This question, or words to that effect was used by Stuart Wilkie in his September 2015 quarterly review when challenging every single middle manager in the room. We all were given a sheet of paper with enough space on it for each person to describe what they were doing or were going to do to save the company X amount of money by a given date.
In December I was asked whether I could concoct an entry system where Stuart Wilkie’s PAs would be able to enter each person’s contributions, and then construct a number of web pages where the contributions could be analysed and potentially be acted upon. So I was able to select out the people who were not able to define the value of their contributions, whereas others totally overcooked their contribution by conflating it with the total savings of a major project they were part of.
I must admit that for some people it’s not so easy to put their finger on exactly how much they contribute to the company’s bottom line. At first it left me grasping at staws. In the end I had to think hard before I decided that what I was saving the company was how much it would cost for an outside company to build the information systems I was working on at the time. Initial building costs could easily amount to £50,000+, not to speak of any follow-up costs for subsequent developments and support. Since I had two such projects on the go, I placed £100,000 on my form as a conservative estimate of the cost avoidance involved.
Still, there’s more to IT projects than mere cost avoidance. However, the other benefits are rather harder to pin down. Take for instance the original traffic lights system for Llanwern: in the first place it freed people’s time up by having information on tap, where otherwise precious hours would have to be spent grinding out information from various data sources. Obviously, how much this adds to the bottom line totally depends on whether the time gained is put to any good use.
In addition, having information on the plant performance available at the morning meeting changes the dynamics of what morning meetings are about: in the past you came there to find out what the issues were, and only then were you in a position to do something about them. Whereas if you can see the relevant information beforehand, and are aware that your managers also can see the same information, you’re going to try and come to the meeting as prepared as you can, which means having a provisional analysis and proposed solution ready for discussion.
How do you place a value on being able to identify problems and their potential causes when it’s still fresh in your mind, rather than trying to remember what happened a week ago, because it took you that long to become aware of the problem ?
Or consider testhouse referrals: this used to be a system that depended on a stream of emails, counter-emails, and hoping that in the melee you keep track of everything that’s going on. Now there’s a web-based entry screen, which sends automated emails, designating specific people to perform the appropriate response, and thereby keeping everything connected. Because everything is stored in a database everyone can select the view of the action that concerns them, and there’s also the option for a supervisor to keep track of actions that aren’t being progressed and do something to unblock them.
It’s basically the difference between something that takes a lot of effort to keep going, and which even then does not work all that well, and a well-oiled machine of a system that takes care of itself and makes people’s lives a lot easier. But how do you place a cost saving on this type of quantum change ?
I don’t know. All I can say is that of all the systems I’ve built, the testhouse referral system was the quickest to be adopted. I hardly had time to complete the first beta version, or hundreds of records were already in the system, with new ones being added at the rate of knots. Challenging ? Certainly. But it also gives you the warm feeling that you’re working on something that people clearly have a need for.
And there’s no price you can put on that type of feeling.