The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in China, built, rebuilt, and maintained between the 5th century BCE and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive dynasties. Again, the wall was built to protect the people from attacks.
Managers also have a protection mechanism that is commonly referred to as a “wall.” Some may say that these walls are longer, higher, and stronger than the walls we build from stone and steel. They also seem to be the most difficult to tear down. The garrison mentality is a common theme in Canadian literature and cinema, in both English Canada and French Canada. In texts with the garrison mentality, characters are always looking outward and building metaphorical walls against the outside world. This mentality is assumed to come from part of the Canadian identity that fears the emptiness of the Canadian landscape and fears the oppression of other nations.
I started my career in a manufacturing environment. It took about a month to fully understand the company structure and the walls that separated the managers and their responsibilities from one another. For example, if we needed safety training, we would see the safety manager who had a system for that. The quality department maintained a system for nonconformities and corrective actions, while the human resources department had a system for indoctrination and training of new employees. Production had its system for managing production, purchasing ran its own department, and inspection managed calibration. The list of department responsibilities was long.
Of course, this meant that each department designed its forms differently, and often we needed help understanding how to complete them. The only time we had a glimpse of the big picture was when we had a meeting among managers. I remember sitting down and listening to each manager’s report on the condition of their little nation. It would be a surprise each time, as we never really had access to this information without requesting a report. I was the quality director, and before I’d present my report in these meetings, I could see the fear on the faces of production personnel who would worry about the quantity of rejects, scrap, and costs that I would report for the month. In fact, if I wanted to, I could get creative and report the data in a manner that would lead the president to make decisions in my favor.
Furthermore, when we opened a new manufacturing facility in Vermont, we spent a huge amount of money sending each manager down to train all the new personnel on each system. Even after the training period, forms and logs weren’t completed according to each manager’s wishes.
When computers and networks became a reality, the information technology department was created with a huge wall surrounding it. One of the major issues with IT personnel is that they seem to decide how and what software and hardware will be used without actually working with each department. Each department manager must establish the best way to use the software, even though they aren’t experts in the field. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people typing hundreds or thousands of letters or records that could be accomplished with a simple mail merge.
To make things worse, managers would have no idea on action items or projects without a meeting. For example, if a meeting were held and each manager had to complete a set of action items, the only way another manager would know if those actions had been completed was either to request the information by e-mail or to have another meeting to review the previous meeting’s action items. Think about the associated costs; if a typical meeting among managers lasted 60 minutes and there are 10 managers participating, then each meeting would cost the equivalent of 10 manager hours. If a manager’s hourly overhead cost is $50.00, then each meeting would cost the company $500.00. If, as in most companies, these managers met at least twice each week, then the cost per year is $52,000.00. The sad part is that if every second meeting is held to review and follow-up on the previous meeting’s action items, then the cost per year just to follow-up on action items is $26,000.00.
The walls don’t stop here. As executive managers, how do we know that all calibrations are completed on time without asking for an e-mail report from the calibration department? How do we know how effective our corrective actions are or if they’re all completed on time? This list is very long and may include updates on training, purchasing, human resources, preventive action, document management, and more. To obtain a complete picture on the health of the organization, we would need to request many reports. Because it takes so much work to see through these walls into each department’s section, we don’t do it often. Therefore, we’re always reacting to rather than preventing problems.
Another task necessitated by these walls is coordinating everyone’s expertise in solving each problem while making the best use of the company’s people. Communication between managers depends on the proactive manager enlisting the reactive managers.
One day I asked myself, why not create a three dimensional, live, real-time system that incorporates all information within a company? Why not have all the forms the same so that when you learn to fill out one form, you could easily fill out all the forms? Why not have training videos that walk personnel through the steps required and are available to everyone instantly on demand? Why not have systems that can report every late action item, calibration, corrective action, and more? Why can we not create a system that reminds managers daily of all of their commitments and responsibilities, so that they don’t forget? Why not eliminate paper and save the environment, especially the trees that we love up here in Canada? These are some of the questions that I used to challenge my colleagues to provide a solution for everyone in all industries. Other initial requirements included:
There were many more factors to consider, but within three years of continued development and a relentless focus we finally had a system that broke down the walls. We called it continuous improvement software (CIS).
CIS changed the way companies managed. Managing a company with outdated information and paper-based procedures, forms, logs, and more is close to impossible in this high-speed, zero-tolerance era. Managers with outdated and insufficient information end up making decisions based on their perception of the issues rather than the facts.
Our CIS includes a sound management process, documented procedures, and a paperless CIS software solution that takes the mystery and frustration out of management. The CIS cross-platform design uses the x-engineering methodology to improve customer-supplier communication and performance, so CIS manages by transparency.
CIS software is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, a software delivery model where a vendor develops a web-native software application, and then hosts and operates (either independently or through a third-party) the application for use by its customers over the internet. Customers pay for using the software, not for owning it. They use it through an application programming interface that is accessible over the web and often written using web services or REST. The term SaaS has become the industry-preferred term, generally replacing the earlier terms application service provider (ASP) and on-demand.
In addition to including all quality requirements from ISO 9001 and AS 9100, we also included these requirements in each module’s help files along with five-minute training videos so that everyone can learn the parts of the system that they need on-demand. Training is a breeze and certification to a standard such as ISO 9001 is simple.
We didn’t stop there. We realized that every company needs sales and customer service, so we included a complete customer relationship management (CRM) model for success.
CRM is a customer-centric business strategy to maximize profitability, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Technologies that support this include the capture, storage, and analysis of customer, vendor, partner, and internal-process information. Functions that support this business purpose include sales, marketing, customer service, training, professional development, performance management, human resource development, and compensation. Technology to support CRM initiatives must be integrated as part of an overall customer-centric strategy. Many CRM initiatives have failed because implementation was limited to software installation without alignment to a customer-centric strategy. All of these CRM requirements are integrated into one CRM solution including the cross-platform communication capability of CIS, which is why CIS continuous improvement software excels in CRM.
Finally, we included instant reporting in a graphical format and an available spreadsheet format that may be viewed and downloaded. These reports include everything from the cost of nonconformities per month by criteria and/or customer to financial and action list reports.
All this resulted in one bottom line: No more walls. Every manager can now see what’s going on throughout the company. Decisions can be made with the latest information based on fact and not creative reports generated weeks too late.
As a business owner or executive manager, I could be sitting on a beach in Hawaii and log into my CIS management system to obtain all information and reports, and ascertain the health of my company in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, customers can access the system and obtain information about their products or services instantly. They can also add value and enter complaints or compliments directly into CIS so that actions are automatically established and sent to the applicable managers.