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Cold Stone MBA: “what if”?

April 9, 2012

March in Michigan is not usually a time for record sales in the ice cream business.  But, the luck of the Irish was with us on St. Patty’s Day:  an 80-degree, sunny Saturday, perfect for being out and partying in Royal Oak!

What that translated into at the Cold Stone store was a rush that started when we opened at noon and continued until we shut the doors at midnight.  We went from operating at about 20 percent of our capacity to over capacity in one day.

We survived.  We thrived. 

The only thing that saved us from a massive implosion during this unexpected fortune were solid systems:

  • We had hired for the summer a month early, in February.  Our rookies we up to speed enough to contribute mightily!
  • Our shift leads had sensed the possibility of extraordinary business, and had beefed up our ice cream production – we only ran out of one flavor.
  • Everyone knew what was required to run the store.  We had checklists, we followed the checklists, the line never reached the door (which means the customers didn’t have to wait too long).

I thought about this in the context of professional service firms.  Many of us are operating at a percentage of our capacity right now, but in reality, because we have pared down to bare bones staff in some cases, one big project could cause a St. Patty’s Day frenzy at your office – whether we are talking about a specific type of engineering work or a particular design studio.

Are you ready?  Can you go from 20 percent to 200 percent in a day?  Do you know what steps you would take?  Do you have folks you could call to supplement your staff?

A friend of mine recently shared that his firm just won some significant projects, and he feels like he is drinking from a fire hose.  It made me think that every department and every studio leader should be prepared for handling a “what if” that we haven’t dealt with much lately:  “what if we win that project that launches us over capacity?”

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