Archive for December, 2014

Final Vision

Posted December 28, 2014 By Fletcher Groves

In recent years, Oswald Chambers’ words have become the final post of the year on Escape from Averageness, the encouragement and assurance we wish to share with our clients, colleagues, and friends, for the year ahead.

 

December 31, 2014

The Final Vision of the Exalted Lord

Matthew 28: 16-20

 

By His Ascension, our Lord raises Himself to glory, He becomes omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

All the splendid power, so circumscribed in His earthly life, becomes omnipotence;  all the wisdom and insight, so precious but so limited during His life on earth, becomes omniscience;  all the unspeakable comfort of the presence of Jesus, so confined to a few in His earthly life, becomes omnipresence, He is with us all the days.

What kind of Lord Jesus have we?  Is He the All-powerful God in our present circumstances, in our present setting?  Is he the All-wise God of our thinking and our planning?  Is He the Ever-present God, “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet”?

If He is, we know what it means to “abide under the shadow of the Almighty”.

 

Still Higher for His Highest, Oswald Chambers (compiled by D.W. Lambert, 1970)

 

“God with us.”

Posted December 13, 2014 By Fletcher Groves

(an updated version of this entry appears on Escape from Averageness every year, at Christmas)

The intrepid, results-based consultant reclined in the desk chair, put her feet on the desk, and smiled, as she thought about her young and still-growing family;  a now, almost two-year old, and another on the way.

Looking around the home office, she thought about the changes that had come from rarely being on the road anymore;  about continuing to be able to work most days in whatever she worked-out in;  about still needing to engineer separation between personal and work life, where before, it had naturally existed.

Her cell phone rang.  It was an old business friend.  “Where are you?”, he asked.

“Home.”

Home.  Simply, home.  The last week of meaningful work for the year.  She was looking forward to a well-deserved break with her family – her ever-larger family – and friends.

They talked about families, about well-being, in some cases, about becoming well again.  The discussion turned towards business.  “How was 2014?”, he finally asked.  “And – how are you doing?  There have been a lot of life-changes.”

“It still feels very different”, she said.  “A lot of the work is now with the production workshops;  I suppose the decision I made years ago – to work where I live, instead of live where I work – pays off when you can host your workshops in a five-diamond resort two miles from your house.  Except for the away conferences and speaking engagements, I do almost all of my work here now.  And – I’ve got this great little guy who needs me, and another on the way.

“In some areas, things that should change never do seem to change;  the eighth year of six-figure declines from personal peak consulting income has been almost as much fun as the first seven.”

It was a very tired joke, told too many times, for too many years.  She thought about the duration and the cost of this housing recession and the economy itself, and shook her head.  It was becoming a lost decade.  She was grateful she could still find a bit of humor in it, but the duration had made it a heavy lift;  she had to count the years on the fingers of both hands to make sure the number of years was right.

“But, you know, The Pipeline continues to sell;  the c-levels seem to be in agreement that these production principles have been missing, and are necessary.  And, the book did result in the growing series of successful public, sponsored workshops;  it’s interesting;  we had established the workshops as a goal more than seven years ago, and it has finally happened.

“Professionally, that’s where I want to be;  as the housing industry returns to whatever the new-normal is, I want to turn more of the road work over to the other consultants.

“In every way that really matters, I am doing very well.”

“In that case, Merry Christmas”, he said.

“Same to you.”

The intrepid, results-based consultant ended her call, rose from her chair, and walked to the fireplace.  She placed another log onto the fire, and watched the glowing embers rise towards the flue;  her mind turned away from work.

She thought about the birth of her own first-born child, the approaching birth of her next child:  the hope and apprehension, the joy and inevitable challenges, the changes to their lives, the newness each birth brought.  Her thoughts turned to Christmas, the one almost here and each one previous.

And, she thought about the first Christmas.

She wondered what the tiny town of Bethlehem must have been like that night, so long ago.  She thought about another young mother and father, who had made their trip with few resources, facing an uncertain future.  She thought about their soon-to-be-born son.  To almost everyone else, he was just another child, born in an insignificant city, into a world under the authority of the Roman Empire.

She considered the character, the attributes of the Creator of the universe, the Author of all that is good, the Lover of her soul.  She thought about His grace and mercy.  She thought about the words of the apostle Paul, buried deep in his first letter to the small group of believers in Corinth, describing faith, hope, and love, the principles of the grace she now pondered.

She leaned further back into her chair and closed her eyes.  “Thank you”, she prayed, softly.

“Thank you for giving me a faith that looks back into history and trusts that the claims this child would one day make about Himself are true, and that every moment of time and event of history either points towards, or proceeds from, that truth.

“Thank you also for giving me a hope that understands eternity means never-ending, not just somewhere-down-the-road;  thank you for giving me a hope that looks forward from the perspective of the eternal life I have right now, but also understands that, one day, this world – with its share of both joy and pain, and varying degrees of fulfillment – will end, and I will live, constantly and eternally, in Your presence.”

The intrepid, results-based consultant thought about a final point of gratitude, mindful of all the distractions to purposeful living that daily life could present.

“And, thank you for giving me a love that will sustain me, motivate me, and give me purpose and perspective, until either Christ returns, or until You call me home.”

The intrepid, results-based consultant thought about the events of that night, so long ago.  There was a birth.  Later, there would be a death and a resurrection.  In between, there would be an earthly life.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  (John 1:4).  Her thoughts were about newness and life.

“And you shall call His name Immanuel.”  (Is. 7:14)

“God with us.”

 

Pipeline Workshops: Learning Beyond The Builder 20 Club Level

Posted December 7, 2014 By Fletcher Groves

SAI Consulting has benefited from its long involvement in the homebuilding industry, so we make a point of giving back to the industry, particularly at the trade association level.  For many tears, we have been presenters at IBS;  when we are asked to speak at Builder 20 Club meetings, our policy is to waive the fee portion of our work.

Earlier this year, I was asked to make a presentation at one of the Builder 20 Club Fall meetings;  the requested topic was improving cycle time, and the request was for a presentation spanning eight hours.

Since cycle time improvement is not really an eight-hour topic, I thought it would be more beneficial for this B-20 Team’s members if I presented a contextual view of cycle time, using the production principles and disciplines we teach in Pipeline workshops, which would also allow us to include the production simulations we use in the workshop.

Following the presentation, I told John Lingerfelt (the NAHB networking groups facilitator for this Builder 20 Club) that, in retrospect, B-20 Club Team gatherings are not well-suited for an eight-hour presentation on this kind of topic, if the same learning objectives used in a Pipeline workshop are applied.

I told him the meeting agenda is distractingly full.  I also told him it is not possible to craft material that will apply uniformly to every club member’s circumstances, business environment, or operation.

I told John, if I had been aware of the B-20 mindset concerning learning objectives – that members preferred to receive information they can take home and quickly implement in their businesses – I would have been more clear with the group at the beginning of the session about how difficult the material is, and that they are not going back to their shops with a few easy-to-implement solutions.

I would have told the group, more emphatically, that improving performance on the velocity side of ROA is extraordinarily hard work, that it requires an extraordinary amount of resolve and persistence to do it.  I would have told them how unsettled the solution is in homebuilding, given the unique attributes of production in this industry.

Several club members approached me to share what they felt had learned, what they thought had been worthwhile about the presentation;  there was agreement on the importance, the relevance, of the material;  it was just not what members wanted – they said the discussion was “a bit too focused on the academic concept and not focused on its practical usage”.

Fine.  I think that is an honest and accurate assessment;  I can live with it.  The next time I do a B-20 Club meeting, I will bullet easy-action items and make it a three-hour presentation.  It was not a waste of time to make this presentation, but it does point to the need for production workshops dedicated to deeper learning.

One of the team’s members said, “Our members understood the general concept of increased velocity and how it can improve the bottom line.”

Comprehension of a general concept is not sufficient.  There is a big gap between understanding the general concept of increased velocity, and possessing the deep, instinctive understanding of velocity that enables you to create sustainable competitive separation by implementing the principles within a enterprise-specific set of circumstances.

Pipeline workshops promote wholesale changes in the thinking about production and business management that needs to occur in this industry, often a 180 degree reversal in perspective and understanding.

Escherian is not the right term, but these changes represent paradigm shifts of an order that bring to mind the “Two Women” illustration the late Stephen Covey used in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Two Women

What do you see?  Yes, it’s a picture of a woman.  Is she a young woman?  Is she an old woman?  Which direction is she facing?     

Or, the shape published by Louis Albert Necker, his so-called “Necker Cube”.

Necker Cube

What do you see?  Is the blue panel at the front of the cube, or is it at the back of the cube?  Does the angle of the cube project upward to the left, or does it project downward to the right?

Learning how to thrive on the velocity side of Return on Assets presents these questions:  What do you see?  Do you understand what you are seeing?  The implication is that there is more to it than what you see, and you may not be seeing what is really there.

Learning to see requires a different perspective – a different set of mental models – regarding the same set of facts.  You have to understand the principles and disciplines that apply to homebuilding production – before you try to manage it, before you try to make changes, before you try to improve performance.   

We say that a homebuilding production system is a pipeline.  How big is the pipe?  What is its capacity?  How long is it?  What does it cost?  We say that operating decisions drive business outcomes.  How do you connect them?  What connects them?  What do the measures of operating performance and economic return hold in common?

Paradigms are cognitive frameworks containing basic assumptions, perceptions, beliefs, ways of thinking, methodologies that are commonly accepted by members of a group.  What is the general paradigm builders hold about size?  About growth?  About capacity?  About productivity?  About costs?  About production balance?

Is even-flow a mechanism or is it an outcome?

In a particular production system, what is Necessary WIP – the amount of Inventory/WIP required to operate the system?  What is Maximum WIP – an amount that is excessive?  What is Minimum WIP – the amount that is insufficient?

When do you measure cycle time, and when do you calculate it?  What do the two methods mean?  What are their different uses?

When you schedule the system, do you start jobs at a pre-determined rate, or do you start jobs according to the condition of a pacesetting resource?

What do you see?  Do you understand it?

We say homebuilding production is a system.  How do you improve the performance of a system?  How do you determine its capacity?  What restricts its capacity?  What is the nature of the workflow?  Is it process management?  Is it project portfolio management?  Regardless of what type of workflow it is, how do you schedule it?  What do you schedule?

How does the system handle the conundrum posed by a predictable reaction to variation?  What does variation really cost a homebuilding operation?

What do you see?

How do you reduce the duration of a job, and still protect its completion date?  What is it about a job schedule that you actually manage?  How do you deal with both task dependency and resource contention?

What do you see?

 

The next Pipeline workshop is March 11-12, 2015, at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  Sponsored by Hanley Wood (Builder/Big Builder) and Continuum Advisory Group.

Registration opens January 2, 2015 at www.buildervelocity.com

 

Deliverables: Results-Based Consulting

Posted December 1, 2014 By Fletcher Groves

SAI Consulting is afforded the opportunity to serve our clients’ interests, because of our industry-specific management experience, and our ability to focus a distinctive constraints-based problem-solving approach to their specific circumstances.  We have a grasp of the operational performance issues that affect our clients;  we focus their efforts on solutions that they should be able – that they should be able – to translate into increased profitability, improved cash flow, and higher economic return.

By necessity or resignation, we deliver a lot of our consulting work in engagements that operate under a traditional, conventional, fee-for-service approach;  I use the terms “by necessity or resignation” to express the reality that the value-driven, results-based consulting we favor imposes requirements that cannot be met, that simply do not fit, within the traditional, conventional, fee-for-service consulting approach.

Under a conventional approach to delivering consulting services:  projects are defined in terms of work product, not business outcomes;  a client’s willingness and capability to implement the change is overlooked;  client commitment is not gauged;  there is no insistence that clients learn and become responsible for doing the work themselves;  there is no connection between what a project costs, and the results – the value, the benefit – that it delivers.

We would prefer to work with clients – and be compensated – purely on the basis of the value we create;  value defined by the results we achieve, measured in terms of improvements to operating and business outcomes.  In our view, consultants should provide more than expertise;  consultants need to get results, they need to share accountability for those results, and – in terms of compensation – they need to share in those results.

Defining a project in terms of shared responsibility for the financial outcome is only one element of how a results-based consulting model should work.

It should not be a solution in search of a problem;  it should apply the best solution to a range of problems and constraints.  The scope of the project should be based on the client’s capability and willingness to change.  It should break projects into phases that deliver rapid results, without losing sight of the long-term goal.  It should require that clients and consultants work and learn together, in full partnership mode.  It should leverage the consultants’ resources and capabilities, not make the client increasingly, unendingly dependent upon them.

This type of high-yield, value-driven, results-based consulting requires more than a traditional consulting approach can provide – a host of requirements that make low-yield, fee-for-service consulting problematic for its consultants:  greater comprehension, longer project timeframes, more agility, higher working capital requirements.

What is required in a results-based consulting arrangement?

First, the client has to agree to a focused process of continuous improvement, defined as a prioritized series of initiatives conducted in consecutive order with short durations, aimed at achieving targeted, defined, measurable results.

Second, the client needs to accept a variable costing approach to managerial accounting;  it needs to embrace Cost-Volume-Profit (CVP) decision-making, and prepare its internal financial reports on a Contribution Income Statement format.  It needs to embrace targeted increases in Gross Income the unifying business outcome;  as its border crossing, the demarcation point at which its pricing and cost issues meet its productivity issues.

Third, the client has to end the practice of bonusing individual job performance, and adopt a team-based performance compensation plan, within the tenets of Open Book Management.  It has to agree to a plan that provides a self-funding, progressively-weighted series of milestones that will distribute the team’s portion of a Gross Income Reserve, the residual created from a Gross Income Target in excess of a Gross Income Baseline.

Fourth, all other improvement initiatives have to be subordinated to the overall improvement process described in the first requirement; they have to be integrated – unified – into the overall plan, and they have to contribute to the targeted results.

Lastly, the consultant has to be satisfied with his share of the Gross Income Reserve as the only compensation he will receive for his participation in an extended consulting engagement, an engagement in which he cannot limit or restrict his involvement.

Results-Based Consulting is not an approach that will succeed for every company; consequently it will not threaten traditional consulting.  But – this is the basis for how we would prefer to work with clients.

Want to learn more?

 

Fletcher L. Groves, III is a Vice President and senior consultant at SAI Consulting, Inc.  He can be contacted at (904) 273-9840 or at flgroves@saiconsulting.com.