5 Steps to Close the Workaround Gap - Part 2/2

This is part 2/2 of the Workaround Gap series. Click here for the first part.

5 Steps to Close the Workaround Gap - Part 2/2

You know what a workaround is, right?

You have a problem, but you’re in a rush and don’t have time to figure out what’s causing it or how to fix it properly, so you find a quick fix until you can get to it later. Except you don’t usually come back to it later. Right? We’ve all been there.

The Workaround Gap

The Workaround Gap happens in your business when you keep using quick fixes for problems without solving for the real business need. You keep leaving the hard work for another day. If you do this a few times it’s ok. If you keep stacking workarounds on top of workarounds, you end up with a process that is the sum of your workarounds – which is usually a total mess!

Workaround Gap Chart

Common symptoms include:

  • Frustration, stress and ultimately employee turnover
  • Manual reports, rework and delays
  • Errors that lead to bad decisions
  • otherwise known as - Excel Hell!

So how do you get out of Workaround Hell?

Workaround Gap Steps summarized

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5 Steps to Help you Close the Workaround Gap

Step 1: Acknowledge you have a problem

 

An Excel 1999 icon sitting on a therapists chair

 

There may not be a Workaround support group (yet...) but always choosing the workaround solution without getting at the root cause is a symptom of a culture. And it usually starts at the TOP!

If you have a culture of quick fixes, then as the leader you need to consider your role in building that culture.

  • Do you ask questions about the process when faced with a problem?
  • Do you work to find the root cause?
  • Or do you react quickly, ask whose fault it is, and yell:

“Fix it - quick!”

If you want to change, let your team know this is not the culture you want, and you need their help to change it. Thank people who point out the problems with a "Quick Fix" approach. People need to trust that they aren’t going to get in trouble by pointing out problems.

 If you want to break a pattern, empower your people to call you out on it

 

Step 2:  Ask lots of Why Questions

CEO asking Why

 

When faced with a problem, most of us want to jump to finding solutions. Or find out who messed up!

But if you really want to understand the root cause of a problem - start asking questions. Find out what happened earlier that led to the error.

Focus your questions on why the process didn't work, instead of who made the mistake.

Let people know that they aren't in trouble - you want to understand where the process went wrong. Even if someone made an error, focus on the process that allowed the error to happen and not be caught.

 

Step 3: Map out the current process

Treasure map. X marks the spot.

Most process maps are done by a junior person interviewing people one at a time and trying to connect the steps in a complicated chart in Visio. They aren't very helpful!

What you really want to do is understand what the business is trying to do vs. what actually happens as transactions flow through the system.

Focus on the pain points and look for the root causes.

How do you do that? Bring the people who understand what you are doing & why into a room, and talk it out! Rough drawings on a whiteboard are just fine. Map out a function from end to end. It's not Sales vs. Accounting. It's order to cash and everything that happens in between.

The key here is that EVERY team involved in the process must have a rep in the room. Someone who can speak for that team and knows what’s going on.

You’ll be amazed at what happens when you do this. Everyone in the room quickly sees how ridiculous the current process is. Because most processes haven’t been consciously designed. Processes grow incrementally. They are the sum of good intentions + many workarounds stacked on top of each other. Usually with a team of junior people who are afraid to say anything filling in the gaps as best they can.

BAD PROCESS = good intentions + (workarounds x workaround) + staff + excel!

 

 Step 4: Categorize Your Pain Points

Pain points. Netflix Expiring. Bad Hair Day. Climate Change. Everything Hurts.

 

Next, focus on the Pain Points, identifying symptoms as well as root causes.

Look for quick wins to fix - these are not workarounds!

Small improvements can have an immediate impact and are great for building momentum.

Put the remaining improvements that need more work to implement into 3 buckets:

  1.  Systems issues - common ones include data integrity, system reports that don’t work, gaps in functionality, or systems that don’t talk to each other
  2.  Process issues - when invoices aren't processed on time, the sales forecast is missing the latest deals, the volume rebate cheques are wrong and never make it to the customer on time
  3.  People issues - staff don’t know why they are doing their piece of the process, people aren’t empowered to solve problems that start in other departments, teams are short-staffed, no training…..you get the picture!

 

 Step 5: Start Fixing!

Plumber holding a wrench near a leaky faucet

 

Now it’s time to prioritize the issues & opportunities.

You should already have an established process to execute on projects.

Use that - don’t reinvent the wheel. Start small, and then move onto the bigger the pain points.

  Start small - fix it, learn, and repeat

Often the biggest win is teaching teams how to COLLABORATE. Once the team upstream sees that their actions are causing problems for the team downstream, they will collaborate with their teammates to find a WIN-WIN approach that will work for both.

Empower your teams to solve their problems

Every problem does not need an expensive IT fix. So next time something goes wrong and there is a fire to put out - think about whether this is the WORKAROUND GAP at work - and use these 5 steps to start to fix it.

If you want to start fixing your Workaround Gaps and don't know where to start - connect with me and let's chat!

 

Workaround Gap Summary slide


Is your business stuck in Workaround Hell? Part 1/2

What is the Workaround Gap Part 1 of 2

The Workaround Gap happens in your business when you accounting team quick fixes for problems without solving for the real business need. You keep leaving the hard work for another day. If you do this a few times it’s ok. If you keep stacking workarounds on top of workarounds, you end up with an accounting process that is the sum of your workarounds – which is usually a total mess!

Here's a funny story my friend Joe told me when I first explained the Workaround Gap. I’m sure many of you have a similar story!

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“I bought my “Honda Testarossa”- a 1985 Honda Accord from a smiling curbside dealer. I was in my early twenties and I needed a car to commute to school and work. Not a month later it started stalling every time I stopped at a light. 

Car broken down - caption "will this work"

My solution was to either switch into neutral and rev the engine or hold the brake and gas at the same time while stopped. (what could go wrong?!

This workaround only lasted so long before I had to pay a Honda dealer $800 (a small fortune for a student!) to rebuild part of the engine. 

 The car made it halfway down the road before stalling again!

 Furious, I managed to start the car, put it in reverse, reach up to adjust my rear-view at which time the “SNAP” of the mirror coming off in my hand made me freeze in place. I looked at my right hand holding the no-longer-connected mirror and registered the clattering sound of the engine DYING AGAIN!  

After screaming a few choice words that can’t be repeated, I had a moment of clarity:

"I began to understand that it wasn’t going to get better - just worse"

Even with my moment of clarity, it took another 6 months for me to get rid of the car!  I had to suffer even MORE PAIN before being willing to take action…the horn got stuck in the ON position before completely falling off, the glove box latch stopped working and the transmission had to be replaced.”

“if only I had known it would cost me thousands more I wouldn’t have kept the car so long”

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I know what you’re thinking. Nothing he could do about it! Hindsight is 20/20.

But is it really?

If you took the time to really understand the problems, the likelihood they would happen again, and properly come up with a plan, you would avoid a lot of the trouble you get into over and over again!

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 Your Workaround Gap 

So what does this look like at work? Here's a real-life story of a successful fast-growing company.

You start with one service or product and a few customers

  • The sales team gets selling, operations figures out how to deliver your product or service. Accounting sets up invoicing, and collections, pays the bills and you get a monthly P&L to see how much money you’ve made.
  • Nothing too complicated - right? You already know in your head how much your prices and costs are, so you know what you should be making roughly, and when you see your total P&L it confirms what you thought.

You want to grow, so you add some new products

  • Operations has to make changes to the equipment to accommodate the different skus you’re now making, but they make it work. After all - when new sales are on the line - it’s all hands on deck! Just duct-tape the new packaging machine that isn't working properly and figure it out later.
  • Customer service didn’t know about the new products till the first order went through, so they quickly enter the details into the accounting system last minute to get the invoices out. They copied the format of the previous products. Why does it matter that some of these products use more expensive components, or are Private Label?

Sales lands an amazing new customer - the first in the US! 

"Woo-hoo let’s celebrate!"

  • How much are taxes and duties crossing the border in the US? Don’t worry about that, figure it out later...
  • Just use the current exchange rate for now to set the price
  • A new customer wants some rebates to close the deal - a signing bonus, some volume rebates, and some promotional spending money. The rebates are on all the sales, including the private label. But you will still make a killing on the account because the margin on branded is so good, so let’s just get it done!

First 6 months of sales the results are amazing!

  • Lots of new revenue is getting booked, so when the monthly statements come in, nobody asks any questions because the $$$ is pouring in.
  • Let’s go get some more products and customers!

And repeat, repeat, repeat! What could go wrong?

To humorously show the accounting process in shambles.

6 months later….

  • Sales volumes still look good,
  • but gross margins are dropping.
  • Operations costs keep running higher than planned, and
  • profits are falling.....

The CEO runs around demanding more answers! 

"What’s going on?"

  • Every team is pulling excel sheets together digging for answers.
  • Sales is trying to find answers - the only problem is the rebates aren’t in the sales cube so their numbers are wrong.
  • The Finance team is working late trying to figure out why the margins are dropping - but the ERP system doesn’t track the products and costs in the right categories, and the volume rebates are all in complicated manual excel files.

And then your largest customer sends in a bill for all of last year’s rebates, ON TOP of your declining margins.

This is going to wipe out all the profit for the quarter.

You hear the CEO screaming again:

"WHAT IS GOING ON?!"

People are stressed, and can’t give answers, no matter how loud the CEO yells!

Boat sinking. Man holding sign asking to send help.

This is what happened: (it usually takes months to figure out)

  • New products weren’t set up in the right categories to track margin by product type and brand
  • You sold much more Private label than expected, so your product mix was worse
  • Private label margins were much lower than branded
  • Duties and taxes crossing the border weren't considered in the price
  • You based all our assumptions on the exchange rate at the time - and of course the USD weakened, so now your sales are worth less than planned
  • Sales and Finance didn’t talk to each other about the new customers, so volume rebates weren’t calculated and accrued properly from Day 1, leading to a giant catch-up adjustment a year later

These are just the process issues! What - there’s more?

On top of all this there are Systems Problems:

  • your ERP system can’t do any of the rebate calculations
  • you can’t track product margin by category
  • and your sales cube doesn’t include all the costs

Operations has a whole host of their own problems because of the sku complexity

  • they have built too much of the wrong inventory because sales forecasts are wrong,
  • your customers are screaming for products because you're late delivering,
  • so now as a last resort you are flying in products to make your customers happy
  • which is costing you even MORE money!

How did it all go so wrong?

When you look for the quick solution every time to keep going, and don’t work together across functions to solve problems with real processes.  The stacking of multiple workarounds makes this more and more frustrating as complexity increases.

Workaround Gap Chart

Common symptoms include:

  • Frustration, stress and ultimately employee turnover
  • Manual reports, rework and delays
  • Errors that lead to bad decisions
  • otherwise known as - Excel Hell!

The Finance team in growing companies is trying to support the company’s increasing demands and complexity. They have done their best with workarounds and repairs but they aren't allowed to pull over or even slow down.

Instead, leaders keep pressing the gas even harder as sales, marketing and operations increasingly demand more. My friend Joe likes to say:

"It’s like changing the transmission, screwing hubcaps on and rebuilding the carburetor while driving as fast as you can."

Obviously, you need to move with speed when necessary. But you need to know when the RISKS outweigh the benefits, and to actually make conscious choices about cutting corners.

Otherwise, you will find yourself driving down the highway in a 1985 Honda with a duct-taped steering wheel, holding your rear-wheel mirror in your hand, hoping the brakes still work!

So how do you get off the Workaround Highway-to-Hell? Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series next week:

5 Steps to Help you Close the Workaround Gap

Share Your Workaround Gap!

What’s the craziest workaround story you have? Share them in the comments below!

 

Read Part 2 of the blog post here on the five ways to solve your workaround gap problems