Introduction: Managing your people and simplifying your business during COVID-19.
There can be no doubt that for many engineering businesses, COVID-19 has called into question the wisdom behind “that’s just the way we do things around here”. This chapter is intended to provide a quick overview of some easy changes that can be made to simplify your business, reduce business costs by removing wasteful activities and modify your management/leadership style to get the most from your employees during this time significant disruption to all our lives.
- Do you ever get confused by your business?
- Who is actually in charge?
- Does what you do actually make a difference to anyone?
- Why am I told to do my job a certain way?
These are very important questions for all those in an organisation to understand; especially given the economic impact of COVID-19.The good news is that there are simple steps you can make to simplify your business so that your employees are focused on delivering maximum value to your customers, hence maximising your profits!
Simplify your business
There are many good books about business simplification, but in short it boils down to looking at how you conduct your activities (your business processes) and really simplifying them down to what’s actually helping you give your customers what they want. A good way to do this is to think how would you explain this process in 30 seconds to a new employee on their first day. Why are your processes more complicated than this? What can be removed? This may make a significant tactical difference across one business process but imagine how much simpler your business would be if you did this across the entire organisation!
To get you started on simplifying your business, think about ways you could remove the following wasteful activities:
- Transport: Moving products further than needed, complex supply chains
- Inventory: Raw materials you don’t need now, semi-finished products waiting to be finished, finished products you can’t sell
- Motion: Time lost moving raw materials, tools, people, components etc. around your factory/ between facilities
- People: Anything that stops people using their skills to work efficiently, problems caused by lack of training/ coaching
Over-production: Making too many (or too few) of key components.
- Over-processing: Making things more complicated than they need to be.
- Defects: Making mistakes, damaging parts.
To simplify a business process, map out the activities (sometimes called process steps) that need to be completed to go from the start of a process to the end, then work out ways to remove waste and make the end to end “value stream” as efficient as possible. Once your ready to write down the new process, remember to keep the documents as simple as possible ( try keeping the document to one page if you can”) and communicate why you’ve made these changes, not just what changes you’ve made!). To manage a change to a process most effectively do not underestimate the effort needed to change established behaviours! The “Kotter 8 step model”.
Whether you’re a director, a manager or an apprentice, we all appreciate our leaders demonstrating their trust in us and our competence to do our jobs. During COVID 19, many people have been working remotely for the first time and physically supervising what the staff are up to is no longer an option. One solution to this that has worked successfully in businesses big and small is to thoroughly and explicitly empower the staff to achieve their managers intent. In other words, tell the staff what needs to happen, then tell them why it matters (why it helps satisfy or delight the customer) and trust them to know the best way how to do it.
You might be a thinking “if I empower all my staff, what do I do?”. The answer is obviously up to you, but I would strongly suggest considering becoming a “servant leader”. Effectively servant leadership is the idea that management focuses on solving the problems faced by their staff, removing the barriers that stop them
- being even more efficient
- reducing product costs
- improving product quality
- making the customer even happier etc.
Instead of spending the majority of their time checking the work of others, servant leaders trust their employees to work in the best interests of the customer and spend their time improving the business.
Additionally, this may be the first time your business has struggled to keep track of where its employees are (people who clock in and each shift etc). Its worth bearing in mind that the customer very rarely cares about such matters. So, consider being more flexible. If your employees complete all the work required of them and the customer remains happy, there is no harm in empowering your staff to manage their own time most effectively; you may find that this helps them achieve a better work-life balance.
During COVID-19, many people have begun working from home for the first time in their careers. Although there are many potential benefits of working from home, additional distractions, such as childcare whilst working from home, can make it difficult to complete the tasks you normally would have in the office. One potential solution to this is adopting a SCRUM framework, which is a way of adopting an agile methodology.
At its heart agile is a way of planning for unexpected change and collaborating more effectively with others to deliver value to a customer.
Agile is focused on:
Things to consider
Individuals and interactions over process and tools
Talk to people, understand what the customer wants, do not do something illogical “because that’s what the process says”, if you don’t understand, ask
|Working software [or other products] over comprehensive documentation
||There is no substitute for your product physically doing what you promised it could. Rather than focusing your efforts on big documents demonstrating the current product is tolerable, focus your efforts on improving the product
|Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Unfortunately, customer requirements change with time, customers do not always articulate what they want in a way you understand.
Customer collaboration is about working with customers during your product design and manufacture processes to really understand what they do and do not want. If they do not want a feature, don’t give it to them and reduce the price accordingly.
| Responding to change (e.g. feedback) over following a plan
|| Change is inevitable. Traditional project management involves planning at the start of a project in detail and assuming this plan will be followed until the project is finished. This rarely happens, so expect plans to change. Plan long term at a high level and plan for the next few weeks in detail.
SCRUM is a popular framework for being agile. There are some amazing books that outline how to transition your organisation to SCRUM but in summary, the project is divided into “sprints” (typically 1-3 weeks long). Each sprint typically involves:
- Planning what work you will deliver in that sprint,
- Trusting the staff to work efficiently on their tasks,
- Having short daily meetings to discuss progress or problems
- End of sprint progress outbriefs that anyone (Inc. customers) can attend.
- End of sprint retrospectives (where everyone reviews what did and did not go well in that sprint and puts a plan in place to make the next sprint even more productive.