Columnists, Thom Finn, V4I1

Roadblock Root Causes

“Keep it simple, stupid” was one of the best pieces of advice ever given to me. I used to have a bad habit of overcomplicating things, even when the simple solution was right in front me.

These days as a coach or business counselor, my vocation, simply put, is to help people reach their goals. There is no better technique for helping them than pointing out what is important and what is mental clutter. Most people respond much better to simple. When I think about their typical day of dealing with drivers, arranging for dealers, talking to customers, and negotiating with salesmen, it can be nearly impossible for shed builders to work on their business and not just in it.

If builders don’t use this quieter time of year to focus on improvements, they probably won’t get it done at all. My most recommended business strategies for working on (not in) the business are
focusing on profit per transaction, developing all members of the team, and ensuring smooth cash flow.

But much like when I try to grab cookies from the cookie jar, many shed builders are greedy or innocently ignorant of how to do it. When I grab cookies, I shove my fat hand in the jar and try to grab as many as I can. But if I were to only take one out a time, I would reach the goal instead of getting my hand stuck in the jar. Similarly, when a business owner no longer attempts to do
everything, and instead focuses on one or two top priorities, his success rate improves dramatically.

My favorite business book is The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt, which introduced me to the theory of constraints, or TOC. Business approaches, or methods, can be explained like religions of the
world. Three of the most widely practiced religions of the world are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Within Christianity we can broadly divide the group again into Roman Catholics and Protestants. This group can be further separated into smaller groups. Examples are Baptists, Lutherans,
Episcopalian, and Anabaptists. After years of working with plain business owners, I know we can divide this last group again into Mennonite and Amish. Theory of constraints is like Mennonite
among business approaches. It’s part of the Lean Approach, but has more specific beliefs not shared by Lean.

There are probably ten core business philosophies in TOC, but the one I’m focusing on is root cause. Theory of constraints taught me the time-saving technique of not focusing on symptoms,
but rather investing in root cause scrutiny. The most common example I see is the symptom of slow cash flow, but the root cause is weak profits per transaction. There is also the symptom of frustration among employees, but a root cause is a poorly communicating owner.

Clarity around the goal is 100 percent required. The goal, whether it be for yearly net income or how long I want to exercise this afternoon, must be measurable and specific. I once heard it explained as needing to be able to pass the 13-year-old test. If a 13-year-old cannot understand exactly what you want, you have more work to do refining your goal.

Once the goal is identified, laser beam your focus onto the three roadblocks that get in your way. Why three? Because I once had a coach who always clumped things into threes. It almost always
works, and to this day, I look for patterns of three. Rank them by size or ability to prevent you from reaching your goal.

Next, determine what the root causes are for each of these roadblocks.

Annoying as it is to the people I coach, asking why three times is the simplest way to do this. I remember a shed builder who felt production output was a problem. “Why?” I asked. His words
were, “I am not sure.” He well remembered the warnings I had given him before when he told me he didn’t know something that he should have. I hate that expression. So, since he didn’t know, we had to dig and dig, and finally we discovered the lack of training one of the younger workers had in his specific role of building.

Your business is only as strong as the weakest link. This means that processes, organizations, etc., are vulnerable because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them, or at
least adversely affect the outcome. Find the weakest link, create a goal with action steps on how to improve it, and repeat the process. Look for the new weakest link and repeat.

In theory of constraints, weakest links are referred to as constraints, or bottlenecks. A bottleneck, or a constraint, is anything that prevents the system from achieving its goal. There
are many ways that constraints can show up, but a core principle within TOC is that there are not tens or hundreds of constraints. There is at least one, and at most a few, in any given system. Constraints can be internal or external to the system. Theory of constraints covers much more and directs us to really focus on financial profit performance, return on investment, and cash flow.

For today, let us focus on the roadblocks. I use this as the basis of my coaching because it works. It brings results faster than being committed to one specific area of improvement for the long haul, like efficiency. Theory of constraints moves around quickly like a bee, not slowly and deliberately like a bulldozer. When applied to your business, TOC forces you to address the weakest link.

From what I have witnessed from shed builders, the most common weak links are unknown profitability and not enough closed customers. What gets in your way? What are your roadblocks? What is underneath the top of the roadblock? What causes that? What causes this one? Keep searching until you can see down to the root cause of these roadblocks. If you are baffled by where to begin, look at this past season. Or, what are you nervous about this coming busy season? If you can’t dig any further, then you probably hit the root cause.

Did this help so much you want to say thank you? You can either 1. Mail me some donuts. 2. Send me a puzzle. 3. Call me and lay out all your problems and let me figure out a roadmap for you to
follow. I’m blessed because solving business problem puzzles is a hobby as well as my job.

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