Passing The Baton

You have the perfect company.  Employees are competent, customers love your products but you still struggle to make a profit.  You’ve followed my advice at improving every client contact, from the initial sales call to product delivery.  You’ve worked on improving the training and technical support.  But your company is still losing money on every sale.  Things take too long and there are too many mistakes.

The problem may be in how the departments work together.  Just as in a relay race each runner can be fast but if the passing of the baton is inefficient the race is lost.  Actually, a relay race is a poor example because the athletes compete in the same sport.  You don’t have a runner passing the baton to a swimmer who then passes the baton to a bicyclist.  In the business world, you have the product developers turning the product to installers who then turn it over to the trainers.  Each group thinks differently.  That’s why you hired them.  You want your quality assurance people to be constantly thinking of all the things that can go wrong.  You want your salespeople to think that your product has no defects.  

How do you get the teams to work together when each has different concerns and priorities?  A simple checklist can reduce the friction between areas.  Each step of the process needs to be on the list. Each step needs to have an owner.  The entire process also needs an owner.  Without someone watching the big picture quality will suffer.

The checklist might include ‘pass the baton from your right hand to the left hand of the next runner’.  Some coach or management consultant decided a right to left hand pass is the most efficient.  Maybe it is maybe it isn’t.  Unless you also have a specific step on your checklist for feedback, you may never know.  Too many companies work with a top down mentality with little room for suggestions from the people actually doing the work.  All the steps needed to complete a task are listed and never changed.  After all the work is done the customer might be questioned to find out if they are happy.  But this is far too late in the process to find out if there is a problem.  The earlier in the work stream the cheaper it is to fix.  Studies indicate that fixing a problem at a client site is 100 times more expensive than fixing it at the start of the process.  

The feedback section allows the worker to say that they found a right hand to left hand pass to be cumbersome or that it works well with the smaller batons but the larger baton needs a left to right hand pass.  Whatever the recommendation, it allows you to improve the process.  All members of the team (runner-swimmer-bicyclist; developer-installer-trainer) benefit from the increased communication.  This might be the only way for others that are not involved in the actual transfer to know that there is a difficulty.  The developer might be able to make a change that makes it easier for the installer to pass the product to the trainer.

The areas that are hardest to control are the borders between functional areas.  People are different that is why they choose different professions.  By building communication points into your processes, you can help your staff to understand each other and provide better service to your customers.  

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; In practice, there is. -Chuck Reid  

What we need to do is learn to work in the system, by which I mean that everybody, every team, every platform, every division, every component is there not for individual competitive profit or recognition, but for contribution to the system as a whole on a win-win basis. -W. Edwards Deming 

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing. -W. Edwards Deming (1900 - 1993)  

Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking. -R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983)

It is not a question of how well each process works, the question is how well they all work together. -Lloyd Dobens and Clare Crawford-Mason, Thinking About Quality  

A leader is someone who steps back from the entire system and tries to build a more collaborative, more innovative system that will work over the long term. -Robert Reich

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