business handoff

Dropping the Baton: When Business Handoffs Go Awry

By Bill Higgs

When times are tough – as they are now with COVID-19 and the economic downturn – it’s more critical than ever that any handoffs within your organization happen with as much precision as possible.

Otherwise, you lose time, and lost time means lost money. That’s bad even when the economy is humming on all cylinders. It’s a potential disaster when a business is struggling just to keep its metaphorical head above these murky, recession-filled waters.

Every business has handoffs of one sort or another.

But too often there is wasted time, as one person can’t begin a task until someone else finishes their portion of a project. An editor can’t edit until a writer completes an article. A salesperson can’t head out the door if they are waiting for someone else to finish the product samples. The marketing director can’t create promotional materials for a new service or product until someone else finishes the specifications that explain what that product or service does.

Such business handoffs can happen hundreds of times every day in organizations, as one person finishes their part of an assignment and passes it along to the next person, who passes it to the next, and so on. If this conjures images of an Olympic relay team, you are on to something.

With a relay team, everything gets thrown out of kilter if the baton handoff is difficult, awkward or slow. The entire team loses time if a fast runner has to wait nervously and impatiently for a slower runner to arrive at the exchange zone.

A business works much the same way. The handoff from one task to the next, or from one phase of a project to the next, requires good accountability from both sides of the handoff.

At Mustang Engineering, the company I helped found, we would “squeeze handoffs,” which was our term for increasing efficiency in a repeatable process. To prevent wasted time, our teams worked both sides of every handoff so they would be seamless.

We began this approach with small projects, but eventually it became critical with large projects where there might be 45 handoffs that are important to the project’s overall success. If you key in on those handoffs, and make them seamless and efficient, you can save 25 to 30 percent in that project’s schedule.

That is time you can put toward the next project.

At Mustang, we even improved handoffs of work we did with our partners on some projects. One example: We were working on a project with contractors in Alaska and learned that when they received our piping drawings for an offshore oil project, they would redo the drawings into a software package called Acorn. They did this because Acorn generated all the details and bar codes they needed to make the pieces of pipe and to track them through fabrication.

We realized the desired results could be accomplished with a lot less wasted effort if we created the drawings in the Acorn software to begin with. So, we bought the software, spent a day learning to use it, and saved a lot of time for the overall project in the long run.

Yes, being efficient is extraordinarily important in the difficult times businesses face right now. But when good times return—and they will—don’t fall back into old habits and get sloppy with those business handoffs.

You want to keep your operation running seamlessly in good times and bad.

 

Bill Higgs, an authority on corporate culture, is former CEO and founder of Mustang Engineering, which he took from zero to $1 billion in annual revenues based on a people-first culture. He is also the ForbesBooks author of the just-released book Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business. His culture podcast and training modules are available through www.culturecodechampions.com.