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Cleaning Up Nasty Messes
Cleaning Up Nasty Messes

Cleaning Up Nasty Messes

What do you do?

It is a popular question.  You hear it at networking events. Pops up in email from contacts that were perhaps not updated frequently enough. From friends.  Even your Pastor.

For me, I enjoy having my finger in many pies, wearing many hats.  It does not matter where I am in an organization, horizontally or hierarchically.  I tend to do the same thing: I fix problems.

Or, I did :).  Now, I realize I clean up messes.

[pullquote align=”right”]Even the best-run organizations have ‘messes’ from time to time. Whether of their own making or not. And, when they do, they need folks not afraid to wade into the black murky water, reach underneath, and fix whatever’s going on down there.[/pullquote]Here’s the difference.  A problem is one-dimensional in nature. Something is wrong, you figure it out, you fix it.  We all fix problems all days long.  In comparison, there are a few of us that tend to go after, chase down the gnarliest of problems, the ones that are multi-dimensional in nature.

A multi-dimensional problem is interconnected with a range of issues, subject to an array of dependencies, frequently crosses all organizational boundaries, and often reaches beyond the organization itself to the outside world.  In other words, you don’t just have a problem, you have a mess.  These are the things I have found I’m good at fixing.

One of my favorite comments about what I do, is, “JT fixes the things most people don’t even want to think about...”

Here are two good examples…


ABB approached Autodesk with a proposal for a joint venture (JV).  ABB had grown one of their divisions by acquiring over a dozen companies in prior years.  In each case, the core mission was the same (deliver Solution X to help Customer Z), yet each of the 13 plants they had acquired did it in a completely different manner.

Conceptually, their pitch was straight-forward: They had a need to standardize how they did things, they thought the solution would be broadly applicable to our customer base, and they wanted to work with us jointly to solve the ‘problem.’

From an Autodesk perspective the idea was straight-forward, but understanding the real problem, the required solution(s), and how it would fit into Autodesk’s own business model was not. It was, wait for it, yep, a mess.

Over the course of the next year, a chunk of my time was focused on clearing up the mess: understanding the problem’s scope; determining how it might be addressed; the market fit; compatibility with Autodesk’s own interests; and, representing the Autodesk part of the team, leading the executive presentation so a clean decision could be made.


A second example involved a major retailer.  This international home improvement retailer was struggling to make sure all their vendors (e.g. carpet installers) were being paid in timely fashion.  As part of a Sales visit, I met with three different Accounts Payable directors.  Each had the same basic problem.  It appeared, regardless of where the fault lay, that invoices were getting lost ‘in the mail.’

Processing 9,000 invoices daily, losing even 1% led to a significant impact.  Vendors were irritable. Additional support staff had to be hired for call centers. And, given the dollar values involved, even time value of money came into consideration.  Ultimately…the retailer really just wanted their partners, their vendors, to be happy with them.

Clearly this was yet another mess.  As a Product Owner for a Software as a Service family of offerings, I was able to lead my teams to build a solution to meet our customers need.  Again, conceptually, the problem was simple: Find a way to deal with lost invoices.

The solution ended up being simple from the customer and vendor perspective: Provide a vendor portal, connected to the retailer’s AP systems, enabling vendors to directly upload their invoices themselves.  Under the covers, we had database connectivity concerns, vendor scale concerns (handling vendors doing 1-10 invoices/daily is a lot different compared to those submitting 500/week), and the like.

Improving the Message

There are many things I do. One of the things I enjoy is, cleaning up messes.  However, I prefer to help companies ensure messes don’t happen in the future.

In coming weeks, particularly on my landing pages (which most readers do not see), my About page, and in other collateral, the message will be getting clearer.  Watch for the changes.  Some of them I will announce as they’re put online.  You’re encouraged to offer comment, food for thought, areas for improvement, and areas where we might work together.

My blogging will continue; have no fear.  You might find I relocate it from the main page to become selectable from the menu bar.

One comment

  1. Having known you for some time, JT, I know that the real value of your ability to clean up after a mess has been formed, is to understand how to put systems into place that ensure the issue doesn’t happen again. Preventing messes from happening is a skill that comes from the experience that you have. Leaders with that skill are hard to find.

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