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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Pinball Effect

Have you ever played pinball?  The shiny ball moves forward smoothly on a predictable path until it strikes a bumper.  Then chaos erupts.  The ball jumps from one bumper to another. There is no predicting its path as it spins wildly out of control (It's the springs that cause the reaction). The chaos of the pinball effect is very common in business.
Think about a calm day at work.  You have a plan for the day and you are consistently making progress in your efforts.  Then.... you receive a call from an associate,  Customer BIG TIME Inc hasn't received their order and is upset.  You fire off emails to two other associates asking why. They each shoot emails to two of their team members asking for information on the order.  Those four each ask two of their team to find documentation on the order.  A VP from sales calls one of the associates looking into the order on a different matter. They are  told that will need to wait because of the lost Big Time Inc order crisis.  The sales VP runs back to their office and emails their associates to make contact with the customer and assure them all is fine and your company is working on the problem. This VP copies senior management on their email and the Production VP, seeing that email contacts their associates to pull the production schedule to make arrangements to start production on a replacement order. These team members go on the production floor to give prepare technicians they may need to switch runs.  The technician informs them that scheduling called an hour ago saying they had an expedite on another order and need to know which is the priority.  An email is sent back through the chain asking about the priorities.  Everyone now is making calls and sending emails concerning the expedited order.  Big Time Inc calls and informs you that the actually have the missing order, it was delivered to the wrong dock and the crisis is over.  Not for you.  Everyone is now chasing the mysterious expedited order you just found out about. And the pinball moves on to the next bumper.

This only happens in GOOD companies.  It is rooted in, a sense of urgency, a desire to communicate and the drive to deliver great service to your customers. The very things that make companies successful, can disrupt production and create confusion.  While several people are acting on the "crisis" production is interrupted and other crisis maybe developing due to inattention.  Everyone is acting with the highest intentions, the problem is EVERYONE is acting.

The key to any "crisis" is establishing an event manager. Event Manager is not an individual or position on the organization chart.  It is simply a member of the team that takes ownership of the event.   

The event manager can be anyone in the organization. It is most effective when it is an individual with the authority to make decisions and whose responsibilities most closely correlate to the event. The event manager becomes communication central and directs the actions.  Others may provide suggest from their area of expertise but no action is taken without the direction of the event manager.  This allows most team members to stay focused on their responsibilities while the event manager only utilizes select people to focus on the event. The event manager will cut through the clutter, duplication of effort and conflicting directions to provide a smooth seamless conclusion to the situation and allow others to focus on current business at hand.

If you are pinball fan, I suggest you go to the arcade.  Use an event manager at work to coordinate your efforts and allow your team to focus on their jobs.

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