Having Business Systems Isn`t Enough – They Must Be The RIGHT Business Systems We are combining some leisure (our god-daughter`s wedding) with business (visiting a greenfield sugar project) on a trip to South Africa and Mozambique. Even though I lived here (in Swaziland) for some time, each return visit reminds me that some things are just done differently here. Since starting Mining For Business, I am constantly on the lookout for material that I can use while working with small business owners – and Africa provides ample!

Earlier this week, Uncle Reg – also visiting from Spain for the wedding – Ian and myself had occasion to visit the hardware store. Our mission was to purchase some paintbrushes. We duly selected the required brushes, a plastic bucket, and some pool chemical for good measure. (Uncle Reg has a holiday house here – with a swimming pool – where we were staying).

As in Australia, we then headed towards the “checkout”. There was an enclosed booth right next to the entry/exit door clearly marked “CASHIERS” by a large sign. There, Uncle Reg presented the items, only to be told that he must return to the desk situated immediately to the left of the Cashier. Two young ladies – both talking on phones – were attending the closest end of the desk, so Uncle Reg handed his goods to them. One of the young ladies proceeded to manually enter barcode numbers from all the items into a computer, which eventually generated – slowly, via a dot matrix printer – an Invoice (in triplicate).

We were then instructed to take the items, plus the invoice, back to the lady at the Cashier`s station. The Cashier proceeded to enter some more data into another computer, and took Uncle Reg`s money. While she was waiting for another piece of paper to be produced – in triplicate – by another very slow dot matrix printer, she had sufficient time to take another bite or two of her lunch which she had clearly been in the process of eating. Once the paperwork had been retrieved from the printer, two copies were placed to the side, and another stamped “PAID” with a large red stamp. This stamped copy was handed back to Uncle Reg. All the while, a second Cashier was busily filing the other copies from previous transactions into very large ring binders, of which there were a considerable number on a shelf above her head. From the dates written on the spines of these folder, it appears that one folder was being filled every three days!

At this point, we were certain that we were almost in complete ownership of our paint brushes, bucket and pool chemical. But there was one more step to go. At the entry/exit sat a man at another desk. Our final hurdle was to present all the items, plus our Stamped piece of paper itemising our purchases, to the man at the desk near the door. He scrutinised each line item on the piece of paper, comparing them to the goods which Uncle Reg had duly laid out on the desk for him to see. With one last, large, red “SECURITY” stamp and a quick signature, we were free to go.

For the entire process, each of the participants were situated within 5 metres of each other!

While this was quite a process to purchase two paint brushes, a bucket and a 2 kg bottle of pH regulator for the swimming pool, apparently if you need to purchase items from the builders yard out the back (timber, cement, bricks etc.), the complexity ramps up a notch, involving many more people and many more pieces of paper – and much, much more time.

Having lived in Africa myself, I do understand the reasons behind such complex systems. But even in an African context, I`m sure that this one could be streamlined!

For me, the business lesson for the day was clear.

This store had done an amazing job of implementing a Sales Transaction Process. They had a well defined Business System. Everyone in the store knew exactly what they had to do, and each person performed their task flawlessly (except maybe for the extra bite of lunch part). But the System itself was wrong.

Well, maybe not wrong, but definitely in need of improvement. My systems brain was quickly calculating what percentage cost savings could be made by introducing a bar code scanner, a faster printer……..

Sometimes, we just continue to do things the same old way in our businesses – because “We`ve always done it that way”.

Which Systems are you using in your business that could be examined, changed, streamlined or improved?

By Bronwyn Reid
1 November 2014

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