Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence... only in constant improvement and constant change.
In Pursuit of Excellence
Last Monday my friend Bob stopped by my office after work to pick up some basketball tickets.
After some basic pleasantries, I inquired as to how his new job was.
Bob is currently the director of manufacturing for a very large defense contractor whose primary products are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or better known as drones.
He went on to tell me that his new position was very challenging but very rewarding as it is pushing him into areas that he wasn’t all that familiar and therefore expanding his knowledge base.
One of those areas concerns his existing supplier base, a relatively large supply-chain network that he inherited when he first took the position.
For the most part, his team has a very good relationship with many of the 500 or so vendors.
They supply products in a timely manner that allows his production to continue unabated, generally without too many delays or quality issues.
Many of the suppliers have been working with Bob’s company for many years and have grown accustomed to the production cycles that ebbs and flows through the duration of a particular program.
Although these vendors, as a whole, are adequate, Bob doesn’t believe that they are doing enough to offer up suggestions for continuous improvement. It seems that these vendors are complacent to keep things rolling along just as they have been for many years.
Bob has worked at defense / government contractor companies in the past, but for the last 20 or so years, he has been involved with commercial manufacturers who actually need to go out and compete with other companies who are continuously innovating.
If a commercial company fails to innovate, their products and/or services no longer find a market and they are soon replaced by businesses that can do something better, faster and/or less expensive.
Historically, companies providing goods and services to governmental agencies, are not typically being driven by the same market forces as commercial enterprises, so they are happy to do things in the same way that they’ve always been done.
This pervasive lackadaisical attitude doesn’t necessarily sit well with Bob, who believes that there is always way to create a "better mousetrap".
So I asked Bob how he intends to try and change the way things are being done.
He replied that one of the best way to begin any improvement plan is to make an accurate assessment of where they are currently at and ask his vendor partners to assist him by adding their ideas into the mix.
I stopped him right there and added my two sense...
"Isn’t it best to first figure out where you want to go and then figure out where you’re at?
"From there, you can map out a strategy to get from point A to point B... this seems to be the most efficient way to improvement", I said... very happy with myself for injecting some keen insight into the conversation.
...but Bob was ready for me...
"Well... that is great Management 101 theory... but that’s not reality. The reality is that we really don’t know exactly where the finish line is at because it keeps moving all the time.
"The better approach is more or less like advertising... create an ad... then measure the results... this ad becomes your control... now create a second ad and measure the results against the first ad... if it produces better results, then the new ad become your new control and then create a third ad and measure it against the second one... the game becomes survival of the fittest.
"Eventually... the ads triangulate to the most optimal results... without really knowing beforehand which ad will ultimately win out... we get to the best place eventually but mostly through trial and error.
"Continuous process improvement is a lot of that same science...
"We do a lot of new things not knowing exactly which ones will work out the best... the key is doing something... then measuring those results... then doing something else... and seeing which one worked better to improving the product or process...
"In this way, we will always be trying to find new and better ways to add innovation to our best practices without disposing of something that might already be better than the new idea.
"Unfortunately we don’t know what we don’t know...
"This is the reason we’d like to enlist the help of our suppliers and vendors to help us get better... we have the opportunity to work together and share the same ’laboratory’ with each of us working together to improve...
"...and if they are unwilling to help us... then maybe we need to start looking for new vendors who aren’t necessarily trying to keep the status quo alive... "
As I thought more and more about my conversation with Bob, I couldn’t help but think how this same philosophy could be applied to our personal lives... continuing working to improve ourselves without completely abandoning those things that actually work really well... while enlisting the help of others to give us ideas and perspective.
The key to improvement is not to constantly try and adopt each and every new-fangled gadget, phone app, new fad-diet, exercise routine, hot-stock pick, and/or trendy restaurant.
This just tends to complicate our lives, not necessarily improve them.
By focusing on trying one or two things, then carefully measuring the results, we can determine if the changes are better or worse than our current strategies.
In this way, we don’t need to make large corrections to our lives... just a lot of small incremental adjustments along the way.
I talk to a lot of people who are frustrated because they are unsure of exactly where their endpoint is...
It’s that whole "meaning of life" and trying to work toward these great unifying goals that will suddenly create great meaning and a purpose for living.
For a great many people, that "ultimate goal" never becomes crystallized so it’s hard for them to work towards a goal that they can’t even define...
Just because we can’t define the finish-line... doesn’t mean that we get a free pass to stop moving forward...
The world is moving forward every day... so if we stop trying to get better... then we are falling further and further behind.
The important thing is trying something new... see if it works... and if it does... continue to do it... and if it doesn’t... stop and do something else...
Improvement is not a "once-in-a-while" event... it’s an every-day occurrence...
...going from good... to better... to best
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we continually try to challenge ourselves to be the best we can by constantly trying to find betters ways to serve our customers.
Jim Kalb President
Email - email@example.com
Website - www.optifuse.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse