My Left Thumb and the NBA: Limiting Factors and Diagnosing Organizational Inefficiencies

Like many young boys, I was convinced that I was destined for the NBA. No matter the weather or the temperature you’d find me out in my driveway shooting hoops and envisioning championship-winning buzzer-beaters. My game was not one of overwhelming athleticism or skilled perfection. I excelled in basketball because I was intellectual in my approach. I was constantly analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of myself and others. It was this approach that led me to the sad realization that my jumpshot was not consistent enough. The trick with anything, whether in business or in life, is to have a consistent and repeatable process. For some reason, I had an inconsistency in my shot and it introduced variability into my basketball-shooting process. In a similar way, OpEx (Operational Executives) are required to find inconsistencies in an organization’s processes and solve them. But using my situation as an aspiring basketball player, let’s examine how we can improve the process of process improvement.

Wonky spin. I knew there was a problem with my form because of the way the ball spun in the air. In business, we often don’t initially see the issues within our processes. We see the outcomes and we have to make educated guesses as to what the problem really is. It’s our job to become experts in leading vs lagging indicators. Does that spin look wrong because my follow-through is sideways? Maybe it’s rolling off my fingers wrong? All too often, businesses can’t diagnose issues in their processes because the effort required to see into those processes is so high. Data exports, pivot tables, and bloated spreadsheets sometimes take days or even weeks. We need a better way to quickly visualize what’s happening so that improvements can be implemented immediately.

In truth, process inefficiencies have always made their way into businesses. In turn, eliminating them has always been a problem. People have created entire companies dedicated to building software products that would solve the problem. Flowcharts and process diagramming softwares allowed managers to visualize what the ideal process looked like, but didn’t offer any insight as to what problems might occur and notifications for when they did. Business intelligence software attempted to give context on everything under the sun within a business. In some ways, they succeeded. Unfortunately, it only gave visibility on what the process achieved, not how each step of the process was being carried out. BI gave visibility that was only cursory, making it hard for operators to understand the efficiencies/inefficiencies in their processes. In reality, process improvement has never had a solution that fits its importance.

As weird as it sounds, my shooting process was being influenced by my off-handed thumb. When I was young, I wasn’t strong enough to get the ball to the basket without an extra push from my left thumb. Great — now that the problem was identified, I could remove that off-hand thumb from my process. My dad had me practice shooting for hours every day while wearing a sock over my left hand (restricting my left hand from influencing the release). I immediately began to see progress. I improved my shooting and then shifted my focus to other areas of my game that needed improving. In our experience, organizations need to resolve a couple of primary issues that will then release a majority of their time to start to resolve smaller issues. Once you have a clear grasp on your processes, it’s easy to find the big problems. Once those are resolved, you can focus your time on the smaller, more refined improvements that take a business from good to great.

Processes are the backbone of how we live our lives. By finding the limiting factors to those processes, we’re able to pinpoint where we should be spending our time. In business, that job has been carried out mostly by overworked data teams and executives that should be doing other things. At Cardagraph, we automate the prep-work necessary to make informed decisions. Reach out today and let’s do something about the “wonky spin” in your processes.

Jordan Hale
Director of Sales
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