Problem-solving at the Upper Management Level


Full step-by-step application of the process, documented on chartpad or notepad, is required most often for concrete problems whose identity can be directly observed or easily visualized. These largely are mechanical, tangible situations.

At the upper management level, however, application of the process often consists of use of the ideas of the process. This includes discussion of a situation in al l its dimensions rather than formulation of hypotheses based on experience; attention to distinctions of identity, location, timing and magnitude rather than informed speculation alone; and testing of possible causes against the facts surrounding a situation rather than immediate action directed at the cause suggested by informed speculation. Data may be recorded and notes taken, but use of the process at upper levels of management is usually observable in the character of the questioning and the nature of the investigation. We observe people using the common language of Problem Analysis to organize their information, communicate it, and put it in perspective. They are sharing information through the channels of a systematic process. They are using words that will clarify each individual’s contributions.

Busy managers are not avoiding responsibility when they tell subordinates, “I want you to solve your own problems.” They have neither the time nor the specific skills to personally guide their subordinates’ problem-solving efforts. The truth of the matter is that managers who become directly involved in problem solving are subject to criticism for failing to set priorities on their own time or to delegate appropriately—in short, for failing to manage their operations. Managers need not have all the right answers. What is required of them are the ability and willingness to ask the right questions. The kind of questioning we use in specifying, in identifying distinctions and change, and in testing possible causes lends itself well to the process of assessing the logic and the work that other people have contributed to resolving a problem.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Analyzing Current Situation: Checklist


Phase 1: The Environment

  1. What is the state of the economy and are there any trends that could affect the industry, firm, or marketing strategy?
  2. What are current trends in cultural and social values and how do these affect the industry, firm, or marketing strategy?
  3. What are current political values and trends and how do they affect the industry, firm, or marketing strategy?
  4. Is there any current or pending federal, state, or local legislation that could change the industry, firm, or marketing strategy?
  5. Overall, are there any threats or opportunities in the environment that could influence the industry, firm, or marketing strategy?

Phase 2: The Industry

  1. What industry is the firm in?
  2. Which firms are the major competitors in the industry and what is their annual sales, market share, and growth profile?
  3. What strategies have competitors in the industry been using, and what has been their success with them?
  4. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of competitors in the industry?
  5. Is there a threat of new competitors coming into the industry, and what are the major entry barriers?
  6. Are there any substitute products for the industry, and what are their advantages and disadvantages compared to this industry’s products?
  7. How much bargaining power do suppliers have in this industry, and what is its impact on the firm and industry profits?
  8. How much bargaining power do buyers have in this industry, and what is its impact on the firm and industry profits?

Phase 3: The Firm

  1. What are the objectives of the firm? Are they clearly stated? Attainable?
  2. What are the strengths of the firm? Managed expertise? Financial? Copyrights or patents?
  3. What are the constraints and weaknesses of the firm?
  4. Are there any real or potential sources of dysfunctional conflict in the structure of the firm?
  5. How is the marketing department structured in the firm?

Phase 4: The marketing Strategy

  1. What are the objectives of the marketing strategy? Are they clearly stated? Are they consistent with the objectives of the firm? Is the entire marketing mix structured to meet these objectives?
  2. What marketing concepts are at issue in the current strategy? Is the marketing strategy well planned and laid out? Is the strategy consistent with sound marketing principles? If the strategy takes exception to marketing principles, is there a good reason for it?
  3. To what target market is the strategy directed? Is it well defined? Is the market large enough to be profitably served? Does the market have long-run potential?
  4. What competitive advantage does the marketing strategy offer? If none, what can be done to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace?
  5. What products are being sold? What is the width, depth, and consistency of the firm’s product lines? Does the firm need new products to fill out its product line? Should any product be deleted? What is the profitability of the various products?
  6. What promotion mix is being used? Is promotion consistent with the products and product images? What could be done to improve the promotion mix?
  7. What channels of distribution are being used? Do they deliver the product at the right time and right place to meet customer needs? Are the channels typical of those used in the industry? Could channels be made more efficient?
  8. What pricing strategies are being used? Hw do prices compare with similar products of other firms? How are prices determined?
  9. Are marketing research and information systematically integrated into the marketing strategy? Is the overall marketing strategy internally consistent?

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Rejected Circuits


The simple question, “Why?” is a poor substitute for the four dimensional questioning we use in problem analysis. Yet, whenever something goes wrong, it is second nature to as “Why?” and then review the flood of answers in hope that one of them will instantly suggest the problem’s actual cause. The usual rationalization for the “Why?” approach is that people have been hired for their expertise and experience. If they can’t come up with answers for problems that occur in the operation, those people don’t belong in their jobs. Concrete results arising from the combination of systematic techniques and technical expertise are the only things that will convince a manager that questions are as important as answers.

Once the question “When?” had been asked and answered, the people involved could focus their technical expertise where it would do the most good.

Regardless of the content of the problem, the search for specific and accurate answers demands specific and precise questions.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The New Work of Leaders


Our traditional view of leaders—as special people who set the direction, make key decisions, and energize the troops—is deeply rooted in an individualistic and nonsystematic worldview. Especially in the West, leaders are heroes—great men (and occasionally women) who rise to the fore in times of crisis. So long as such myths prevail, they reinforce a focus on short-term events and charismatic heroes rather than on systematic forces and collective learning.

Leadership in learning organizations centers on subtler and ultimately more important work. In a learning organization, leaders’ roles differ dramatically from that of the charismatic decision-maker. Leaders are designers, teachers, and stewards. These roles require new skills: the ability to build shared vision, to bring to the surface and challenge prevailing mental models, and to foster more systematic patterns of thinking. Leaders are responsible for building organizations where people are continually expanding their capabilities to shape their future—that is, leaders are responsible for learning.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Purchasing Information


Basic data that should be systematically collected include:

  • Purchase item number and description
  • Quantity required
  • Date item required
  • Date purchase requisition received or authorized
  • Purchase requisition or authorization number
  • Supplier(s) quoted
  • Date supplier(s) quoted
  • Date quotes required from supplier(s)
  • Supplier quote(s)
  • Supplier price discount schedule
  • Purchase order number
  • Date purchase order placed
  • Purchase price per unit
  • Quantity or percent of annual requirements purchased
  • Planned purchase price per unit
  • Supplier name
  • Supplier address
  • Supplier promise ship date
  • Supplier lead time (days or weeks for purchase item)
  • Date purchase item received
  • Quantity received
  • Purchase item accepted or rejected (unit/lot)
  • Storage location
  • Buyer
  • Work unit
  • Requested price change
  • Effective date of requested price change
  • Date price change approved
  • Ship to location

These basic transaction data are needed for purchasing decisions and management control systems, especially if these are computerized.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Japan’s Manufacturing Techniques


Nations are built not with bricks and stones but with the capacity to create and apply knowledge. The result of knowledge creation and application in manufacturing and management practices is well demonstrated by Japan. Today we are witness to many industrialized economies that are strengthening their manufacturing activities simply by adopting these techniques.

The distinguishing characteristics associated with Japanese manufacturing techniques include an emphasis on designing and redesigning processes to optimize efficiency and a strong commitment to quality.

The manufacturing techniques that Japanese companies practice provide a competitive advantage and outstanding economic performance. The key for success is an understanding of the broad context of manufacturing culture, infrastructure and environment. These sound manufacturing and business techniques created and adopted by leading Japanese manufacturers have turned out to be the secret of their market leadership in many industries.

Following are a few of these concepts, which can help in managing any business set-up in a better way:

  • Kaizen is one such technique, which in Japanese means ‘improve.’ This is commonly recognized as practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, business activities in general, and even life in general, depending on interpretation and usage. By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen helps in eliminating waste.
  • Another management Japanese technique is the 5-S. It is a technique used to establish and maintain quality environment in an organization. It has five elements: Seiri (sorting out useful and frequently used materials and tools from unwanted and rarely used things); Seiton (keeping things in the right place systematically so that searching or movement time is minimized); Seiso (keeping everything around you clean and in a neat manner); Seiketsu (standardizing the above principles in everyday life) and Shitsuke (inculcating good habits and practicing them continuously). The 5-S practice helps everyone in the organization to live a better life.
  • Kanban and ‘Just in Time’ are two other practices in inventory management practices that were pioneered by the Japanese automobile manufacturers, such as Toyota. Quality improvement, on the other hand, is the result of lower proportion of component scrap since the components spend less time in the supply chain.
  • Poka-yoke is a process improvement focused on training of workers for mastering the increasingly complicated tasks to selectively redesign the tasks so they could be more easily and reliably mastered. It involves designing a foolproof process to eliminate the chance of errors.
  • Jidoka is a practice by means of which an individual worker runs several machines simultaneously. Japan thus designs such machines that eliminate both error and the need for constant supervision.
  • Muda is another technique that reduces wasteful activity in service processes. It ensures process efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Mura curiously combines rigidity and flexibility and thus teaches service process improvement.
  • Reducing Muri means reducing physical strain. In services process improvement, Muri applies to convoluted and unnecessary routings, physical transfer, and distances paper files may have to travel for a process to complete.
  • Genchi Gembutsu means going to the actual scene (genchi) and confirming the actual scene (gembutsu). Observation of service processes at the point where it is actually delivered may unearth a host of problems such as lack of training, unnecessary steps, or a number of other areas that would benefit from small but significant process improvement ideas.

This is a glimpse of manufacturing techniques that Japan has so intellectually created and so profoundly practiced in its manufacturing systems that even with no natural resources, it has acquired the status of one of the most industrialized nations. Can we learn from Japan?

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight.

Intuitive Leadership and Sound Business


Intuitive Leadership is a term that has come into vogue only recently. In fact, tough-minded male executives have confessed to using intuition in their decision-making. Intuitive leadership is more than simply old-style leadership with some intuition added in to guide the corporate decision. It is leadership that takes into account both (a) the executives’ appreciation of their inner resources that are available but often not used and (b) the changes in institutions and society that are accompanying the “awakening” of employees and the public at large. The term “awakening” is used to describe the general phenomenon whereby people are becoming aware that they no longer have to accept their adopted beliefs, beliefs that they developed or accepted throughout most of their lives. These beliefs can include belief in the inderiority of certain ethnic or gender groups, beliefs in the sacrosanctity of economic customs and business practices (even if they are demonstrably not good for people or the planet), belief in powerlessness before the “big system,” or belief in the limited extent of one’s own ability to create what one wants.

In view of these changes, what is sound business for the future? What do these changes mean to business people? Of one thing we can be sure: business life will be replete with challenges. Some of these challenges will stem from the global dilemmas, with growing recognition of the role business has unwittingly played in accelerating modern society’s race towards self-destruction. Some of these challenges will stem from the changing attitudes of employees and the general public—the customers. The new environment for business will emphasize innovation and will be highly competitive. To prosper in such an environment, a business firm will need to attract and hold its most creative people. To do that, businesses will have to provide a work environment that fosters creativity development.

Developing intuitive leadership in the future will not be a luxury or a passing fad; it will be the heart of business. The challenges will be great. It will be necessary to deal effectively with the increasing complexity, interconnectedness, and systematic nature of the economic system. There is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that there will be persistent problems of mediocrity, debt, trade balance, global dilemmas, and worker morale. The good news is that we have inner resources we haven’t been using—untapped resources that are quite capable of dealing with these problems.

Thus “intuition” is not just a new gimmick in management decision making. Intuition is a code word for a necessary transformation of business—indeed, of global society.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Characteristics of Analysis


Analysis uses scientific methodology: a systematic, rational, critical appraisal of the phenomenon under investigation based on emperical facts. Analysis in the social sciences is different in some respects from analysis in the natural sciences, which take a much narrower view of what can be measured and known. However, the basic motivation—to understand and to establish control over the environment—is the same, as are the essential methods. The distinction between analysis in the natural and social sciences lies in the kinds of questions explored.

The intellectual activities of analysis are directed toward practice issues and practical application. Assessment of the data and the search for relevant research and theoratical constructs are part of a progression toward action. The goal is to enable the change agent to make informed choices.

In addition, analysis is carried out within a social context and involves subjective judgments, preferences, and values. Naturality and disinterested inquiry are not characteristics of social science analysis. Ideologies, beliefs, and assumptions affect both the perception and the interpretation of imperical data.

The purpose of analysis in the planned change process is to facilitate decision-making. Analysis clarifies the nature and dynamics of the change opportunity and the relevance of possible responses. However, it is not realistic to expect analysis to provide “the answer.”

Different planners can assess the same situation and produce quite different analyses insofar as each shapes the problem in terms of his background, training, experience, and values. The reality of competing views of human service conditions, problems, needs, issues, and change opportunities in no way lessens the importance of analysis.

Analysis, then, may be expected to clarify options, trace implications, and provide grounding for judgments. Useful analysis will be critical, thorough, and systematic and will be oriented toward practical application.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Marketing Communications


Marketing Communications is a systematic relationship between a business and its market in which the marketer assembles a wide variety of ideas, designs, messages, media, shapes, forms and colors, both to communicate ideas to, and to stimulate a particular perception of products and services by, individual people who have been suggested into a target market. The result of this process of assembling is referred to by marketers as the communications mix, and this is what is seen, heard and hopefully understood by the customers in the market. To assemble this mix, the marketer uses a number of marketing communication tools: personal selling, advertising, sales promotions, public relations, direct marketing and marketing design and much more.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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