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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hull-Speed – What If More Canvas Won’t Make It Go Faster?

Hull speed is, from the viewpoint of design considerations, how fast a boat can move through the water.  There are all kinds of complex explanations and really neat formulas about why there are limits and how fast a hull can travel, but in simple terms the boat makes a hole in the water (displaces water) and when under way it pushes the water out of the way in the front (creating a bow wave) and it fills that hole when the boat passes (creating a stern wave).  The maximum hull speed is reached when the bow and stern waves coincide – and at that point the boat will not go any faster, no matter how much more sail or power you add – it just cannot go faster unless the boat is modified.

Think about a tugboat for a second – this squatty small boat has two huge engines – up to 1,000 horsepower each and do a great job of pushing the freighters and oceanliners around.  So with all that raw power one might think that the tug could scoot across the water at breakneck speeds when not engaging the big boats.  Can’t happen – even with the throttles full open.  Same is true of the tall ships – with their miles of canvas above deck – adding more will not get it to travel beyond its hull speed.

If more speed is your goal, the design can be modified to increase the hull speed – but at some cost…trade-offs of capacity, functionality, range and stability.  Some of the design methods to wring out more speed are to lighten the boat so it displaces less water, or to change the amount of hull that is in the water (catamaran or hydrofoil).  So, more speed is bought by less cargo capacity or maneuverability or stability in rough seas.

How does this apply to leadership of an organization?  It seems apparent to me that, after the organization has fine-tuned its processes and captured efficiencies, it has hit the equivalent of maximum hull speed.  Adding more canvas will have virtually no effect:
·    Sales are down – sales force is told to work harder…do more of the same things
·    Production capacity is at 100% - production is told to make more…using the same processes & equipment
·    Hard times> expense & staff cuts – everyone is told to hold to the original throughput – applying pretty much the same methods & controls
Typically most members of the organization will try to ‘push harder’ to meet the new reality until fatigue and frustration bleed away their energy.  Quite often there may even be an unsustainable short-term spike in results – but it is short-lived.

Whoa – is doom & gloom the only thing to look forward to???  Of course not!!!

As in the boat analogy, there are a number of things that can be done to improve things – leadership is recognizing what will have the desired effect to meet commitments with existing resources.  Some ideas:
·    Eliminate deadwood processes & procedures which do not directly add value – such as that report which is produced and ignored…if there is one or two key items of value, generate those and scrap the wrapper (i.e., all the rest of the report)
·    You may not be able to increase the capacity and output of existing equipment, but training for efficient use of the equipment will make a difference (I am still finding old documents files with hard returns after each line – just like the Selectric days)
·    Introducing a weekly status meeting – same time, short and mandatory – among and between related teams will increase accountability and collaboration…AND RESULTS
·    Applying the simplicity principle (KISS) wherever possible to whatever possible
·    Innovation comes from the ‘doers’ – seek their input
·    Use focused training – for specific results – to better prepare for accomplishing new responsibilities; mentoring is a great way to shorten the ramp-up period and get superior results
·    Do NOT expect technology to yield significant productivity gains, but do keep computers and similar equipment reasonably current and uniform (I still recall when my organization had 5 different versions of WordPerfect and 4 versions of Word on 3 generations of computers – compatibility was a pipedream and conversion was a nightmare).

To wrap up – let me return to hull speed for one more time – before making major design modifications and suffering the trade-offs of speed for functionality, why not scrape the barnacles from the hull (the list above)… this may give you that extra boost and make traveling toward your goals faster and a more pleasant trip.

Where have you seen this happen?

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