Friday, February 23, 2018

Questions vs. Answers

“You can tell if a man is clever by his answers, you can tell if a man is wise by his questions.” 

- Naguib Mafouz, 1988 winner of the Nobel prize for literature.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How companies often waste time and money

As a consultant, I find these three areas as the biggest cause of business waste:

1. Meetings - Inevitably, meetings in organizations become inefficient, dragging on affairs.  Why?
     a. Managers focus on inputs (bureaucracy) vs. outputs (customer value).  They equate meetings with accomplishment.
     b. Over-scheduled Managers send subordinates who can't make decisions.
     c. Risk adverse employees continually rehash discussions rather than commit to taking action.

2. Documentation - While documenting procedures are important, companies fail in this area because:

     a. Over-documenting—even trivial procedures are formally documented.
     b. Over-complicated formats—resulting in the actual task being easier than its documentation.  This causes project delays.
     c. Documents tend to be officially stored on overcrowded servers, making it difficult for employees to retrieve.

3. Failure Work - Work is not done right the first time and needs to be redone because:

     a. The outcome and/or process wasn't originally communicated properly.
     b. The proper resources (people, time, budget) weren't originally sufficiently allocated.
     c. Subordinates did not understand, but were afraid to ask questions.

My February 2018 "Chicago Business Journal" Column

I wrote this month's column on Grubhub's deal with Taco Bell and KFC is evidence of two new trends in restaurant technology.

Inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame

Last week, I received one of the biggest honors in the field of consulting. I was one of several outstanding global consultants from diverse disciplines who was inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame on February 15 at a ceremony at The Bernardus Inn, Carmel, California conducted by Alan Weiss, PhD, the globally-acclaimed “consultant’s consultant.” Criteria for membership in this elite group include: • Serving as an exemplar to others in the profession. • Manifesting the highest levels of integrity, ethics, and accountability. • Contributing intellectual capital to the consulting profession. • Engaging in continuing, challenging, personal and professional development.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Best Practices for Businesses to Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS)

As a business consultant and specialist in simplicity/productivity, I've worked with many fast-growing clients to create SOPs.

1. Why SOPs:

    If operations and knowledge aren't written down, then they will live in the heads of a few, key employees.  This results in those employees being overworked while other employees are underutilized due to lack of knowledge.

2. Priorities:

    SOPs should first be used to create those processes which are used 80% of the time during the workday.  After that, the less common (usually more complex) tasks can be written down as they occur.

3. How To Get Started:

   Have the person who is currently knowledgable of the task write down the steps as they are actually performing the task.  This way, they are less likely to leave out any steps.  Then, the next time the same task needs to be done, a new person should do the task while following the SOP, with the expert observing.  This will help them streamline the process and discover any missing steps.

4. Important:

  One important thing about SOPs, that I have learned from some of my clients, is that the SOP should be written simply, and be easily accessible to all necessary employees.  

I once had a bank as a client who recorded SOPs in a formal, wordy format (with unnecessary details) and stored it on a crowded internal network.  People didn't use it because it was much easier to ask people informally than to locate and read through the entire document.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When You Get Pushback Against Innovation From Within The Organization...

Serving as an innovation consultant for a recent large client, I met a lot of resistance.   The product/sales side was very interested in innovative new products/services that they could offer their customers, to be more competitive within their industry. The IT division, on the other hand, put up a lot of resistance. They prided themselves on stability, and were afraid of making changes to the system. They also wanted to focus their resources on upgrading existing systems. On the other hand, they also considered themselves to be the "innovation leaders" of the company, and didn't want outside consultants or groups talking or promoting innovation. We finally reduced their resistance by reminding them that they are critical partners, and would always have an important role in innovation. We also told them that they need to see themselves as "facilitators of innovation", rather than having to innovate themselves. They should think of themselves as an "internal cloud services" start-up that enables the rest of the company to create solutions for their customers.

2018 Technology Trends

As a business/technology consultant, I'm seeing these 3 trends among my clients:

1. More portable workspaces, where units within companies use their own cloud-based tools, rather than what IT provides them.  IT simply provides a secure interface for them to access company systems/data.

2. More adoption of AR (augmented reality) through glasses and phone apps, to allow employees to work in hybrid physical/digital spaces.

3. More exploration of using blockchain technology to track financial transactions and to track products through the supply chain.  This will especially be used more for tracing food recalls back to their sources and for proving eco-friendly and ethical sourcing.

Three Productivity Tips

Productivity tips I learned from Alan Weiss (@BentleyGTCSpeed):

1. Get a paper calendar planner that shows each month at a glance.

2. Forget work-life balance,use calendar to track both work/personal.

3. Don't make to-do list—treat tasks as appointments & schedule on calendar.

Ikea's Ingvar Kamprad and Simplicity

Ikea's late founder knew the value of simplicity in business.

A recent WSJ obituary mentioned that he resisted pressure to tailor the company's products for each local market, because "that would have added complexity and raised prices."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Future AI Technology Neither Panacea Nor Threat

I contributed to this "Society for the Advancement of Consulting" Press Release:,2018153611.aspx

Ease, A Slower Pace, Less Chaos

People today are thirsty for ease, a slower pace, and less chaos.  I think it's a reaction to our times, which I called the "Attention Scarcity Age". We have left the Information Age. Now, we are drowning in information and big data. We tweet in sound bites and rush around, always on call. This is one of the reasons that Strategic Simplicity® is so important for businesses today. Your customers, employees, and suppliers are all overworked and overwhelmed. You are fighting to attract their attention and loyalty. One of the best ways is through incorporating simplicity throughout your business. I help my clients with 4 types of simplicity: change simplicity, market simplicity, decision simplicity, and user simplicity.

The Hard Truth of Becoming an Entrepreneur

As the owner of a solo consulting firm, I'm an entrepreneur myself and also work with other small businesses.  As I learned from my mentor Alan Weiss, the hard truth about being an entrepreneur is that, no matter what product or service you provide, your main business is marketing (not sales).

Especially for services, cold calling doesn't really work, since we are in the Attention Scarcity Age.  People are bombarded with pitches, emails, social media posts, etc.  

Somehow, entrepreneurs need to break out of the noise and attract prospects to come to them.  The insidious thing is that this issue doesn't manifest itself right away.  Most entrepreneurs have enough connections that they can attract customers for a year or two.  But, then business starts to dry up and they find that they need to attract people outside their circle.

This is the hard truth of entrepreneurship: either build a pipeline to keep providing prospects, or else suffer feast or famine.

Think Like An Entrepreneur: Continuing Education and Reinvention

What I love best about being an entrepreneur is that I control the training budget, and can pay for any training I feel will increase my value to my clients and give me a great ROI.  

When I was in the corporate world, even in management, training was one of the first things that were cut to reduce expenses and I felt that, rather than invest in keeping employee's skills updated, corporations were willing to simply replace them when new skills were needed. 

So, even if you are an employee, in this case it pays to think of yourself as an entrepreneur.  Be willing to invest in yourself, and keep your skills relevant.  

Don't let your career stagnate.   Look for opportunities to reinvent what you do.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Praveen's Strategic Simplicity® Framework

My Strategic Simplicity® framework helps leaders dramatically drive business growth and improvement.

Here are the components:

1. Change Simplicity -  This refers to thinking about a transformation / project as a TV series as opposed to a movie. We should break change into phases, or “micro projects,” that can be implemented iteratively. “Rinse and Repeat,” as the wisdom of the shampoo bottle tells us. This way, we can easily adjust to changing marketplace relevance.

2. Market Simplicity This is about stating the “Why” of the project as succinctly and clearly as we can, so everyone understands what results we want. It is also about prioritizing, clarifying, and triaging business requirements, so that we focus on only implementing change that is strategic to the business. Transformations and projects are successful when the outcomes are relevant, stated simply, and clearly worded. Many problems occur not because of technical issues, but because of communication issues.

3. Decision Simplicity Having to make decisions based on ambiguity and/or having too many options results in paralysis by analysis. We need to narrow choices and filter information in a way that allows apple-to-apple comparisons. All through the project—from strategy through implementation– we need to be able to synthesize information to make timely, informative decisions.

4. User Simplicity  Most companies are aware of the need for positive user experiences for their customers, but they neglect their “internal customers” (employees). Many technology companies have employees straining to be productive on internal systems with clunky interfaces that they would never sell to their customers. Timely implementation success depends on teams being able to work effectively, without having to deal with unessential road blocks.