By Ben Hershey, President & Coach, 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC
As an industry, there are many times I believe we have been behind the curve in adopting/taking on new technology or hardware in our operations. Over the past 15 years or so, we have seen incredible growth in the use of automation, software, etc., but other industries have far exceeded the building industry in general when it comes to adapting. Of course we’ve made improvements, but we still have work to do.
One of the core changes we have seen is that “best practices” have been standardized in our industry. Some have been around for quite a while, such as the SBCA QC program or the SBCA Safety Program. Other best practices being adopted include our software where as an industry we are talking about unified file formats where as an example our equipment can easily talk to our software. Indeed, some of our adaptation has been learned from what we have seen in other industries. Companies identify best practices, particularly those of market leaders, and try to implement them. Such benchmarking has a role to play in business and it may allow you to catch up with competitors, but it won’t turn you into market leaders. Organizations/Associations have also adapted by spotting big “global” issues and inventing best practices.
Ironically, the trouble with a best practice is that you are looking at someone else’s practices, and these can sometimes be highly individual, made up of different groups of methodologies, processes, rules, theories, values and concepts. Together these practices have provided that specific company a level of success that others – mostly competitors – begin to notice. There is a famous line in the film When Harry Met Sally when you hear Billy Crystal say “I’ll have what she’s having”. Some of these practices, such as the SBCA QC and Safety programs, are universally good for everyone. But, within your own organization/company, there is no such thing as best manufacturing/procedural/etc. practices— you can’t simply pick up and plug and play, as one organization’s initiative is never the same set of conditions or positioning that others can simply copy. We desire the “one-size fits all” as a comfort blanket. But do you want to have best practices which are really just “same” practices? Wouldn’t you rather move to the front of the pack with “next” practices?
It is not easy to peel away an organization’s practices to understand how they can be rebuilt to become unique. So many organizations seek to apply someone else’s practice, so they end up as “same” practice. With experience and forward-thinking, however, companies can become winners by spotting big opportunities and inventing next practices.
Moving from “Best Practice” to “Next Practice”
The digital transformation that is underway becomes a very uncomfortable place. Just when you are learning a practice, those same practices become a thing of the past for the future digital connected world. We need to ditch many of the endeavors that make up a legacy of past practice, and think forward, to which the term next practice becomes the learning spot.
Next practices are all about innovation: imagining what the future will look like; identifying the mega-opportunities that will arise; and building capabilities in our companies to capitalize on them. Apple’s Steve Jobs & Tim Cook and Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk did or are doing just that as they constantly transform their companies. Most owners/managers I work with initially believe it’s tough to identify breakthrough opportunities. However, several are pretty obvious; Peter Drucker once said that the best opportunities are “visible, but not seen.” I have had the opportunity to help many individuals unearth opportunities by focusing them on big problems that their companies will benefit from by tackling.
They must ask themselves these six questions:
- Is the problem widely recognized?
- Does it affect other stakeholders (suppliers, customers, etc.) in my business?
- Are radical innovations needed to tackle the problem?
- Can tackling it change the economics for my company?
- Will addressing this issue give us a fresh source of competitive advantage?
- Would tackling this problem create a big opportunity for us?
Although no one can maintain the past, much of our systems are rooted in the 20th century, in markets that were predictable and where supply and demand were simply managed to seek out the status quo. Today we are facing unprecedented changes and technology is re-writing the rule book in everything we are going to do. We seem to be moving from the world of complicated into complex, and it is hitting us in multiple ways, in scale, in speed, and across the whole organization.
‘Next practice’ is a commitment to a process not an end product. In moving from ‘best practice’ to ‘next practice’ we acknowledge that the best solutions come from development. Perhaps a process of development that never stops should be our real goal, much like my on-going emphasis on continuous improvement.
What are the Results of Next Practices
Those who adopt “next” practices can be seen as High Performers, Leaders within the industry. They are companies which not only make changes or adopt practices/processes, but also see the increased performance of those changes. Changes include:
- Update and achieve results from automated process equipment;
- Focus on each of the processes within an organization, not just singular;
- Pull production and equipment productivity to a significantly higher degree than most companies (e.g. reducing batches or set-up time, using kanban systems, etc.); and
- Utilize a high degree of change in processes towards supplier strategy, material quality, workplace development, and new product development.
But it does not stop with this— these same companies use these next practices to evaluate if the changes made meet the expected results and will go back and continually improve upon the implementations they made.
It’s time to move from Best to Next Practices
Look outside our industry and find a company near you that is making a dramatic change in how they are doing business (service, manufacturing, or distribution). What you will find are companies that have moved beyond just best practices and have developed their own NEXT practices.
If you look for ways to develop next practices, opportunities abound. In fact, companies will find that they are constrained not by resources but by their imagination. My experience with 100’s of companies has helped me to focus companies on these tracks of success; if we can be of assistance to you, please contact us.
Ben Hershey is CEO of 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC, the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, he has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. He is the expert the industry turns to when they need assistance. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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