offer 120-second pitch and meeting participants vote on which topics are included in the program.

Take-aways for me from this meeting was the emerging trend of seeking customer input in a meaningful way.

PeterCorbett spoke about his experience launching Grandstand at SxSW (South by SouthWest Tech Event) in the new product competition. Grandstand is a stadium–venue advertizing-customer preference-social media concept to increase awareness of products combined with game theory for instant prizes for participants expressing their preference. Here's an example: Grandstand at a baseball game with several product ads; after the tally the beer brand won; participants received a code for a free bottle of that beer at any restaurant or bar within 3 blocks of the stadium for several hours after the game. The customer voting is useful information for the product sponsors, in addition to the visual exposure.

Shardul Mehta led a session about kicking off a new product project with a meeting of all the stakeholders with a goal of everyone having the same understanding of the product and start working relationships with others on the team. TO get alignment a representative from each is designated as a Judge, who provide feedback to the overall team about goals and approach. The Judges participate in each iteration of the planning, serving the same vetting role.

Steve Johnson spoke about using win-loss analysis to help deliver a successful product. The take-away from the session was 10 discussions are better then 1,000 survey forms to get useful and valid information from customers. Reverting to talking directly with customers instead of relying on surveying adds greater depth to the data collection.

The trend to include the customer in the development process can help greatly in avoiding the 'Edsel Syndrome' of a great product with no market. In addition, customer input can further guide the product team on features to include or exclude in the final product.

In my experience, the customer knows what they want and need when they are ready to buy. Why don't we actively included them in the development of new and revised products? The downside may be revisions which create a blockbuster product or service.

What's your thoughts about getting customer input?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Myths of Full Capacity

The concept of full capacity is a tool to estimate revenue for budgeting and a gauge for sales planning. Using sampling, full capacity projects output based on maximum use of existing resources with optimal availability of materials and logistical elements. Think of it as the optimistic average of what existed in the near past projected for the entire forecast period. Assumes optimal output with no disruptions or changes.

A simple illustration: sampling of production volume is 10 widgets per hour; the organization runs two shifts weekdays; 20 workdays per month – full capacity per month is 3,200 widgets (10 units x 16 daily hours x 20 workdays). If actual output is 2,500 widgets, they are at 78% of full capacity and up to 700 more widgets could be made and sold - theoretically. This can be a handy tool when viewed as 'here's what we can do in addition' – it is not so handy if viewed ' we cannot do more than this'.

Business has changed and continues to evolve (government is making similar inroads) – automation eliminates roles needing a live person, flexible staffing reduces fixed overhead, products and services are made new & improved by removing features and chopping the price.

The point is that the past is becoming less and less relevant as a tool for the future, but we hold on to several myths when looking forward.

Myth: presupposing full capacity is the maximum output of the organization.

An organization can adjust to meet higher production volume, when needed – add a 3rd shift, for example.

Myth: sampling throughput gives a good estimate for projections of capacity.

Assuming each person works at their best pace for all hours on the job is unachievable in practice. Parkinson noted that work expands to the time available – and even NASCAR racers have pit stops.

Myth: all resources are being used fully throughout the organization.

It is unusual for all teams to be fully engaged at the same time. Starting up and winding down require different intensity and pace, than does the core activities of a project. Some functional roles are active at different time – like sales before the project and shipping at the end of it.

Myth: productivity is constant.

Experience boosts productivity – first time a person creates a website there's a learning curve to master; the second time it takes only about 60% of the original time.

Myth: history describes the future with gradual changes.

We are in a time of discontinuous growth – the era of 30-years and a gold watch is it's start-up + 4-years and sell. The New Normal is driven by agility, collaboration, and continual skill/knowledge development.

Sitting in the Big Chair, I can bring in collaborators to do what the staff can't because of lack of time or experience, when needed, or match up experienced with inexperienced Doers to develop future capacity.

In an environment where customers are reluctant to buy, or projects are awarded but not funded, full capacity is not as important as sufficient capacity and extensive external resources.

Business as usual is now unusual, and there's a premium on flexibility, innovation, and applying new equipment and devices to enhance the technology (how work gets done) within the organization.

The choice is stuck on full capacity, or adapt to the evolutionary changes afoot. How would you like to proceed?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So What – It Doesn't Really Matter, Does It?

When I was head of HR at a large hospital in Baltimore, supervisors and managers would come to me when routine discipline did not correct a situation with their direct reports.

I recall one situation with a rather autocratic supervisor of the supply department. Their responsibilities included unloading several trailer trucks of supplies first thing each morning, securing the supplies, and delivering the non-pharmaceutical supplies to the clinical areas and then the rest of the hospital.
One of the crew was eternally late – every morning he'd show up about 30-45 minutes after the shift started and the supervisor would write him up, applying progressive discipline, including suspension.

The supervisor had asked for a per-termination review with me in preparation for firing this employee. I ask the supervisor to send him to talk to me before his shift was over that day; I was curious why he wouldn't come to work on time.

When we met, I asked him what the problem was with being on the loading dock ready to work by 6:00AM, like all his teammates? Here's how he saw it:

  • I get there when I can, but if I'm late, I always make up the time at the end of the shift – my supervisor get's his 8-hours every day
  • When I get to work I jump right in and don't waste a minute unloading the trucks and moving the supplies to the floors and departments
  • I'm a hard worker – reliable except for coming in late
  • I do not think I should be fired for being late – it's no big deal, I do the work.

I asked him to review his typical day with me and list each person he came into contact with in the course of his duties. He told me that it took about an hour to unload all the early trucks when everyone was there, longer if someone was missing.

He listed his teammates, then the clinical staff, then the department staff, and a few others – 75 in all. He volunteered that virtually all of the 75 relied on him for their supplies and would page him for emergency requests, instead of calling general supply.

I asked him about how 'I do the work' applies when he's late to the loading dock to unload the trucks? As he was telling me that he'd jump right in, he realized that not being there shortchanged his teammates, since they had to do his share until he showed up.
He told me there was over an hour delay getting to clinical area delivery when he caused the unloading to drag longer. Asking him to describe what happened when he arrived on the floor, he said the staff would jump him and get the supplies they really needed and rush off to the patient's room. They seemed stressed.

Anything different with the other departments? Often they were anxious to receive the supplies so they could complete or deliver their work.

My last question was how much work was there at the end of the day, when he was making up time? 'Usually not too much – I just chill until I can punch out with 8-hours'.

I summarized what he had told me:

  • The other 5 guys on the loading dock relay on him to do his share and have to work harder to cover when he's not there
  • The other 70 people he sees each day rely on him to bring them supplies as early as possible so they can properly care for the patients or complete their work
  • These same people rely on him for emergency supplies and special service
  • He is letting down most of this entire group when he does not come to work on time -
  • The other guys have to work harder
  • The clinical area is more stressed when they do not have the proper supplies at hand
  • The work of the staff in other departments is delayed when he is late on the delivery rounds
  • His 'make-up' time doesn't make up for the problems he causes when he's late.
It is a big deal after all and what he does makes a difference to 75 other people in the hospital. He said he had never seen it from that view and agreed that he affected a lot of people by coming in late.

He made me a promise that he would be in and ready to go by 6:00AM from tomorrow on! I gave him an alarm clock to help him keep that promise. And he did for the remainder of time he was in that position, before he was promoted to a more responsible one elsewhere in the hospital.

We get so focused on our tasks, that we can lose track of how our work affects others. If it really does not matter, look out – job elimination may be just around the corner.

How would you impress the value of an employee's contributions on others within and outside the organization or department?