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Do you have multiple strategies to meet customer demand?

Do you find that the workloads in your business are becoming more volatile?

Do you find that what your business was used to doing on a regular basis and what it does now aren't the same?

Many businesses are finding themselves with a lot more variety on their order books, especially in terms of how quickly customers want / expect things and the mix of the orders.

So, how can you handle this?

Although the answer is a lot longer than what I can offer in a blog article, let me give you a few of my thoughts and (hopefully) a push in the right direction.

If the title of this article isn't clear, let me offer you the longer version:

What you do as your normal way of working probably won't work when you have a different set of demands, or mix of requirements, on your order book!

Or, to put it another way:

You need more than one gear to run your business.

Does that make sense?

If you have set your business up in a rigid, specific way, to handle your customer orders you shouldn't be completely surprised that if their order style changes you may struggle to cope with meeting their new requirements.

I'm not saying that you can't meet their demands, I'm suggesting that unless their new requirements happen to meet your way of working it might be a lot of effort.

Blood, sweat and tears - you know the sort of thing I am talking about.

So, let me suggest an idea that you might be able to apply to your business.

Do you know how to play rugby?

I'm not an expert in rugby, but there are a three key elements that can might give you some food for thought:

  1. Normal play - the team execute their original planned strategy to win the game.
  2. Scrum - the team re-configure themselves to get the game re-started after a foul.
  3. Line out - the ball has gone out of play and the team re-configure themselves to attempt to gain control of the ball.
The majority of the time the team are playing with their normal strategy (1), but can re-configure themselves to cope with either of the other two demands that are placed on them (2 & 3).

Once they have coped with the alternative demand they go back to their normal strategy.

Does this sound familiar?

It was planned!

The re-arrangements mentioned above (scrum and line out) aren't an accident. They are planned, rehearsed and understood by all in the game.

Could you imagine watching the game, the ball going out of play and everyone standing around saying 'er... what do I do now?'

Although we don't quite do this in our business when the demand changes it is clear that we do this to a degree. Headless chickens, chaotic working, fraught meetings... I think you get the picture.

How can you handle changing demands?

Thinking through the different situations that your business can face can help you to figure out how your teams need to be 'configured' to cope with the change in demand.

By configure I mean that you might want to temporarily adjust who is in what team and what their short term focus is.

The next point is to think about how you identify when the demand is changing. What indicators are there in your business that can tell you demand is changing?

And my final point for this approach is how do you communicate that the temporary re-configuration is required?

Setting up simple rules is one way to do this. For example - 'when this specific situation occurs go to configuration 3'.

What are your ad-hoc configurations?

The chances are that you have some kind of ad-hoc re-configuration taking place at the moment. It might be in the form of overtime or helping out another team.

The point of this article is to propose that being a little more formal about this process can help you to properly resource the changes and allow your business to cope dynamically with the change in demands, rather than hoping that re-active tweaks will do the job.

I have seen many businesses utilise this approach to great effect.

If you are a fan of Lean pull production systems you will see the parallel with this approach. The above ideas work well if setting up a Kan-ban system won't translate easily into your business and you need another way to apply the same principle of:

The right person doing the right job at the right time

Have fun thinking this through for your business,

Giles



About the author
Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes.

Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.