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Are you using your Pirate Map properly?


In many a story a map is the centerpiece that guides the heroes though many adventures and helps them find the treasure as they often learn a lot about themselves on the voyage.

Like many treasure maps, the process maps in a company are written in code that can only be understood by the writer. Only one of these is intentional. In a company’s process mapping we need to lay out a clear path to the treasure.

This is exactly what we do at Bertwin Lord Consulting through our Elucidation Engineering process. We help your company create the process maps that are easily followed leading your employees to the high value treasure in which we all share the spoils.

With all treasure hunts we need to plan for the voyage. We must make sure we understand where we are going and who is coming with us. As we start the journey we just first work with every level of the administrative support directorates (finance, HR, procurement, logistics, security, subcontracts, contracts, and IT) and examine each work item that each employee will complete each day.

A preliminary step by step process is captured for each work item and checked with other explores (peers) to make sure all steps are clear on the new map.

Of course – every map must be kept safe and accessible. Depending on the company you keep this step by step process may be kept on the computer, on an iPad application, in a three ring binder, or some other method familiar to you and your peers.

It is important that when the step by step process is captured that a focus is made on using the map every time a step is completed. This will ensure that the map is correct and accurately reflects the voyage. While using the map time and time again we can also add little notes to the map that says how long it takes to complete each step and who we meet along the say. We can also write down how often we complete these steps and who else needs to know when we complete these steps.

Once we have the map and we can add how often steps on the map are accomplished we find that steps are varied in how they are conducted. Some steps are completed every day or several times a day with no modification to their volume where others may be conducted only once in a while with large amounts of requirements at the end of the week or the end of the quarter where others were based upon specific events.

As we are never by ourselves in this adventure, many of the steps required actions to be completed by others in order for a step to be completed.

Many steps effect many different people and thus multiple people needed to be informed when a step was being completed.

As we add these notes to each step we build a better map. We start the map with a clean line from one point to another but as we work the map every day we add the scenery along the way.

Once each step is captured with this level of detail we can really take a look at the map and decide if we are taking the best route possible. At this point we need to involve the directors of each department. We all sit down collectively and review the map paying special attention to the data we added along the way. This data allows the directors to make many decisions with quantifiable date in hand.

At this point we can make many different types of changes. Where our departments are located in correlation to other departments, what communications systems we put in place, how many employees are required at what competency level to ensure maximum work load completed at the most economical level, and other modifications are able to be made based upon the data we collected.

Once we make the modification to the map and find the most productive path possible we can continue to improve our ability to make notes on the map and collect the metrics for each step. We can also improve our ability to see where we are on the map. With our map process details we are able to link our map into a computerized productivity tracking system that enables each work item to get a UID that would track exactly where in the process each work item is allowing the mangers to have real time tracking of where issues are in the system.

As each work item will have a UID and each employee will also have a UID we can all track the productivity of each employee with relation to each task and work item thus enabling the managers to track their employees and give them capability ratings based upon their speed and accuracy for completing each work item. This is a perfect way to decide to whom what tasks should be assigned and who needs training in what areas.

It is important to have the people who are traveling this path involved in the creation of the map. Without the locals on the ground the map is worthless. One the local employees who are responsible for completing each task will have that ground level understanding that is imperative in completing the steps as efficiently as possible. When the employees are involved with each step of the creation of this map there is also a complete buy in from the staff and the systems worked and stay in place upon the management team turning their focus elsewhere.

When this map is in place you will see a dramatic increase in productivity, a marked decrease in customer and employee dissatisfaction due to unknown or unclear steps, retention of senior personnel, quicker training and normalization of junior personnel, and lowering of overhead costs by increasing production or decreasing the need of overhead staff. It also becomes extremely easy to duplicate capabilities when it comes time to expand operations as all your new employees need to do is follow the map.

If you would like help in creating your map please contact Bertwin Lord Consultingand we can set up a consultation and discuss how we can work together.

-Dr. Bertwin Lord, PMP, PE

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Why is the elephant afraid of the mouse?


A case study in Setting up a small professional services office

Forgive me if you have not heard of the story about the elephant who is afraid of the mouse.  The Discovery Channel says this tale started in 77 A.D. by Pliny the Elder who said, “The elephant hates the mouse above all other creatures.” Over time it was found that any small animal will startle an elephant due mainly to their poor eye sight.  The small elephant moves so fast on the ground that it is hard for the elephant to focus on thus it is often startled by a mouse as it does not know what it is.

In my mind bid business is like the elephant: large, lumbering, slow to change, great at large projects, and not always able to see the smaller picture.  When you set up a large business structure you can centralize many tasks and hire the best personal available for each particular job.  A small business is like the mouse, darting here and there, working on all small tasks individually, and struggling to stay out from under the feet of the lumbering giants above them.

Nowhere in a business is this more evident than when that business is trying to set up the support services for the small business that have nothing to do with the nature of the small business.  Michael E. Gerber touched on a very important subject with “The E Myth” The E-Myth (“Entrepreneurial Myth”) is the mistaken belief that most businesses are started by people with tangible business skills, when in fact most are started by “technicians” who know nothing about running a business. Hence most fail.

Since the book was written many E Myth consulting shops has popped up where they will come in to a small business and tell them what they need to become better business people.  What I have found, however, is that many of these consulting shops are run by people with business degrees but very little understanding in the operations, the mechanics, the inner working, and the simple every day requirements with leading people to get them to accept the “new” way of doing business.  There is also the very simple requirement that many small businesses do not have the resources to hire the best possible people for each position in their company.  Sometimes you have to hire someone who is good at most things and gets by in others because you can only afford one person.

This is where I have found the most success working with various small businesses.  It may be the nuclear engineer in me or my fascination with instructions but I have found that most people want to do the best job as long as someone shows them how.

Where the E Myth consultants and I agree is on the implementation of systems. Yet – here is the key question … how do you get these systems put in place without spending all of your money, and while still conducting business that makes money?

The Answer Is: A little bit at a time!!!!!

Who knows your business better then you do?  The simple answer is … NOBODY!! I can think of almost no situation where a company called me in to solve a problem and the answer was not within themselves or one of their employees and it just took coxing to come out.

When I am called in to help a company set up there operating procedures I first interview each employee to get a baseline of their job and what it is they do.  From this I ask them to write down all of the tasks they do that they can remember.  Often times the employees are amazed at the amount of tasks they accomplish.  We write these tasks down and I tell them that as they do tasks throughout the day to look at their list and make sure that the tasks are on that list.

After a few days most of the tasks will be captured for each of the workers.  I then gather all of the tasks and put them into a file for that position.

We then have a meeting with the owners, managers, and employees where we establish how much time we can dedicate to writing the steps for each of the identified tasks.  With everyone agreeing to the timeline we work with each individual and set a specific timeline for when their tasks breakdowns must be completed.

As an example, if one employee has identified that there are 47 different tasks they complete and that 33 of those tasks are very simple with maybe only 10 or 12 steps then we would assume that with the 30 minutes the owners and managers give them each day to work on writing these steps that they can complete those 23 in one week.  The remaining 14 are split about 50/50 with intermediate and difficult tasks so it will take two weeks to complete the remaining tasks.

We then set up that timeline and each day I check in with each employee to ensure they have taken the required steps.  If they have not taken the proper steps then we discuss why.  I give them a progress report and if they are falling behind I give them counseling to let them know how important it is to complete these task write-ups.  As we have buy in from the owners and managers this can become disciplinary action in their record and may even lead to termination if they do not correct their actions.

During the time that write-ups are being conducted it is very common for the employees to discover more things that they do that they did not remember during the original review.  We will add those to the overall list and adjust the due date accordingly.

Once all task write-ups are collected I look through each of them to look for punctuation and grammar errors and reach back out to the employee for clarity.  I will then take the write-ups and turn them into proper procedures.  We then take the procedures and give them to another employee to see if that employee is able to accomplish the task by only using the procedure.  This is where we often find the incumbent knowledge that an employee often does not realize they have.

An example would be knowing that a vendor can only be contacted on Tuesday’s between 3pm and 5pm, that Lucy at Vendor B is the one who gets our orders in quicker, orders made on weekends have weekend delivery charges, and many other things.  These little notes get entered into the steps to provide a place where incumbent experience can be captured.  When the final procedures are produced we leave room for the employee to enter more notes that can be put into later editions of the procedures.

After we check the procedures for usability we then put the procedures online with one certified edition printed and placed into a binder.  This binder is then used by the employees when they conduct all tasks.  Through this procedure we could determine that some tasks are better left with another employee or similar tasks can be grouped to be conducted at the same time thus saving time and increasing efficiency.

These final task binders can be used when an employee goes on vacation, is sick, leaves, or is terminated.  Employee evaluations are easier because there is a clear standard of what they are to accomplish.  Employees are happier because their job description is clear and they know what is expected from them each day and in each occurrence.

The key to all of this is holding employees accountable for what is clearly stated.  When either side of that is not available then that is when chaos can reign.

Implementing this system to capture the tasks is essential for any size business but with a small business this is akin to survival.  In a large business you can have many people accomplishing the same task but in a small business you often have one person completing many tasks.

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Service Company Do or Die

All services companies should develop a Lifecycle Tracking Application that is established from an operational (process) diagram. Without one their company will eventually die off. Either from the loss of an individual who knows all the secrets or from the business growing too big and there is no one who can duplicate the success of the past in new areas.

An operational diagram takes every single thing that happens in your company, connects them with all parts of the company, and includes all relationships and requirements. When I speak of breaking a company down into the elemental structures (incremental little bits) this is the exact methodology I use. Engineers use these in their system drawings and rely on them to keep a detailed view of all interconnections.

For a service company, and most other companies, this is important because of all the different people touching different parts of the company. Even if a software package is not created that allows a single system to have complete overview of your company the details pulled out in an operations diagram will allow all stakeholders to see exactly how they impact everyone else in the company.

I have helped companies put these types of diagrams together. Many a day was spent on a drawing board helping each entity map out their processes and finding where these processes connected with other entities and tying all flowcharts together until there was a single chart that mapped out the processes for an entire company. This may sound difficult but it is essential to start this process as soon as possible as the difficulty will only grow down the road.

As an example, I worked with a company that provided fleet vehicle preventative maintenance services for commercial companies. This company started by providing services near their location and would develop a relationship with a national customer who would ask if they could provide the same services at other national locations. Soon the company was working in ten states providing these services to national clients. They were bringing in a lot of money but never seemed to have any. There was a single operations manager who was running the show and had a good handle on scheduling to keep his trucks always moving but there was no real understanding of the entire process, what was impacted with each decision, and what the actual costs of doing business were. To uncover their problems I was brought in to produce a good systems map (operational diagram) and help them find out the cost of doing business. They also wanted to keep expanding their business but wanted to set up more offices for people to help in the process.

Conducting my study I met with every employee in the corporate office and simply asked them what their job was and what it is they did. I took all of these interviews and created task breakdowns with the current person/position conduction each task. These tasks were put into an overlay where I was able to determine where each task connected with other tasks either through a direct relationship or a feed and response relationship. Duration of task based upon competency was factored into each task breakdown. Everything from marketing, sourcing, sales, scheduling, materials management, logistics, project completion, quality assurance, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, HR, finance, project controls, reporting, and administrative support is placed on the operations diagram to ensure that all relationships and activities were tracked. A graphic chart is created that is defined by a process instruction that defines the details of each step. From this work breakdown structure we can then allocate tasks into functional areas and define personnel requirements based upon actual work requirements. Policies, procedures, work instructions, operation manuals, training programs, and everything that helps a company run are then created from the operational diagram. Any new process that is introduced and inserted into the operational diagram and is easily connected to all other related tasks.

Once the operations diagram is created you can hand this to a software engineer and they can create a tracking system that enables the owner to track the status of all individual tasks, identify how long it takes to accomplish each task, and use reports to monitor applicable metrics that establish the health of the system. This allows a manager to build these same exact systems again, and again, and again while keeping an eye on the overall efficiency of the process.

With the company who hired me to find out where they had issues it was discovered that their pricing structure developed to cover their expenses for local customers did not cover the costs to push technicians across ten states to provide these same services. As each step was tracked and costs associated it was determined exactly how much money was being spent to send technicians to each location and minimum guaranteed work requirements were established with the customer. Previous attempts to increase the rate or set volume requirements were not successful because there was no data to present to the customer. With the new data showing the costs to perform the maintenance and showing the break even points and the “worth it to come out” points the national customer agreed to pay the higher rates as they wanted to keep the same level of professional services. The company was also able to use the information loaded into a sales program that gave the field sales team the ability to factor cost based on location, type of vehicle to be serviced, and type of service ordered. From this a guaranteed minimum would be able to be met for each new client and the company would be able to stay operational. Through management monitoring of the process they were also able to determine a more appropriate work distribution for the staff as well as let some people go and hire people who had the essential experience completing the requirements.

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Save your business with the Minutia of Software Development

I am always looking for ways to help customers’ discovery their business processes and put them in a format that is repeatable and measurable. There are very few things that help someone find if their processes are undefined like developing a software application.

The process of developing software solutions for a company is important for many reasons, but the reason I like best is because it forces you to be explicit and write down with painstaking detail the processes in your company.

There have been a few companies I am related with who have hired a software engineer to come in and develop software to increase their capabilities in sales, customer service, project tracking, inventory management or any number of things only to blame the company they hired when the software could be developed. Many times the fault was not with the software development company but with the business themselves. Many business lack the true systematized understanding of how their business runs. These explicit minute details are required to develop software and to mature your company and make it as profitable as it can be.

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While Bert was solving a US Arms Dealer’s problems in Kurdistan, Libya, Nigeria, South Africa, Bulgaria, and Belgium Bert discovered that the biggest problem was that in June of 2013 the US Arms Dealer had received a letter from DDTC stating that they were placed on the Automatic Status of Denial list with DDTC due to questionable transactions and possible FCPA violations.  This was made evident to Bert in October of 2014.  At that time Bert reached out directly to DDTC on behalf of the US Arms Dealer to discover the complete issues.  Through Bert’s involvement a meeting was arranged with the US Arms Dealer and DTCC, the compliance arm of DDTC, for November 13th, 2014.  Upon completion of that meeting the US Arms Dealer was given six months to complete several actions that would satisfy the government’s issues with the past activity and allow them to feel secure that these discretions would not occur in the future. 

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Upon the success of the Kurdistan Project the US Arms Dealer asked Bert to assist with an issue of getting a contract to provide arms to the Libyan government.  At the time the Libyan Government run by al-Thani was in hiding in Tobruk as the rebels had taken over the airport and city of Tripoli.  the US Arms Dealer did have a contract and a price agreement with the government of Libya but they were not able to get the documents signed by al-Thani as nobody would go to Tobruk to get the documents and nobody would leave Tobruk to bring the documents.  Bert reached out to his contacts within the Special Forces and intelligence agencies and found two operatives who were living in Tobruk and would bring the documents to Malta via a charter aircraft that would land at the in Tobruk pick up the operators and immediately fly back to Malta.  This issue was simple but only accomplished through contacts.  The case is currently in front of the review board for final approval.  

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In June of 2014 the US Arms Dealer contracted Bert to help them obtain a contract with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to provide Defensive Items.  One issue here were that nobody knew who within the Kurdistan Regional Government was able to make a purchase order and allocate funds for this order.  Another issue was that the Kurdistan Regional Government was not recognized as a Federal Government by the United States Department of State Office of the Director of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) and thus permission was not being given to American companies to sell weapons to the Kurdistan Regional Government without a letter of approval from the Federal Government of Iraq.  Bert flew to Erbil and used his former contracts from working directly with the KRG to set up a business license completion procedure and asked to be introduced directly to the President.  Within three days Bert had a meeting with the President’s son who was also the Director of Security and Intelligence.  Through the next 45 days Bert would negotiate with the President’s aids until a final contract was completed. After 53 days spent in Kurdistan the contract was completed along with End User Certificates.  The next step was to fly to DC and get permission from the US Government to sell weapons directly to Kurdistan.  Here is where the real issues took place.  The President of the United States did not want to circumvent the Iraqi Federal Government as it was viewed that this would show a lack of support for a unified government.  Bert was able to garner support from Senator McCain, Senator Menendez, Senator Burr, Senator Feinstein, Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, Senator Rubio, Representative Boehner, Representative Wolf, Representative Carry, Representative Baxter, Representative Graham, and Secretary Hagel to back this action.  The case is currently in front of the review board for final approval.  

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A U.S. Defense Contractor  hired Bert Lord in January of 2014 to come in and help set up an operations management capability.  Prior to this the U.S. Defense Contractor was a maturity level 1 organization that just reacted to each situation and had no planning systems in place.  There was no reporting and no procedures.  The top level of management did not even know how many employees they had and what they were doing.  Each infrastructure support activity was stove piped and did not work well with the other support activities even when there was only four employees doing the support staff functions.  The company was a complete mess.  Bert came into this environment and the management did not want to even speak about where they were because they were embarrassed about how little they knew.  This was a shambles.  Bert took the next six months interviewing employees, asking them about what work items they completed, and reviewed the systems used to complete work items.  The first step Bert took was to create an operations report. The operations report consisted of each contract that the U.S. Defense Contractor had, prime or subcontract, and spelled out the exact mission of that contract.  The employees working on each contract was captured and their exact status.  A section was also added about business development and recruiting steps being taken within each contract to ensure that management was keying to this aspects.  Another section was added that allowed the local managers a place to annotate their issues weekly to ensure that management was able to facilitate the resolution of those issues.  From this meeting a weekly operations call was implemented.  HR, Finance, Contracts, and management were invited to into the weekly operations call.  As the other units were on the call it was easy to address many of the issues on the call but if not then a point was made to address those issues right away.  As management was on the call they could then follow up with completion of those tasks.  For the first time since the company was started the management had an understanding of what was happening within their company.  

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Case Study: Thailand Biomass Generator Project, 2013

In 2013 Bert and his family were invited to visit Princess Siridhorn of the Thai Royal Family because Bert and his family were working on natural farming methods that included composting and vermiculture for soil but also the usage of small bio-digesters for fuel source in Eastern Thailand near the Cambodian border.  At the visit the princess asked Bert to put together plans for large bio-digesters to present to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Energy.  As the bi-digester would be for the same region Bert needed to find adequate feedstock to ensure the year-round operation of the digester.  Bert called upon Dan Seiler to help him design a bio-digester for the region.  In the search for feed-stock Bert determined that with all that was available two industrial sources were the most promising.  The tapioca industry generated the most waste with 60-70% of the plant being bio-waste.  This waste was not produced year-round but enough was created that a stock could be maintained to be used as green feeder.  Rice production also produced ample stick of chaff that was easy to stock pile and was a great source of brown stock for the bio-digester.  Common water hyacinth was available in droves as an evasive species and grew quickly in all the waterways in Thailand.  The water plant could be harvested hear around and provided ample stock for bio-digesters.  The biomass digester that was developed would also use pig manure to speed up the process.  The combined designed system would collect the gas, pressurize the gas, and store the gas in an onsite collection unit.  Microturbines were used to provide all power generation or the site.  The feed stock was donated to the site as it was an industry waste product.  The plans were developed and delivered to the Ministries of Energy and Agriculture.  Once approved the plans were put into a bid and released to industry where a Japanese company won the bid to construction and management of the system for 20 years.  

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 In July of 2012 Phoenix Group asked Bert to come to Egypt to work with them on developing a Solar Energy Farm in Egypt.  Bert flew to Egypt and was able to meet with many of the leaders in Egyptian Academia at one of three energy conferences held in Egypt each year.  There were many in the group who had much knowledge and studied the engineering side of the equation but very few who had worked with businessmen in getting funding for these types of efforts.  At the time there was a major crisis in Egypt as Diesel fuel prices were rising because there was no longer any money to continue the fuel subsidies as the Muslim Brotherhood was not able to keep Egypt profitable and thus the tax base was diminishing substantially.  As Bert had recently had these exact same conversations with the Ministry of Energy in Thailand and discussing the issues they had with this same type of system, it was still fresh in his mind what needed to be done by the Egyptians.  Bert was able to meet with the Ministry of Electricity and Energy as well as the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company to discuss providing power purchase agreements with adders to incentivize commercial entities to develop large scale solar power farms in the desert but also to incentivize the neighborhoods who were already developing solar farms of their own to sell back excess power to the Rural and Cairo Electrification Authority.  The New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) did not want to give up any of its rights on developing renewable energy projects and was against any expansion by private companies into the renewable energy environment.  Bert was able to have seven meetings with managers in the Ministry on an amendment to the current electricity laws to include a power buyback system that would be similar to the modified law in Thailand.  The talks were going good and then Military took over the government and talk were shut down.  In June of 2014 the Phoenix Group said that talks were starting again about putting in a buy pack program for commercial entities to invest and develop a solar farm.   

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