Many of LMT's articles stem from things we experience here. When the editorial team cooked up the theme for this month's issue, for example, you might say we were all "steamed up." We, too, have business problems that need to be solved.
In fact, the last quarter of 2011 was a whopper that tested our mettle but with our issues now behind us, we emerged sleeker and wiser for our trials and tribulations. Sometimes the solution to one problem resolves others you don't even realize are nagging at your heels. Here are some issues we've had that may resonate with you:
PROBLEM: How can I ensure I'm investing in the right software technologies?
STRATEGY: Sometimes you can't know what "right" is until you try it. The ideal strategy is one that enables you to test a system before incorporating it. Whenever that's possible, that's the way to go.
For us, the challenge was to select a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software program that could be customized for our needs. Because of the customization requirement, we couldn't "test" it beyond the demo package.
We worked with the system's software engineers for many long and grueling hours to get the customization right but, once in use, many of our processes seemed to take twice as long as they did beforehand. After thousands of dollars and lots of effort--along with patience to make sure our frustration wasn't caused by a steep learning curve--we gleefully gave segments of the CRM the old "heave ho," thereby ending a long nightmare of aggravation.
Lesson learned: just because a process can be automated doesn't mean it should be automated! Though we are huge fans of digital technology and lean thinking, we also convinced ourselves that not all company functions should be centralized.
PROBLEM: In our quest to become more efficient--to incorporate lean manufacturing principles--we find resistance from some of our customers. How do we get them on board with the changes we've made?
STRATEGY: When you take the red pill over the blue or choose to zig while others zag, you have to draw that line in the sand to state "this is the side I'm on" when adapting new technologies. Getting digitally "outfitted" usually requires a significant investment, not just in time and money, but in customer service follow through so you don't leave your customers hanging when you change your processes.
Since September, we've been advertising The BRIDGE—our new, interactive community resource at LMTmag.com—to explain that ALL LAB DAY registration is taking place via this new interface. To make sure Users have a go-to person to help with any questions or concerns, we hired Lauren Meehan as our Online Media Strategist. Her job is to oversee all issues related to The BRIDGE.
This new registration process—which requires a unique email address—enables us to work faster, better and smarter. It eliminates hundreds of hours we used to spend after each show deciphering handwritten registration cards used to update your subscriber information. Postal regulations require these updates; now, for those attending the show or becoming a User on The BRIDGE, it's a simple, one-step update!
Nevertheless, Lauren has received about a dozen phone calls from irate subscribers who did not want to use an email address to sign up for LAB DAY.
Though we don't relish the idea of leaving anyone out, we can no longer justify using our outmoded system. Anyone can create an email address; it's free, but more importantly, it is integral to the way the workforce of the new millennium functions.
We feel those who are not able or willing to take even this small step will find themselves at a great disadvantage as the entire world continues to be transformed by digital processes. So, even though we put resources in place [in the form of Lauren] to help the transition, we've drawn the line in the sand to say this is one way in which we are embracing "lean" and, at the same time, helping to lead our community forward.
PROBLEM: How do I ensure quality control when training several new employees at the same time?
STRATEGY: Document your procedures.
About 10 years ago, when LMT was experiencing growing pains, the editorial team created a how-to document for new hires called "LMT 101" which itemizes who does what at the company, provides step-by-step procedures and detailed deadlines, and includes department specifics about our organization and workflow.
When you're extremely familiar with the way things are done, it's challenging and time consuming to put it all down on paper but it's invaluable in the long run.
This fall we hired several new team members within weeks of one another. We quickly came to appreciate this all-encompassing and written manual so that a new staff member can hit the ground running. It is fluid, meaning as our processes change or we add new ones, it's continuously updated.