Business musings

Articles and thoughts about continuous improvement

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  

Earlier in the year, we ran an innovation masterclass at the Coventry Growth Hub for the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce. It was great to see everyone getting their heads around innovation and what it means for their business. The event has been featured in C&W in Business and we thought you’d like to see the article.

Participants explore how to become more innovative during the Chamber’s January Masterclass run by strategic innovation consultancy Stocker Partnership

It’s looking like 2015 will be the year of innovation…

For the 30 businesses that attended the Chamber’s Innovation Masterclass run by Stocker Partnership, it’s looking like 2015 will be the year of innovation.

The well-attended event was relocated to the conferencing facilities at Cheylesmore House due to high demand from business professionals wanting to learn how to apply innovation in their businesses.

Innovation specialists Matt and Debbie Stocker from strategic innovation consultancy Stocker Partnership challenged participants to think differently about their businesses and to step beyond their everyday experiences.

They opened the group’s eyes to the fact that it is possible to innovate anything and everything within a business, rather than innovation being limited to the creation of new products alone.

Sarah Hickman from Public Marketing Communications said, “Innovation can seem like a daunting subject that doesn’t necessarily apply to your business on a day to day basis. When you think about innovation you tend to think of organisations like Apple. You might think, ‘I could never aspire to be an organisation like that.’

“The Masterclass has been useful because we’ve learnt ways that you can actually apply innovation to your business. Even if you’re a small business or a sole trader, you can still innovate and there are practical steps you can take to introduce innovation.”

The Masterclass covered a number of powerful innovation tools, from disruptive thinking that challenges accepted norms in your marketplace or company, to using the power of silent crowdsourcing to generate ideas and solve problems through BrainSwarming.

It also looked at how approaches from another industry can be introduced to expand thinking and unlock new ideas as the latest Software as a Service revenue models were applied to create new income streams. Participants worked hard throughout the morning to develop practical ideas that they could implement as soon as they got back to the office.

Matt Stocker, Director of Stocker Partnership, shared, “It was great to see everyone beginning to view themselves as innovators and starting to understand the value of innovation in their businesses at a deeper level. Innovation is a hugely powerful tool that can be used to drive revenue growth, reduce costs, solve complex challenges and differentiate businesses from the competition. I’m excited to see how the great ideas that everyone came up with will be applied in their respective businesses over the coming year and the impact that this will have.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June edition of C&W In Business, Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber’s official magazine.

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Performance Improvement  Technology & Web  

pile-of-papersChances are, if you are anything like most businesses, you have a lot of paper to deal with in your office and in your job. The fact is, we rely to a large extent on paper: to communicate, to record, to remind, to sell. The promise of a paper free office remains a technological fantasy for many.

However, it is important to recognise the scalability issues of paper as a technology: paper can only be in one place at one time so it doesn’t work well across multiple sites; revision control is tricky; and it can be hard to back up – do you have duplicate copies of everything if worst came to the worst?

Even if we cannot remove paper entirely, there are things we can do to consign it to a supporting role rather than the main deal within a business.

Steps to creating a paperless office

1. Analysing your processes

The first idea to grasp is the fact that paper usually relates to a process or processes within your organisation. Understanding this will provide a solid foundation for beginning to deal with the paper as the processes themselves provide the structural foundation for creating a paperless office. By analysing the papers for clues about the activities the paper itself represents and following this paper through the system, you can outline your processes, giving you an accurate view of ‘now’.

2. Revising your processes

The next step is to revise your processes in order to maximise efficiency. This includes:

  • Eliminating bottle necks and their resulting backlogs
  • Removing unecessary steps within the process(es)
  • Assessing crossover and interdependency of processes within the wider organisation to ensure integration
  • And, overall, designing as lean a process as possible.

Value stream mapping may be a good tool to use at this stage. The people involved in each process within your organisation will also be a vital source of information and feedback as they are the people on the ground who are involved in the processes day-in, day-out.

3. Integrating paper and technology

Having created a coherent set of lean processes, the next challenge is to reduce the use of paper where possible. This can be done by assessing the processes to find out which parts of them can be automated and then developing an IT and technology solution that has your best practice processes inherently embedded into its system. In other words, the IT and technology solution reflects and is built around your processes, rather than the processes being built around the technology.

4. Sustainable continuous improvement

Once you have found a solution that works for your organisation as a whole and that maximises your efficiency and effectiveness, it is important to maintain the momentum of improvement. Ongoing assessment and revision will ensure that as your organisation grows and develops your processes continue to support the delivery of your organisation’s objectives. New technology is also continually emerging that may provide a solution to paper based systems where a solution did not previously exist. Staying abreast of these developments allows you to continually improve organisational performance and efficiency.

5. Reducing risk

Although it is not always possible to eliminate the use of paper completely, you should not be relying on paper for mission critical functions. However, neither should you be relying on technology without a business continuity plan in place. Whatever system and solution you are using, you should always make sure that fail-safes and redundancies are built into the process(es).

If you would like any advice or support in creating a paperless office for your organisation, please contact me or call me on 02476 100 193 – I would love to help!


Businesses tend to go through periods of change and periods of stability as they grow and develop. Many businesses will be inclined to gravitate around a position of stability once they find what works best, whether this be what works best for their strategy, their products and services, or any other part of the business.

However, the challenge remains that, even if the strategies or solutions a business has employed have been effective, they operate in a world of constant change. As a result, something that used to work won’t necessarily carry on working. Something that works well at the moment will reach a point of needing new strategies and new solutions.

Whilst it can be hard to face the fact that something might not be working as well as it once did, the sooner the reality is faced, the sooner changes can be made to improve the situation and restore your business to its position of excellence.

At the beginning of 2010, could you challenge yourself to take an honest look at your business or department? Is it the best it could be? What could work better? And how can you make your business even better for your staff, your customers and yourself?

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Performance Improvement  

One of the key challenges in business improvement is “holding the gain”.

Holding the gain means ensuring that, once improvements to your business have been implemented, the area you have been working on stays improved. Continually.

Without a focus on holding the gain, you run the risk that when you move onto the next development project, all your hard won gains from the last are lost. As your focus moves elsewhere in the business, there is a danger that you leave the previous improvements to slowly deteriorate.

So how can you make sure you don’t lose your hard won gain? Shewhart/Deming’s PDCA Cycle is a good place to start…

  • Plan. Work out your improvement plan before you start implementing it so you know exactly what you’ve agreed, how you are going to measure it and what you are expecting to be the result.
  • Do. If you don’t actually carry out the improvement, you won’t find out if it works! “If objectives are only good intentions they are worthless. They must degenerate into work.” (Drucker, 2007, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, p.101)
  • Check. If you don’t check your target measures (e.g. volume of sales) before implementing the improvement and after it has been implemented, you’ll only be guessing as to whether the improvement worked. Checking these measures allows you to find out if the improvement is achieving the results you expected. A note of caution however – make sure you allow enough time for the improvement to bed-in before you jump to conclusions about the results.  Some measures may take several months to achieve the intended results; checking them in the first week may lead you to believe the improvement has not worked, whereas really it just needed time to get up to speed. Over time, you will then need to keep checking these results at regular intervals: this allows you to compare performance to the results you got first time around and to your expected results over time, thereby assessing whether the improvement is still performing at the expected level or whether it has lost its gain over time.
  • Act. Having planned, done and checked, you now need to act. If the improvement has had the desired results, you need to act to hold your gain, or if it hasn’t performed as expected, you may need to start again by re-planning. It can be tempting to quickly move onto the next area of improvement without actually putting in measures to ensure you hold your gain. Measures to hold your gain may include (for example): revising processes; (re)writing policy; implementing ongoing staff training processes, and so on. And, at this stage, don’t forget to schedule the next time you’re going to check your results again to ensure you’ve held the gain over the long term.

Once you’ve done all of the above, you may proceed to plan your next improvement!

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  

Business excellence isn’t about being the ‘perfect’ business. And it isn’t about always getting everything right.

But nor is it accepting and maintaining the status quo.

Rather, business excellence is about the continual striving to develop and improve our businesses, one step at a time.

It is a mindset that says, “Whatever and wherever my business is right now, it can be better, and it will be better.”

And so that’s what we do: we take each element of our business, assess it, and improve it.   We listen to our customers, we listen to our staff, we listen to people in the know, and then we act.

Again, and again, and again.

And the result?business_excellence_image
We have more loyal customers, more involved staff, better products/services, more efficient operations, more awareness of what is going on around us in the market place.

Our businesses start to become stronger, more competitive, better.

That’s real world business excellence!