Monday, April 4, 2011

Conceive - Purchase Order Calculator

Recently an attendee of one of my presentations asked me about the 4 C's. After answering her question, I realized that I should probably take something through the 4 Cs and explain how each one came about. I decided to use an example from my time as a Project Manager. I will talk about each stage and how I implemented the upgrade (and how it went a lot further than I expected).

As a Project Manager, I ran into a particular situation that seemed to be taking a lot of time from my days and weeks. At the time, the PM reviewed each Sales Order (SO) that initiated the demand for the projects. After the SOs are confirmed, we reviewed the Purchase Orders sent to the individual manufacturing plants. Each plant has a different rule for the value of that Purchase Order. When you are talking about 33 different facilities, that is a lot of rules to remember. Now the unfortunate thing was that the rules also changed based on which business group was releasing the PO and what country was the location of the issuer and the receiver. The end result was a list of rules and a giant table that PMs, Order Managers, and the various facilities all needed to abide by. Now, here is the fun part... the system did not automate the values, so each PO was determined by an actual physical calculator on somebody's desk, or some other "human" factor.

After about 4 months on the job, I realized how much time I was spent determining PO values, confirming PO values, and arguing with the individual plants about those values and how that value was correct because of such and such rule. On average I was spending roughly 4-5 hours a week in conversations related one way or another to this topic. Unfortunately, I realized that most of my fellow PMs were experiencing the same problem.

This was the identification of an improvement. I saw a need. We could save hours and hours of emails, phone calls, and fingers to keyboards and calculators if I could find a way to "automate" the process. That is only the beginning of Conceive. I knew there was a need and determined a potential way to fill it. However this isn't the full step of Conceive.

The FULL steps included a list of resources (I tried to recruit help, but, as is typical with most projects that don't come from above, everyone was "busy"), an evaluation of what those resources could contribute, a schedule to move forward, and most importantly, an end goal to work towards. In this case I knew my talents, which made parts 1 and 2 easy. I am not a computer programmer. Anyone reading this who knows SQL will probably cringe, but I decided that I was Microsoft Excel savvy enough to build logic statements to determine the criteria for which rule to take effect.

I couldn't work on this during company time, instead I needed to do this at home. I didn't want to take away from time with my new born son, so that meant after he went to bed. I would work on this from 8-10 PM on weeknights (and try to slide in weekends). But that wasn't specific enough. I picked Thursdays as the day of the week that I would work on this (Monday being Heroes night; Tuesday was Toastmaster prep night; Wednesday was Toastmaster presentation or PMI night, and Friday was quality time with the wife!). What about the remainder of the timetable? I decided that 3 months is long enough to create an Excel spreadsheet and present it to my boss (who, by the way, didn't know I was working on this). The end goal for this project was a spreadsheet that anyone could use to determine PO values regardless of which production facility the PO went to. Calculation time would drop dramatically because only contract data would be needed. And, if the spreadsheet was viable, it would cut the arguments down as well, since the formulas were built in! Ambitious, but I thought completely doable. My solution was Conceived. 

Next week, I'll talk about how I Communicated my plan to my coworkers, the order processing group, and my boss; not to mention my lovely wife. In 2 weeks, I'll discuss the Command portion, with the actual execution, test cases, and adoption. Finally, Closing, with Lessons Learned and a rather startling discovery. I hope you stick with me!

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