Optimizing from the Inside Out: Independent Operations Consulting

December 19, 2018 Emily Slayton

freelance operations consultant - business charts

As organizations grow, new roles emerge, new processes evolve, and strategies become more complex. During this shift, it’s easy for gaps and inefficiencies to develop, and—especially when the business is growing—just as easy for them to be overlooked.

This is where the outside perspective of a freelance operations consultant can be particularly valuable. Because they’ve seen it before, consultants know where to look for optimization opportunities, and because they’re not entrenched in the business’ existing processes, they can more readily spot inefficiencies, potentially saving you up to 20-30% in lost revenue.

Sometimes these inefficiencies are apparent; other times they’re obscured by things that seem to be working. Unfortunately, effective doesn’t always mean efficient. Just because something is working doesn’t mean it’s working the best it possibly could. And in that gap is where opportunity lies.

Closing the gap between effectiveness and efficiency

Even the largest companies rely on a surprising number of manual processes, from complicated forecasting spreadsheets to KPI dashboards, purchase orders, and hiring documents. The problem with manual processes, however, is that they’re rarely scalable. They might work all right in a pinch, but they also make delegation difficult—and reliable accuracy nearly impossible.

Let me share a personal example: When I first opened my brewery and taproom, my partners and I all worked in separate spreadsheets and tracked inventory manually (often through approximation). Our production schedule was primarily based on educated guesses. Part of this was out of habit, but mostly we kept doing things that way because, essentially, it was working. Our taproom was rocking, we were profitable, and our taps were always full. As far as we were concerned, our processes were validated.

But as business grew, the silos we’d accidentally built with our discrete processes quickly became barriers. There was little transparency, communication was scattered across disparate channels, and reporting was sporadic at best. We had regular meetings, but there were so many things to address that we never got through all of them. Things started to fall through the cracks.

Next thing we knew, we were out of beer. Not entirely, but enough to cripple our tap list. “A nice problem to have!” our regulars would say, but the truth was clear: our processes (or lack thereof) were a problem. Distribution had been working on pushing more beer to outside accounts, but the brewery was still producing at the same rate. Our taproom traffic had also continued to grow, yet its inventory allocation hadn’t changed. We had become so comfortable with how we were doing things that we hadn’t noticed how disconnected we really were. And to make matters worse, we couldn’t delegate or hire for key roles because our processes were so idiosyncratic.

We worked with an independent consultant to get us back on track. Through centralized reporting, regular sales analysis, and automated keg tracking software, we were able to improve our forecasting. What’s more, inefficiencies that were quietly eroding our bottom line were suddenly laid bare—everything from outrageous spillage and unaccounted losses to underutilized equipment and exorbitant fees.

Armed with this new, data-driven information, we suddenly had a common language and clear goals. It’s still a work-in-progress, but our margins have grown considerably and our losses are shrinking. We’re expanding operations, adding more taps, and exploring new packaging options. If we’d kept doing things the way we were doing them, none of this would be possible, let alone sustainable. It took a third-party perspective to give us the clarity we needed.

What an outside perspective offers

Though my story describes a relatively simple business model, the more complex a business is, the more significant these inefficiencies can become. Ultimately, it’s agility that suffers, making it difficult to keep up with rapid changes like global supply chains, new technologies, and evolving regulations.

Agility is essential for growth. It’s what allows you to keep pace with the market and your competitors. But it can be difficult to achieve during periods of rapid growth, especially if you’re short on bandwidth. These types of operational optimization projects often require large teams and technical skill sets that are rarely available in-house.

Hiring an experienced freelance performance improvement consultant can give you a more objective view of your processes and projects, not to mention a strategic plan for improving them. From changing cost structures and increasing productivity to improving operational effectiveness through cross-functional collaboration, BTG’s freelance operational strategy consultants have helped a broad range of companies reach their strategic goals.

The top challenges we’ve helped business leaders address are project and program management (45%) and transformations (11%). Other problems our freelance operational strategy consultants have helped clients solve include:

  • Analytics & operational strategy
  • Value chain analysis
  • Performance dashboards
  • Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP)
  • Demand/supply alignment
  • Forecasting
  • Process improvements
  • M&A/PMI integration
  • Change management
  • Quality improvement
  • IT integration

Freelance performance consultants can provide leadership and support on large-scale operations projects as well as upfront strategy advice on operational issues. The flexibility of the freelance model also allows them to ramp up or down as needed, which helps minimize overhead as project goals shift.

Don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all operations consultant

What’s the best way to choose a performance improvement consultant? First, it’s important that they have the right type of expertise for your project. Businesses typically turn toward large operational-focused firms, or rely on their internal network for project management support. However, you should be aware of the drawbacks associated with these options.

Traditional firms often take a one-size-fits-all approach, so the consultant they select for you may or may not have relevant domain expertise. And internal resources, while convenient, don’t always have the breadth of experience or expertise needed for large-scale operations projects. There’s also the potential for bandwidth issues.

At BTG, we work with you to select the appropriate team from our marketplace of freelance consultants. Our talent possess deep expertise in a number of critical areas:

  • Cost-reduction and process mapping
  • Enterprise risk management
  • IT systems strategy
  • Logistics and manufacturing strategy
  • Turnaround / restructuring

They’re also experts in their fields, having trained at consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, and Deloitte; worked for companies such as Google, Pepsi and Wal-Mart; and attended top business schools such as Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and Wharton.

And, most importantly, they’ve achieved real results for their clients in areas like:

  • Turning disruptive insights into concrete action items
    When the board of a major consumer goods corporation wanted to explore the innovations that were most likely to disrupt the company’s supply chain in the next 10 years, BTG put together a team of three partner-level consultants with deep expertise in logistics, transportation, and disruptive innovation. The 8-week project culminated in a board presentation and a prioritized action list of more than 20 transformational concepts, from POS labeling to 3D printing.

  • Transforming S&OP for 30% of what a traditional consulting firm would charge
    A global CPG company with many suppliers and SKUs saw an opportunity to better align its supply chain with demand forecasts. Two of BTG’s veteran operations consultants worked closely with the client to build out analyses that would help them prioritize areas of higher impact. Then they created a program to transform the process. Finally, they developed a new high-level design.

  • Optimizing the global supply chain
    A multi-billion-dollar housing materials business had expanded its global distribution centers to accommodate its growing customer base, but it was struggling to optimize the new operations. BTG’s supply chain expert helped them revamp the global supply chain—including warehouse locations—to uncover improvement opportunities in China, Brazil, and North America and incorporating SAP technology to drive down costs.

Ready to optimize your operations? Reach out to be connected with the right team for your project needs.

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About the Author

Emily Slayton

Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself (skeletonkeybrewery.com), she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.

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