Business process analysis is a complicated process, but the result is often easily retold. Once again we’re featuring some “campfire stories” of great business process improvement here on The Methodology Blog.
The Two Consultants and the Long Journey
The president of a retail warehouse wanted to improve the efficiency of his delivery drivers. He called in two consultants: one who was an expert in route planning and another who had experience building software systems. The president explained: “Our business changes every season with new products, new suppliers, new customers, new roads and new routes. Instead of hiring one of you to solve our problems now, I want you both to work together so we can adjust our systems to meet new needs with a click of the button.
The two consultants very gently tried to explain to the president that this was impossible. No one could build a system capable of adapting to all conceivable circumstances, much less one that could be routinely done without a trained expert. The president resisted. Finally, one of the consultants asked if he could tell a story:
Many years ago, a boy and his father were on a long journey together. They crossed the plains, they climbed over the mountains, and they forded many streams. One day, they happened upon a vast ocean that stood in their way. “Son,” the father said, “we will need to change directions, the great water is blocking our path.” “Father,” the son said, “it’s not a problem. I brought a bucket. I’ll just scoop the water up and move it behind us.”
The president then asked both consultants if he could hire them on a long-term retainer.
The Pipeline and the Envelope
An enormous team of contractors had been hired to build a pipeline that would stretch for hundreds of miles through the barren wilderness. It was very expensive to operate in this remote environment, and so the workers had set up a roving camp and were working around the clock to build the pipeline.
Although the site foreman tried very hard to plan for all possible contingencies, once in a while work would have to slow down and stop completely because of a mechanical failure with one of the machines. The foreman would radio back to base, and team would relax for a few days until the next scheduled delivery truck came rambling down the dirt road. Then, the contractors would get back to work.
Eventually, the project supervisor came to visit the worksite along with several executives from the pipeline company. They arrived by helicopter. During their tour, the portable generator blew a gasket and had to be shut down. In less than a minute, the project supervisor rushed to the helicopter and instructed the pilot to take him back to the supply warehouse. He returned in two hours with a replacement gasket.
The executives were fuming. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to take a helicopter trip?” they shouted. “And our time is very valuable. We sat around for hours with nothing to do! All for a nearly worthless piece of rubber!”
The project supervisor reached into his jacket and took out an envelope and a pen. He estimated the cost of the executives time and the cost of the fuel. Then he estimated the cost of all of the workers salary for the next two days until a delivery truck arrived.
“I have saved you over a hundred thousand dollars,” he explained. “We can save more by keeping a helicopter on standby to fly nearly worthless parts to the jobsite.”
Stay tuned for more campfire stories in future blogs!