He’s just a numbers guy.

In the business of managing business there is one skill that should be prized as much as an M.B.A. or any other certification. That is the ability to appropriately plot data. Here is a link to a blog discussing the underutilized orbit chart.

Orbit charts, and why you should use them.

But to appropriately measure and plot the data one needs to be a bit of a numbers guy. One of the slurs received as a management consultant is “he’s a numbers guy.” It’s true. I am a numbers guy. What is missed in the epithet many times is the speaker’s concession, “I’m afraid of what the numbers reveal.”

Numbers are data points and reflect aggregated decisions/non-decisions. When plotted appropriately, the data points may tell a story. That story may be directly correlated to the quality of the decisions/non-decisions by the decision makers. For example in the Orbit Chart blog is a chart showing the cyclical tradeoff between productivity and quality.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a manufacturer who overcame a bottleneck a few years ago by investing in the highest output machine of its kind. To no surprise, the bottleneck shifted as sales ballooned. But because everyone was so enamored with the new toy, no one was watching for the shift. Result, on time delivery dropped below 50%, late delivery penalties of 5% per day increased, shipping costs soared to expedite late deliveries, and customers grew unhappy with the experience. The operating profit before the hits was 4%. The company was near extinction, which meant all jobs there were at risk.

So here I come on the scene with a project charter to source and implement corrective actions on the fountainhead of undesirable effects (UDE’s). Using intuition, interviews, and frameworks designed to uncover the UDE’s, my sights became set on a workgroup. This began the quest for data to validate or invalidate the initial hypothesis. In this case the initial hypothesis was validated.

This particular workgroup had for years been neglected/ignored by senior management and mostly middle management. All of a sudden the workgroup finds itself in a fishbowl. They are then being measured in some critical areas. Middle management is now focusing on the pace of this workgroup to set the pace for the front end of the business and learning how to increase the output of the troubled workgroup.

Senior management was concerned with feedback that ‘he’s just a numbers guy.” Would the efforts fail with such resistance? The fact we were having this conversation told me that senior management had a problem with using data to make better decisions. And I had better get them on-board or the whole project would be doomed. My conversation with them went along the lines of

1) the story of your performance is not good

2) not good as measured by the numbers you determined were critical

3) that is the current story

4) want to tell a different story?

5) we’ll have to achieve different results

6) results as measured by the same or more relevant data

7) so let’s use the numbers as milestones to reflect the quality of decisions along the journey and not be afraid

Ensuring senior management was on-board was critical to success. So far the results are promising. Output is increasing from the workgroup, on time deliveries increased dramatically, expedited shipping costs have declined, and no one has left who was not invited by senior management to leave.


About Consulting With Results
Experienced Consultant focused on delivering results across various industries, and throughout the value chain.

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