22 October 2011

Finding Common Ground Between the CFO and COO–Part 1

It seems as though many organizations are at war within. During boom-times, the war is more subdued, but is still there. But in tough—really tough—economic times the war is more evident than ever.

What is that war?

The war is that age-old dispute between meeting customer service level demands and holding inventory levels within reason. In really tough times, keeping inventory levels down becomes even more critical to the CFO—and the organization’s survival, perhaps—because cash held in inventory for long periods of time puts a real crunch in the vital cash-flow of the firm.

Now, it is likely that the COO will surrender in times like these. He or she will understand that (too frequently) it really is a matter of survival to maintain the cash-flow. So, the COO might say something like:

“Okay. I get it. I’ll reduce inventories as much as I can. But don’t blame me if we can ship orders or keep our customers happy.”

What are your options?

Some have put it this way: In tough economic times you firm is going to

  1. Sink,
  2. Shrink, or
  3. Prevail.

I prefer to put that into four categories. Furthermore, I do not believe that those four categories are applicable only in tough times. I believe that they are fully applicable to every business enterprise all of the time. Here they are shown in the figure below: 1) failing, 2) risking, 3) competing or 4) leading.

From Failing to Leading

I believe the determining factors in every business enterprise are inherently simple and are only two in number:

  1. Effectiveness – The measure of how effectively the firm employs the monies invested and how effectively does it spends its working capital in the process of turning inventory (or services) into throughput? This is a measure of managements effectiveness in managing its internal workings and the inbound side of the supply chain.
  2. Differentiation – This is the measure of effective management is in dealing externally in the outbound side of the supply chain. This measure covers everything from R&D (research and development) through to marketing, sales and customer service.

The problem with these two terms (i.e., effectiveness and differentiation) is not that they are hard to grasp. Everyone seems to know in a very general way that they need to manage the firm to be effective in using its resources and that, in order to be profitable, they need to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.The problem is that many people seem to have difficulty these two words into concrete and effective actions.

So, let me restate the same figure using a different set of terms.

From Failing to Leading-2

Note that I have redefined the two factors as follows:

  1. Effectiveness = Increasing Throughput

  2. Differentiation = Breadth of Market through Irrefusable Offers

But, in dealing with my clients, I go beyond that. I use Eliyahu Goldratt’s definition of throughput:

Throughput (T) = Revenues – Truly Variable Costs (TVC)

Now, simplicity is at the root of this whole approach.

I know the CFO needs to do certain things to satisfy other executives, the bank, investors, and others. I know he needs to do some relatively complex allocations of operating expenses to costs for various reasons.

But, the COO needs to have a way to tell his people—from sales to shipping—how to easily differentiate good actions from bad actions. And, those fancy allocations just get in the way—muddying up the waters—when it comes to decision-making in operations.

We will take a look at that relatively simple equation for throughput again. But before we do, we need to define another term: TVC.

Truly Variable Costs (TVC) are limited to those costs that vary in an absolute way with incremental changes in revenues. Typically, TVCs are limited to a few categories:

  1. Raw materials
  2. Contract labor or outside services paid for on a piece-rate or batch-rate
  3. Commissions

You will note that so-called “direct labor” is not a part of TVCs. Here’s why: If your company sells, on average, 100,000 widgets a month, does your labor actually vary if, in month one you sell only 80,000 widgets and in month two you sell 130,000 widgets? In month one was your labor bill on 80 percent of “average,” and was it 130 percent of “average” in month three?

Probably not. Labor is an operating expense that does not vary directly with changes in revenues.

Given that premise for TVCs and going back to our formula, there are really only three (3) ways to increase throughput:

  1. Increase revenues
  2. Decrease TVCs
  3. Increase revenues and decrease TVCs

Meanwhile, back at the war…

One of the problems with (the many times unspoken) “war” between the CFO and the COO is that when they do reach common ground, it is all too often found only in “cost-cutting” rather than looking at ways to increase revenues.

The reason for this leap to common ground, of course, is made most clear by my first figure: typically, both the CFO and the COO feel more prepared and confident in dealing with the internal operations than with all the nebulous factors that lie outside the organization. So, dealing with internal effectiveness trumps trying to achieve higher levels of market differentiation—especially in challenging times.

[To be continued…]

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