All systems go: Five tools to help you run leaner and smarter

feature-hexigo-200-2Fast-growth SMEs struggle with putting systems into their business. They grow and grow to a point where they realise they have this unwieldy behemoth that is difficult to manage and almost out of control.

When that happens, they need to go back and put systems and processes in place. There are all sorts of management tools they can select from, systems that allow them to manage their time, projects and decisions in a structured way and harness the full power of ideas.

There are tools for everything – from HR, financial and administrative information to lots of cool new things like collaboration and even decision-making.

Here are five key management tools worth examining.

1. Hexigo

A decision management tool developed by systems integration company JadeLynx, Hexigo is an enterprise collaborative platform that gets companies making decisions and also ensures there is total accountability.

Nothing slips through the cracks. Here is how it works: A tech company manager calls a team of 20 people together with a proposal, say to expand into North America. He asks them for feedback. Each team member then writes up their view.  Some say it’s a great idea. Others are not so certain because the US economy is still underperforming. Someone in the team posts a report from consultants identifying American cities where the tech sector is booming, and which states are offering incentives to attract them. Another posts a video of a CEO from one US tech operator talking about how they broke into new markets.

All the ideas are taken down, assessed and, if they work, are followed up. A few weeks later, the manager calls the team together and tells them the firm is opening an office in Los Angeles. He asks them to vote and ratify the decision.

The system is much more sophisticated than a blog or a forum. JadeLynx has developed patented software which tracks the dialogue. With this software, the manager types in a time frame and people are sent reminders to make their input before the due date.

JadeLynx chief executive officer James Cattermole says the beauty of this system is that it builds real accountability into the decision-making process. Ideas that are raised have to be followed through. No idea is raised, and then put on hold permanently, which is what one often sees happening in companies.

“The big thing that happens in a lot of organisations is that the actual decision-making tends to have very little rigour around it,’’ Cattermole says. “They have lot of processes for things like project management and procurement but actual decision-making is often just done by whoever happens to be sitting around the table at the time.’’

“That’s why we call this a decision management system. It’s about the power of big organisations where decisions are made every day. They could be big decisions and they could be little decisions. The problem is that 70% of those decisions get lost. What we try to focus on is the re-usability if you like of decisions in order for companies to become more efficient. Also, there’s a productivity gain by not having to go over old ground. It ensures that everyone is on the same page.

“It’s your opportunity to give your 10 cents worth and based on all the collaborative engagement that people give, you can shape the final outcome.”

2. 5S

This is a system that originated in Japan and was developed by Toyota as part of the lean manufacturing process. The tool aims to create an efficient and effective workplace where everything is standardised and monitored. As with Hexigo, the aim is to stop things slipping through.

5S refers to five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke. Translated, the 5S framework is:

  • Sorting out, where everything important is prioritised and easily accessed and anything less necessary is stored elsewhere;
  • Setting in order, where everything is put in its place;
  • Shining and checking, where everything is kept clean, tidy and organised and dirt is eliminated;
  • Standardising, which can include checklists, simple tools to track regular cleaning tasks and setting clear roles and responsibilities; and
  • Sustaining, where there are processes for ongoing improvements and where results are audited. The aim of this is to establish a culture of continuous improvement.

The 5S system was developed to create a standard that would give front line employees input into how their workplace is organised, allowing them to come up with ideas for creating a better work environment where everyone would be adhering to a clear set of rules and processes.

Tim McLean, chief executive officer of lean manufacturing and project management company TXM Lean Solutions, says 5S might have originated in manufacturing but it is now used in many different sectors.

Any place that is looking to engage its workforce, he says, uses 5S.

“For example, you’ll find 5s in any hospital. Most hospitals and health care businesses in Australia would use these lean manufacturing techniques,’’ McLean says.

“It’s all about setting a standard and organising the workplace. It’s about housekeeping and having everything in its place. It’s a very good platform for creating an organised and disciplined workforce and it’s also a very good tool for engaging people in improvement, and getting people interested and involved in improving their workplace.”

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