One of the easiest ways to tell how well a company is run is to examine its boneyard. Every company has one, and just as surely every company has a different name for it, whether it be the storage room, the junk pile, or the back room.
Manufacturers have them. Integrators have them. Even consultants have them. Manufacturers have old stock, unused parts, customer returns and defective product. Integrators have ancient project binders, unused projectors, speakers, excess mounting solutions and generally tons of cable. Consultants have ancient project binders and drawings, demonstration equipment, old software versions, and usually quite a bit of cable as well. All this junk ends up in the boneyard.
A boneyard can tell you a lot about a company's past, its work practices, company psychology, and the likelihood of success in the future. But let's start with the mundane.
Boneyards are expensive. A typical consulting boneyard can run a couple of hundred square feet. Typical leased space in our area goes for at least a dollar per square foot per month, so let's say a consultant's boneyard costs him $2,400 per year just for the space.
An integrator can often have a couple of thousand square feet or more, but his rate is generally somewhat less. Let's use 1,500 feet and fifty cents a square foot. That's $9,000 annually. It's not too much of a stretch to claim a manufacturer could easily spend $30,000 annually on a boneyard without really thinking about it. Add a premium for heating and cooling, a pinch for insurance and lighting, and one has to ask the obvious question.
Is the stuff in my boneyard worth this kind of money? Generally speaking, the answer is no.
I suppose the most obvious analogy is one's garage. How many of us have a couple of cars tipping the scales at over $50,000 and yet have no room in the garage to park them? Are you really going to fix the broken down lawn mower back in the corner? When push comes to shove the answer is usually no.
One company I consult for has an online eBay firm come by once a month to pick up sellable junk. Admittedly they take a third of the money, but the point is that rather than stuff costing your firm money, it actually is bringing in some money and freeing up space. Enough money to pay for a small raise for everyone, a monthly company party, or maybe even tip a slightly red balance sheet slightly black.
Generally the stuff in one's boneyard has some sort of psychological attachment to someone in the company. One firm I once worked for was located on an old mill site, replete with a stream in a gorgeous little valley. Yet the parking lot had some employee-owned derelict cars permanently on display for our customers. It took a bit of convincing and cajoling to get those cars removed, but after they were gone something strange happened...
The neighbors were happy. The owner was happy. Even the guys who had their cars hauled off were happy (we gave them plenty of warning). The company attitude changed. Not a lot, but just a bit-and in the right direction.
We went through the shop and cleaned it up. Then the old stock room. Then the offices. Reps started showing up more often. Customers looked forward to coming over. Our folks started talking to each other again. Engineers started challenging each other over their designs and dressing better. I swear even the shop wiring bundles in the racks were neater.
Then the suggestions started getting made. I think this is the most wonderful time in a company-when the suggestions for the future start. Maybe we should do this, or that, or perhaps we could do something else. The staff starts buying into the system, and perhaps even look forward to coming to work a little earlier the next day. There is something very refreshing about positive change.
We're right in the middle of cleaning up a boneyard for a client right now. The net result of the effort is we're going to be adding some services for the customers in the newly cleaned up spaces at almost no cost, using as much stuff from the boneyard as possible and throwing out the rest. We had to promote some of the staff to accommodate the new business.
The ancients have indeed stolen our inventions once again. Long before quarterly accounting came into vogue, they used to call these activities Spring Cleaning. Now if this column gets printed about the time I think it will, Spring should be starting just about the time you're reading this...