Disruption Culture: Zume-ing toward Disaster

I am not particularly savvy as it relates to the venture capital game but I am fascinated by the development of ideas. So I was intrigued by the story of Zume Pizza, the brainchild of an entrepreneur named Alex Garden and funded by a $375 million investment from venture capital  firm SoftBank.

The purported breakthrough for Zume Pizza was pizzas being made entirely by machines, placed inside delivery trucks so that the pizza would be made while being delivered to you.

Well, three years and $375 million later, Zume Pizza appears to be on life support, if not clinically dead. Bloomberg provided an interesting analysis of the rise and downfall of Zume. The article is here.

I won’t rewrite the article here, but this story seems to follow an increasingly familiar pattern. “Visionary” person arrives with a proposal not to establish a competitor in a market hoping to gain traction, but to disrupt the market by providing something so radical that it will drive all competition into bankruptcy.

Zume Pizza’s strategy of making pizzas entirely by machine resonated with the folks at SoftBank. Apparently nothing is more evil to these types than actually hiring human beings to do work, so an idea that removes the human element comes off as a winner.

As an occasional pizza consumer, my priorities for the pizza are 1) taste, 2) price, 3) ease of obtaining it (though I usually order pizza and pick it up myself). I don’t find any additional value in knowing a machine made my pizza, even if it is mounted inside a truck driving to my residence.

As the article points out, “a visionary founder with a fire hose of money can’t solve every problem.” And, “I’ve never seen data to suggest that being charismatic and confident and overly brash is linked to a successful business.” Rather, as UC Berkeley business school director Kellie McElhaney suggested, venture capitalists should seek out leaders “who combine confidence with humility.”

I would add to that they should seek out leaders who understand that process is king. That being a “rock star” entrepreneur does not substitute for having a capable, repeatable process that results in a product the consumer actually wants or needs. I would tend to believe that both SoftBank and Zume Pizza could have established proof-of-concept for far less than $350 million. They could have developed a process, a plan and determined there was a demand (or perhaps no demand) for a machine-made pizza without disrupting the lives of 360 people (those laid off when Zume began to tank).

But more and more it appears that the horses have escaped the barn as it relates to that kind of thinking. As hinted at in the article, the venture capital crowd loves their rock-stars-in-the-making, who possess an attitude of “it’s guaranteed to succeed because I the visionary am at the center of it.” And the reason is because the venture capitalists see their younger selves in the Alex Gardens of the world. “And if I succeeded with that attitude, why shouldn’t they?”

One can only wonder how much capital (money, resources, intellectual, etc.) has been squandered and how much progress has been delayed because every one is trying to capture lightning in a bottle, be “the next Tesla, Google, Amazon” or whatever. In other words, the drive to be rich dwarfs the desire to establish and improve a process slow and steady. But then I’m not rich, so what do I know?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Immunity Promises in Investigations: A Whole New Ball Game?

Several years ago, a safety incident occurred at one of my former employer’s sites. In wanting to get to the bottom of the problem (a worthy goal of any investigation), the worker most closely involved said he would share what he knew in exchange for immunity. Incredibly, the site leadership granted his immunity request, after which he gladly told them he had broken a safety rule and the incident resulted.

This became an object lesson when I trained incident investigation strategy. Simply put, if someone in the investigation is asking for immunity from punishment, they have already told you most of what you need to know. I will describe how I recommended handling the situation later.

This issue suddenly became front and center in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in Major League Baseball. Unbelievably, the head of a multi-billion dollar operation made the same foolish mistake an in-over-their-head new leader made at my site.

It is clear from every angle that the players themselves were the initiators and perpetrators of a scheme to use illegal (read, technological) means to capture an opposing catcher’s pitch selection signs and communicate them to hitters. Any hitter knowing what pitch is coming has a distinct advantage. And Houston walked away with the 2017 World Series title, apparently as a result.

I am not going to guess how much the scheme helped Houston win, nor am I going to discuss the incredibly lame “apology” issued by the Astros’ owner. I am going to focus on the Office of the Commissioner and the actions at the heart of the investigation.

During the investigation, the Commissioner of Baseball granted the players immunity from sanction in exchange for their testimony. Usually, in judicial proceedings, you grant immunity to one individual so that you can reel in a bigger fish, as it were. You don’t grant immunity when you are unsure who’s responsible and to what degree.

But that is what the Commissioner did. He gave the players immunity, after which they explained their techniques. And since the players had immunity, the Commissioner had to levy the punishment on the team’s general manager and field manager, who had little to no influence or knowledge of the scheme. Oh, and the team was fined $5 million and lost some draft picks. A small price for a title.

And as spring training ramps up for the 2020 baseball season, fans are outraged that the players–the central characters in the biggest scandal in baseball in a century–had nothing at all happen to them. Only one player suffered any fallout, a former player (Carlos Beltran) who lost his new gig as manager of the New York Mets.

So How Do You Handle an Immunity Request?

No one asks for immunity unless they need it. If you are investigating a workplace incident and an interviewee asks for immunity, you are correct to suspect you have the guilty party. Here is what I recommended to my investigation classes:

As soon as someone asks for immunity, inform them that the interview is over. Also let them know that you have plenty of means at your disposal to determine what took place and who was at fault. As you adjourn the meeting, inform the worker that their cooperation or lack of cooperation with the investigation will be factored into any discipline that results from the investigation. And invite the employee to meet with you at a later time, by which time they should be more willing to come clean. 

Too often I have seen situations where the employee responsible for an incident got off scot-free while their supervisor or lead person was punished. The persons most directly responsible for misconduct should be the ones most directly impacted. That’s the basic principle of fairness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back on the Blog–Back in the Job Market

I have promised myself for years–usually every time the renewal for the mrprocedure.com domain comes around–that I will return to my instructional communication blog and ponder all things related to people’s connection to process. Well, as we begin a new decade, I am without excuse.

You see, after 8 1/2 years, the company for which I have written system manuals and internal procedures announced an abrupt closing on Jan. 27. As a result, I and about 35 others found themselves clutching a manila envelope with termination documents, a severance check and a kind admonition to “get lost.”

So what this means is that yours truly is back in the job market and I figure any avenue to project myself I will take advantage of. My specialty areas, as reflected in the blog posts I have created over 9 or so years (though virtually none in the last six years), include training development (online, classroom and on-the-job), course development and facilitation (lean principles, behavioral safety, quality systems and audits), safety program administration, full-spectrum training program development, deployment and administration, and, of course, writing of any variety to support business operations (including but not limited to: policies, operating procedures, work instructions, record forms, newsletters and online content).

I am located in southern California, specifically what we refer to as the Inland Empire (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles) though I would consider relocation for the right combination of job factors.

I may be reached at mrprocedure@gmail.com or by telephone at (909) 767-8574. I can provide my resume (customized for position objective), samples of work and references.

Meanwhile, I will also return to developing my long-awaited follow-up to my Writing Operating Procedures book, Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures. And I will go back to creating posts that display my philosophies of leadership, process optimization and instructional communication.

Thank you so much for the support you provided over the years, Mr. Procedure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A One-Question Analysis of Your Priorities

Since it’s been over two years since my last post, I decided to tiptoe back into the blog pool and write something light (meaning, added for fun and not to be taken so seriously despite the ominous title).

So here is Mr. Procedure’s one question to assess your priorities:

Who would you rather spend a day with:

Warren Buffett

or

Jimmy Buffett

?

I’ll get back to discussing procedures shortly…I promise!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beyond the Writing of Procedures 5 — The Procedure Contract

[ In the next several pots, I will introduce a topic covered in my upcoming book, Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures. Most of the sections of the book (see this post) will be referenced in these posts. Remember I am looking for folks to review the book as it comes together. This will be the only opportunity to receive the book for free (!). ]

In Writing Operating Procedures, section 11, I discuss the concept of “procedure as contract.” I said the following:

The Operating Procedure, first and foremost, serves as a sort of contract between the organization, the Floor Trainer and the new employee. The procedure contains everything the new employee needs to learn about the Task, and it tells the Floor Trainer everything that must be taught. Between the organization and the new employee, it means if the employee does everything according to procedure and something goes wrong, the employee will be held harmless.

The implication of the “procedure contract” must be understood by anyone in the organization charged with approving procedures. Consequently, the organization needs to take a step back and give thought to how their approval process will be structured. Often, the approval process will involve department heads (particularly the subject department, quality, safety, etc.) . That is to be expected, and ideally department heads would be suited for procedure approval.

So what does “being suited for procedure approval” mean? It means that the person signing the procedure can ensure that the information the organization will insist its employees follow will:

  • Not injure or kill them
  • Yield the right result every time the information is followed
  • Provide a standard by which a task can be taught and capability can be measured

As much as the procedure developer (individual writer, team, whoever) should be delivering the best possible description of the task, the procedure reviewers/approvers must serve as essential “gate keepers.” They are taking the responsibility for the procedure information upon themselves. For them to carry out the responsibility, they need to be understand the tasks (i.e., understand what they are reading).

Consequently, the organization’s policy over procedure approval should ensure that approvers know what they are approving, not merely have an impressive title.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures 4–Who Am I Writing For?

The thought process that went into the development of the outline for Beyond (you can see the outline in the last post) led me to focus on a question that every writer must address:

Who is the audience for this book?

The reality that became apparent is the audience for Beyond may be largely or completely different than the audience for Writing Operating Procedures! The target reader of the original book is pretty well defined: the writer. Not that only writers can benefit from understanding procedure intent and execution, but the procedure writer would be the primary beneficiary.

But what happens when the procedure is completed, and now it enters its life cycle? Suddenly, a bunch of people who may have had no part in writing the procedure are now expected to ensure the procedure is maintained and effectively used.  If you look at the procedure life-cycle diagram (Operating Procedure Life Cycle I), the audience for Beyond will include anyone responsible for the actions illustrated in the book.

For the writer/prospective book seller, that should be good news! The audience is literally huge!

That wasn’t the point I was trying to make…but any organization will have some group of individuals who would logically take on the responsibilities defined in Beyond. The larger the organization, typically, the larger the number of participants in the procedure’s life cycle.

What does this mean to the organization? For one, the responsibilities entailed in procedure maintenance must be clearly established and communicated. A set of policies (and perhaps even procedures) may be advisable. But beyond establishing responsibilities, the organization has the opportunity to look at how it approaches its processes.

Ultimately, then, Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures is written to as many people in the organization as will be expected to maintain and improve essential processes. I have been blessed (burdened?) with fulfilling each of the responsibilities at one time or another in my career,  and I intend to use that experience both in describing the actions and describing how to create a cooperative environment in which the procedure life cycle is managed to the maximum benefit of the process — and by extension, the organization.

 

Posted in Continuous improvement, Culture change, Instructional Communication, Leadership, Policy and Procedure Development, Procedures, Process, Quality Management Systems, Technical Writing, Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures 3 — Outline of the Book

I am pleased to announce the official, final outline of Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures. Well, it may not be fully cast in stone. Maybe I’ll consider changes. Heck, maybe I’ll throw the outline out and start over. But as I described in my last post, the “procedure life cycle” is a reflection of the process life cycle. The process life cycle includes those times when changes to the procedure are pondered or necessary, but also those times when the procedure is integral to performing or improving the process.

The outline of Beyond is reflected in the illustration of the life cycle in my last post. Here is the same illustration, augmented to show the sections of the book as they fit into the life cycle model. So, if you want to absorb the outline visually, click here (just note the section numbers are different):

Operating Procedure Life Cycle II

If you want to read the outline, here it is with a brief synopsis of the section focus:

Section 1: Procedure Life Cycle. This section describes in detail the life cycle of the procedure in terms of the process it describes, using the illustration above as the model. This section sets up the discussions in each section that follows.

Section 2: Procedure Approval. This section focuses on the requirements for approval, determining functions responsible for procedure, and a discussion of what procedure approval represents to the organization and the procedure’s performers.

Section 3: Procedure Implemented. This section focuses on the manner in which the approved procedure is distributed and made available to procedure performers. Issues such as paper vs. electronic distribution methods will be discussed.

Section 4: Procedures and Training. This section focuses on the use of the procedure to perform training (some of which I covered in Writing Operating Procedures). The section will discuss a procedure-focused training sequence as well as the development of procedure-focused training measurement tools.

Section 5: Putting the Procedure on Display. This section focuses on visual and other tools to put procedure information within reach of process performers without having to constantly reference the procedure. It will describe signs, diagrams and even work instructions as supplements to the operating procedure.

Section 6: Managing the Task. This section discusses the influence of the operating procedures in on-going department performance. This section leads into the discussions that follow in sections 6-8.

Section 7: Managing Incidents. This section focuses on the information gathering phase of an incident or process investigation, and how the procedure is integral to the investigation. The section focuses on comparing what happened (incident) with what should have happened (procedure) during an investigation, as well as the importance of identifying what may change in the process (and ultimately, the procedure).

Section 8: Improving the Task. This section discusses the use of the procedure when evaluating a task with the intention of making it better (less waste, safer, more efficient, etc.). The use of the procedure in a formal continuous improvement team or individual process investigation will be studied.

Section 9: Procedures and Capital Projects. This section discusses the impact of projects (capital or otherwise) on the department’s task structure (which includes its training program and procedure needs).

Section 10: Periodic Procedure Review. This section discusses the review of operating procedures that may occur independent of all situations covered in sections 4-9. This section describes methods to review procedures that work within an organization’s Quality Review cycle and ensure that Quality Review actions are carried out as they relate to procedures.

Section 11: Revising Procedures. This section discusses how to revise an operating procedure. The discussions include the drivers of revisions, types of revisions, how to mark revisions to benefit the procedure’s performers, how to implement the revision and how to ensure necessary follow-up occurs.

Section 12: Retiring Procedures. This section discusses circumstances under which procedures may be removed from circulation, how to document procedure retirement while ensuring information that is still relevant is not discarded.

As I noted, this outline (actually list of sections) is fluid at present, so I will welcome all suggestions, especially those from would-be reviewers who could tip me off on what they believe should be covered before I submit a review copy that ignores the topic.

Posted in Continuous improvement, Instructional Communication, Policy and Procedure Development, Procedures, Process, Process Analysis, Quality Management Systems, Technical Writing, Training, Training Program Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment