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Confusing Complexity with Capability

Last week, I met with two different entrepreneurs, in two very different industries. Yet they had the same problem.

Internal complexity masking as capability.

Any consulting session with me generally starts with a discussion about where you are, and where you want to go. It includes me asking a series of clarifying questions to get to the root of the frustration you’re facing. Often, the problem isn’t what has been self-diagnosed. If it were, you would have fixed it instead of calling me. (grin)

These pointed questions often reveal layers and layers of complexity that have built up over time within the organization. Not just layers of management, or layers of approval needed — layers of unnecessary steps taken to achieve a relatively simple goal.

During one of those sessions mentioned above, I sketched out the process the client had to endure for each order he received.

I say “endure” because, once on the whiteboard, he could see the absurdity of what he and his team had allowed to evolve. It looked like a disorganized ball of wires.

It’s worse than I thought,” he said.

The madness started as soon as a new online order came in. The process started with an order confirmation sent to his warehouse, a receipt and instructions to the client, assigning a serial number to the custom-made product, updating inventory in two places, accounts payable and accounts receivable between wholesale and vendor partners, third-party delivery information, warranty, shipping from the factory, freight tracking, and customer service requirements at multiple steps.

In all, more than 25 man hours per week were spent administering online orders. A number that only increased during the busy buying season. On top of all that, more than 6 databases needed to have information manually added or collected for each order. Not only is this entirely inefficient, but the probability of human error increases exponentially at each step.

Once we had completed sketching out his ordering and fulfillment process, we looked at his existing toolbox- the tools and services he was using to orchestrate this messy process.

Within that existing toolbox was a tool that could handle 80–90% of what he was currently doing with six independent applications — most of it automatically. Connecting the various services would be time consuming to start, but an investment that would pay off every week in terms of time and reducing the possibility of errors.

In a two hour consulting session, we effectively saved 25 man hours per week. Or, nearly $52,000 in labor costs per year.

These piecemeal systems can fool us into thinking we have an increased capacity — after all, the tools were added to make solve a problem or make something easier, right? But this framework only creates the illusion of being productive — in the sense that busy work is mistaken for business.

To be fair, this patch work of solutions does not happen overnight. It occurs slowly, over time, unnoticed. As entrepreneurs and business owners, we find a quick solution for the problem we’re facing in the moment. We rarely sit back and look at the big picture; evaluating how the addition of Tool X impacts the process of Tool Y. Or how our team must adjust now that Tool Z is in play.

No, we see how Tool X can solve our problem in the moment. Then a new problem surfaces, and we seek out a solution: Tool Y. A while later, Tool Z arrives to save the day when a third problem becomes an issue.

Can you relate? Do you feel like your business systems are held together with bubble gum, string, and a paperclip?

Let’s look at a few ways to clear up the illusion of capacity:

Identify Inefficiencies

How much time do you and your team spend on non-revenue generating tasks? How much time do you spend doing recurring events? Have you considered delegating those tasks?

If I came to watch you work for a week, what processes or tasks would embarrass you? What makes you think, “There has to be a better way!

The Entrepreneurial Curse

We’re entrepreneurs, dang it! We solve problems! We convince ourselves that it is easier/faster/cheaper to tackle the task ourself — only to spend hours upon hours doing it. Or, we end up building a complex web of ways that basically backs us into a corner with no escape.

We may be really good at identifying the needs of the market, but often we are terrible at identifying where we waste time and resources.

If you are spending time in your business, you are not spending time on your business. If you are busy copying data from one spreadsheet to another, you are not proactively seeking out prospects, answering sales calls, or building relationships with your clients.

Take Advantage of Tools

As technology advances, there are countless ways to automate processes. We now have access to an amazing suite of tools that can streamline internal communication, inventory, marketing, accounting, and time tracking. There is no excuse for leaders to not leverage these options.

Closing Challenge

This week, my challenge to you is to identify inefficiencies within your company. Look at how you spend your time. Find two tasks to delegate to someone so that your time can be freed to do what you do best. I know handing duties off is a challenge. But it must be done so that you can reach the level where you can operate at your fullest.-

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

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