Slow Down to Go Fast

February 28, 2011

In the business world today there is much debate over what tools and   structure should be used to ‘fix things’. However there is not much discussion or thought about what should be fixed. Regardless of the tool you choose the first step should always be slow down then go fast.  It’s more important to know what to fix before you just start fixing.  Below are the first steps one executive recommends you take before applying tools.


By Thomas Myrick, Financial Protection Services, Bank of America


How often do you head home from a jam-packed day feeling confident you could not have worked harder but doubtful that your efforts were devoted to the things that will drive your organization to results?

Six Sigma’s introduction at my company brought a number of helpful tools and routine however the biggest benefit to my business was an initial requirement that we pause, step back and gather data to determine what work to focus on.

Agree on the “y”

It starts with identifying your primary metric — the one goal above all others that will determine success for your team.  It is the output in the formula that you will develop: y = f (x1,x2,x3,x4,…).   Easy, right?  Not usually.  It will depend on many factors including the expectations of your customers and shareholders, the maturity of your business and the processes your team controls.

Our business was very profitable but too small to matter to the large corporation we were a part of so we chose topline Revenue Growth.  Over time we migrated to the bottom line, Operating Income Growth.  If you run a service or manufacturing operation your y will likely be some form of Quality or Productivity.

Choosing the wrong primary metric can result in spinning of wheels (for example, Market Share… will customers or shareholders care?) or serious damage (hear about the bank that focused on Unit Sales of new accounts?).  Healthy, data-driven debate will usually be required to decide on the right primary metric.

Find the “x’s”

Then the real arduous but vital task begins — identifying the inputs, the key drivers of your primary metric, in priority order.  This is a science, not an art, so get folks involved who remember regression analysis from their stats classes.  Big surprises await.  In order to grow revenue we had devoted dozens of people to sales but only a few to customer retention, which we learned was a far bigger opportunity with much less expense.

Identify your top critical few (four to six) x’s, which are typically processes that can be continuously improved.  Assemble good measurement for each and you’ll feel your organization begin to pick up speed.  In a sales process the x’s are pretty obvious, e.g. # of leads, contact rate, offer rate, closure rate, sale price.  But if your y is Customer Satisfaction you’ll likely have to dig through lots of Voice of Customer (VOC) data in order to find the key x’s.

Manage the x’s and the y will take care of itself

Plot the trends of your x’s over time on a set of graphs (those pictures are worth a thousand spread sheets) and focus your team’s efforts on finding ways to improve the trends.  You’ll be excited to see a long list of opportunities to move your y.  Prioritize these opportunities and organize work teams around the critical few.  Then crisp progress reports on each of those initiatives can replace thick decks in your regular business reviews.

After a while I honestly had the sensation I could just sit back and “watch the dials”.

So, with your team focused on the right work, and sailing along without your micromanagement, what will you do with your free time?  Use it to go and learn from your customers and competitors.  Find the unmet needs out there and the differentiators you could introduce in your products and your processes.  Those new insights will spark innovations that can accelerate progress on your x’s.

Now here’s the bad news…

This will take at least 18 months.  Few organizations have the discipline to see it through and thereby understand all the benefits.  Most will keep spinning, keep shifting priorities based on the boss’s intuition, keep fighting fires, and keep mistaking all that activity for achievement.  Slow down, take this approach, and you’ll ultimately fly by them!