Paul Vragel to speak on Business Transformation Success at iGrafx iNNOVATE conference

Case Study of Transformation Success
4aBetterBusiness Founder to Speak at iGrafx iNNOVATE Conference
Evanston, IL April 16, 2019. Paul Vragel, President of 4aBetterBusiness, will be presenting on “Company Transformation: A Case Study of Success”at the iGrafix iNNOVATE conference, a world class event for digital transformation and automation. The conference will held April 22-24, 2019 in Dallas, TX. 
In a NewVantage Partners 2019 study of digital transformation, 65 organizations reported that 95% of the obstacles stem from organizational issues (alignment, agility, resistance to change) while only 5% relate to technology. The study concluded: If companies hope to transform, they must begin to address the cultural obstacles. 
Vragel commented, “People and process are not the obstacle to transformation, but have proven to be the essential means to accomplish transformations. In the situation of this case study, this included developing immediate and enthusiastic buy-in and contribution to change, and a deep understanding of the real end-to-end processes of the business and how those link to the customer journey. The resulting process and cultural changes created an improvement-seeking environment which attracts and retains employees, enabled multiple successful digital transformations, and delivered business results that included improving on-time delivery performance from 50% to 96%+, while reducing inventory by 22%.”
About 4aBetterBusiness
4aBetterBusiness is an implementation-focused consultancy. We believe that employees are the world’s expert at knowing what they do every day – their local systems – and that 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in how those local systems work and work together. 4aBetterBusiness uses those beliefs to help companies develop immediate, enthusiastic buy-in to change, streamline work, and identify and implement flexible, scalable processes and technology to support and enable growth, resolve underperformance and create value.
About iGrafx
iGrafx is the world leader in digital transformation software solutions. iGrafx helps more than 2/3 of the Fortune 100 and over 10,000 customers around the world successfully execute their most critical strategic initiatives. Whatever the form of transformation, from customer journeys to corporate compliance to automating business processes, iGrafx ensures that goals are prioritized and executed, and ROI is achieved.

Process Drives Reskilling

Paul Vragel guest appearance on The Peggy Smedley Show, the #1 broadcast show for IoT and digital transformation (podcast recording):

Peggy and Paul Vragel, President, 4aBetterBusiness, talk about how everybody in an organization needs reskilling and process thinking needs to be pervasive. He says these are common misconceptions: change cannot happen quickly and people are resistant to change. Employees can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Even more, if you are going to automate something, you need to understand that a whole lot better.

Systems and Structure Empowers Employees and Reduces Challenges and Leadtimes

Article by Paul Vragel published in Moldmaking Technology magazine in their April, 2019 edition.

This is a story about two experienced moldmakers, Jack and Mike, and the formation and ongoing development of their successful mold manufacturing business. The story is built around the challenges many shops encounter as they grow and describes some practical steps to develop buy-in and participation in change and scalable processes to enable growth.


Address Process and Culture First to Ensure Digital Transformation Success

Digital transformation is a topic that affects every company.   4aBetterBusiness believes that addressing the process and cultural issues in a company is an essential pre-requisite to success with Digital Transformation.  This is the story of how 4aBetterBusiness used those beliefs and our proven implementation approach to help a company to achieve both business and digital transformation, with take-aways you can use in your business.

4aBetterBusiness was engaged by the company when integration of two operations, as part of an acquisition, had reduced on-time delivery performance to 50%.  It was clear from a brief initial assessment that resolving the poor delivery performance would involve every area of the company.   

We believe that employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they actually do every day – their local systems – and we started by building immediate, enthusiastic buy-in to change with management and employees. 

We also believe that 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in how those local systems work and work together.  We combined the buy-in to change with developing an in-depth understanding and documentation of the end-to-end processes and interconnections among every area of the entire company.  As this development proceeded, we enlisted input and ideas from all the employees as part of developing solutions.  This not only increased the buy-in to change, but also developed enthusiastic participation and contribution to change, and employee ownership of the results.  The process-based actions took hold and process-based thinking developed as a result at every level of the company.

The process and cultural changes that were developed, including in-depth end-to-end process knowledge, buy-in to change and process-based thinking, created the ability to achieve rapid and sustainable change.  On-time delivery performance improved, even though all the operational data for production and inventory was still paper-based. 

The opportunity for digital transformation presented itself when the CFO determined that a full physical inventory was required – to be done within 3 weeks.  I called one of our technology partners and presented the challenge:  design, develop and implement a complete digital system for production and warehousing –  within 3 weeks.  The technology partner immediately accepted the challenge. We combined the end-to-end process knowledge 4aBetterBusiness had with technology partner’s technical expertise, and designed the system over a weekend.  Our partner bought all the equipment and built the database and communication system.

Based on the processes we had already determined, 4aBetterBusiness worked hands-on with the employees to establish an effective warehouse layout and to mark all the locations. 4aBetterbusiness also coordinated with outside vendors to ensure wireless capability suitable for mobile operations (and different than wi-fi for an office) was in place and to produce and install all the overhead signage. 4aBetterBusiness also worked with employees to design the actual physical inventory process, and carried out hands-on training of all the employees to transition from use of a paper-based system to use of scanning and electronic records.

Over a weekend, three weeks from the inception of the project, the full physical inventory was completed, and all of the production and inventory operations were converted from paper-based to electronic records, with a system in place that ensured accurate updates. 

In the second phase, relying again on the deep process knowledge and buy-in to change already established, all the electronic data was fully integrated with the company’s MRP system.  Process changes developed with the employees and another technical partner ensured clean capture of all the data into the database.  Despite the complexity of this operational and technical change, the changes were completed and the company was fully operational on the new system within 4 hours of cutover to the new system.

Neither of these digital initiatives would have been possible to complete without first addressing the process and cultural issues in the company. 

Outcomes with the company included achieving and sustaining 99%+ on-time delivery performance, while reducing inventory by 22% and eliminating the need for annual physical inventory.

What are the take-aways from this experience you can use for your business?

  • Recognize that employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they do every day
  • Engage employees immediately to develop buy-in to change
  • Develop process-based thinking and action from top to bottom in your company
  • Develop deep knowledge of end-to-end processes, including customer journeys

Use these elements as part of an integrated approach to develop the capability for rapid, sustainable change.  Address the process and cultural issues first, and you can use digital transformation success to ensure you outpace and outperform your competition.

Tough Challenge Met Yields Transformational Insights

My name is Paul Vragel, Founder and President of 4aBetterBusiness.  This is a story of an experience I had very early in my career (age 23) that was foundational in developing the beliefs that support 4aBetterBusiness’ Transformational Results through People+Process approach and our Custom, Accelerated Buy-In, Process and Execution Transformationsm  for already-busy executives and organizations.

My initial education and experience is in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering – that is, ship design and construction. Building a ship involves building a hotel, a restaurant, a huge warehouse and a power plant, putting them all together, putting a propeller on it and sending it out on the ocean where there are no service stations. 

Ship design and construction is essentially a demanding, large-scale systems engineering project.  

I graduated from Webb Institute of Naval Architecture ( (there were 19 graduates in my class), and worked at Newport News Shipbuilding.  Working with construction of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, I led successful implementation of an analog-to-digital conversion for a major production facility – their first-ever analog-to-digital conversion.  After a year, 2 prior graduates of Webb Institute, working for Amoco Corporation, hired me, at the age of 22, to manage ship construction programs in Spain.  A couple weeks after I was hired, I was on a plane to Spain with my instruction set being, essentially, “figure out what you’re supposed to do, and do that.”

After a year, one of the earlier ships built in the series came in to Lisbon for its guarantee drydocking and inspection.  When we opened one of the crankshaft bearings of the 30,000 hp main diesel engine, we saw the bearing material, which was supposed to be in the bearing, was lying on the crankshaft journal, in pieces.  This is bad by any stretch of the imagination.  And the fun had just begun.

The ship was built by a company controlled by the Spanish Government.  They were the holder of the guarantee.  The engine was built by a different company, also controlled by the Spanish Government.  Amoco had a contract with the shipyard, not the engine builder.  And the engine was built under license from a company in Denmark.

I was there as an observer for the new construction department.  The ship was under the control of the operations department.  I had no authority and no staff reporting to me.  I’m a very good systems engineer but I had no technical knowledge of poured metal bearings in high-powered diesel engines, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, I was 23 years old, and the instruction from my boss was very simple: “Fix It!”  To add to the urgency of the ship being out of service, the shipyard in Lisbon, where the ship was located, was charging $30,000/day (about $250,000 in today’s dollars), just for being there.

I went to the engine builder in Spain and asked the management the first logical question:  What’s the plan?  Their response was, “we don’t think we have a problem – we think the Danes have a problem.  They designed the engine, we just built it according to their instructions.”  I quickly concluded that, if I moved heaven and earth to get the Danes down to Spain, all that would happen is finger pointing back and forth – at $30,000/day.  I didn’t think this was a productive approach.

So looking at my options, what did I have? Nothing, except that I was there.  So I decided the only thing to do was to go into the plant and talk to the people who made the bearings.  One problem – they only spoke Spanish, and I only spoke English. But there are lots of ways to communicate if you really want to.  I observed what they were doing, pointed, asked a lot of questions – they learned a little English, I learned a little Spanish – and we sketched out how the bearings were made.

After a couple days, I pretty much figured out what was the cause of the problem – and I had the good sense to shut up, on a couple theories.  One, while our communication had become pretty good, I was sure that there were other parts of the process they knew about (they did this every day) that we hadn’t touched on that might be part of the problem or solution.  If I just told them what I thought, everything would stop there without awareness of those elements and we wouldn’t get an effective solution. But if I could work with them through the process so they saw the issues, the employees would bring those additional elements to the table, we would have a full understanding of the system, the employees would be part of the solution, and employees would have ownership in the results.

And that’s exactly what happened.  With a little more effort we found and fixed the causes of the problem (which was causing porosity in the bearing). 

So I looked back to review what had happened.

I had no authority, no technical expertise, no staff, I was 23 years old, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, and in a few days, working cross language and cross culture in an overseas plant I had never seen in a technology in which I had no experience, we together achieved a solution that permanently raised their manufacturing capability – that they owned.

Pretty powerful stuff.  As I mentioned at the outset, this was a key formative experience that led to the beliefs on which 4aBetter Business was founded:

  • We believe that employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they actually do every day – their local systems
  • We believe that 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in the way these local systems work and work together

Using those beliefs I developed our Transformational Results through People+Process approach and our Custom, Accelerated Buy-In, Process and Execution Transformationsm  for already-busy executives and organizations.

Initial Post

This blog is dedicated to providing informative content relevant to business owners and CEOs for improving the performance of their business, including, for example employee engagement, productivity, sustainable change, profitability, digital transformation and culture. 

The content is based on 4aBetterBusiness’ 30 years experience helping companies achieve transformational change.  Paul Vragel, President, founded 4aBetterBusiness in 1989 based on 2 core beliefs developed through rapid achievement of large-scale, sustainable improvement results while managing overseas ship construction and facilitating digital transformation for Amoco Corporation:

  • Your employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they do every day – their local systems
  • 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in how those local systems work and work together

Paul developed the Transformational Results through People+Process approach for combining these beliefs and getting immediate employee buy-in to change, and further developed the custom Buy-In, Process and Execution Transformation, for accelerated achievement of sustainable results.

4aBetterBusiness has used this process to achieve transformational results in manufacturing, engineering, distribution, transportation and service industries.

Prior to founding 4aBetterBusiness, Paul was on the fast track management development program at Amoco Corporation.

In his final position with Amoco, he was in charge of new technology analysis for the computer department.  He conceived and led development of a system that reduced risk and accelerated technology deployment, accessible to any employee worldwide (pre-internet).  This accelerated Amoco’s ability to adopt technology despite the “no standards, rapid change” environment of the transition from mainframe to pc-based technology.

Paul’s initial work with Amoco was to manage ship construction programs in Spain.  This included working throughout Europe and in Singapore and Japan.  He then managed financial analysis and programs for marine-related projects involving fleet replacement and domestic and international operations. 

Paul has an MBA from the University of Chicago, is a graduate of Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, and is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.