Monday, May 9, 2011

Complete - The Purchase Order Calculator

Earlier I mentioned that the Purchase Order Calculator was picked up by a manager and made mandatory for her group, so you might think, what else is there to Complete? A LOT! One manager doesn't come close to the total impact of this particular excel spreadsheet. Once the ball was rolling, I scrambled to do my Completion cycle. I approached my manager with the new tool, who promptly pointed me to his "golden child" for her stamp of approval. This was expected, and the only nit-picking she could do was asking for more decimal points in the calculations (when figuring out dollars and cents, why would you need to go beyond two decimals?). My manager say the "improvement" and told me to reduce it to to to the 2 decimal points that were part of the original concept.

After approaching my manager, and getting his sign off, it became a common tool for the Project Management Group. It was very well received (mostly because no thought was involved). The next group that got the tool was the rest of the Order Management Group. The original manager who saw the calculator was from this group, but she hadn't shared it with her boss, or the other managers from the group (at my request). Instead, I asked her to work with me to present the calculator to her boss and other managers. I received the credit for creating it, but she talked about the impact to her team and why the rest of the Order Management Group should use it. It became a mandatory attachment to all outgoing Purchase Orders. Once the facilities got use to the calculator, it dramatically reduced the amount of time spent arguing over how much the PO should be for, and why. Overall it was a rousing success!

However, that isn't all that is involved in "Complete." What about Lesson's Learned? From this experience, I learned:
1. It is important to have (stakeholders) you can trust when working on a "pet project." If the manager who learned of the calculator hadn't trusted me (and I her), this whole endeavour would be blown out of the water before it started.
2. As an extension to number 1, once you have an ally, sometimes their influence is better than yours. The manager proved to be an impartial reviewer, and because she had nothing vested in the project, her enthusiasm was better received than mine.
3. Sometimes it IS better to ask forgiveness than permission. If I had asked to do this, rather than just doing it, I am sure my manager would tell me not to waste my time.
4. Here is the fun one, I stopped with the managers immediately impacted by the project. I should have worked my way up the chain to at least the VP level. Eventually my own calculator was used by a facility in Norway to figure out PO values for the US since the rule applied both ways in that one example.
     a. Honestly, that scared the hell out of me, because the rules were only meant to go from a very specific point of use (a US facility out). I didn't want the calculator used to determine values from Norway to other plants because the rules were different. Voicing my concern got me some face time with the VP of Finance, who asked me to create another version for Norway (I believe her words were "If you can do it once, you can do it again. Let me know when it's done.") That cause me to reach out to contacts in Norway for the rules. I worked closely with an Order Manager to determine the new values and the Norway Purchase Order Calculator was born!
5. The law of unintended consequences... see 4a.
6. Prepare for continuity. I trained three people on how to access, modify, and even build new rules for the Purchase Order Calculator. The reason was simple. What if I got hit by a bus? Or won the lottery? Somebody needed to know how to update/manipulate the new tool, and it couldn't be only the creator. In this way you prepare for succession and continuity.
7, The last one is more of a gripe than anything else. If you have a staff member who works hard on a pet project that saves the company massive amounts of money, then the least you can do is recognize the employee. When I completed the calculator for the PM group, the managers didn't even thank me. When the VP Finance asked me to create one for Norway, the end result was the same. The only thanks I got was from the Order Management group, and that was from the middle managers and employees. I am afraid that there are too many environments like this one, and that is contributing to the number mentioned last week: 83%. If you want to help innovation, if you want to keep your high performers solving problems, then REWARD them when they do perform. Otherwise they will find other areas to expend their effort.

 The calculator continues on, but the US version will soon see it's end. We are migrating to Oracle and the new system will perform the calculations for the employee. The Norway version will live on until Oracle moves to that site (probably a couple of years from now). The US version survived for 3 years, and according to the OM group,saved the company $10 million a year in what was previously wasted effort. That number doesn't count the hours saved by the PM group, and the personnel at the facilities who originally were involved in the arguments. The number also doesn't take into account any savings from the Norway version.  Overall, this was a rousing success. Process improvements is one of the key locations a leader can make an impact, and this is but one example!

I hope you enjoyed this little journey. If you've had experiences like this, please feel free to comment. Thank you!

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