Low Hanging Fruits Are Always in Season

Published on Sunday, 1 June 2014 02:05:50    Written by Marc
When companies initiate cost-saving projects or programs, we often hear them talk about going for the low hanging fruit first before going up the tree to get the harder to reach fruit. This is especially true when it comes to bringing in consultants, which are tasked with helping you find savings. A low hanging fruit is a project or change that is quick and easy to implement.

Blue Grapes Hanging From A VineA few years ago, one of the companies I worked for brought in a consultant to do just that. They were a large and well-known international consultation firm, which we paid top dollar to come and give us advice on what to do. Therefore, they came in and interviewed a number of departments, including mine, to see where they could find savings. Sure enough, the first thing they tried to zero in on was the low hanging fruit. Instead of trying to find a number of smaller low hanging fruit that we might have missed here and there, they were trying to find huge fruit. You might think that having a department that focuses mainly on cost reduction, we would have already addressed this topic long time ago.

Therefore, after a few weeks of discussion and ranking up significant fees, they realized that they were not making any progress. Seeing this, we decided to give them ideas on things that they could do. They were ideas we had already talked about internally and had tried to push to get funding to make things happen, but had been put on the side burner.

Knowing that the consultant’s final report would go straight to our CEO, we decided to point to our consultants all the interesting potential savings we could get if only we had some funding and the green light from executive management. With no surprise, the consultants were more than happy to finally be able to put something in their report (and to justify their fees), and claim the ideas as mostly theirs. We did not care about who took credit; we simply wanted an approval to get things done. Moreover, it worked.

Not long after the report was completed, the executives whom had hired the consultants gave us the approvals we needed. In all fairness, we knew that it would be hard for executive management to refuse any reasonable suggestion the consultants put in their final report, considering that after all the fees we spent for them, they needed to show the board of directors that hiring these consultants was a good decision. The truth is that for the vast majority of their recommendations, the departments in our company already knew what to do. The consultants simply put the information on paper. We probably could have simply sat down with all the departments, block some time to think and come up with the same result and save a ton of consultation fees.

However, what I take from this experience is not so much the work of the consultants; it is what we learned in my department. I realized that because the consultants were charging ridiculously high fees for their work, they simply had to find large savings. Going after small saving ideas here and there would have not covered their fees and would have made them look like they did not know what they were doing (or worse, that the entire process was a mistake). Therefore, because of this they had to find large ticket items. Therefore, each time when talking with them we found something interesting for potentially saving money, if the idea was deemed minor, they pushed it aside. Each time however, we kept the idea, because if they were good ideas for saving money, they were worth keeping.

It turned out we managed to find a good number of cost savings that although they went under the radar of our consultants because of their individual size, when considering them together, they really added up to interesting savings. In addition, the best part of this is that most of these ideas were low hanging fruit that did not require large (or sometimes any at all) capital investment. In many cases, they were the result of sitting down, brainstorming a little, and realizing that we had possibly missed an opportunity for saving money. When we applied this method for generating energy-savings in our company, it produced good results. Instead of trying to find the one single energy-saving opportunity that would provide us with a home run, we tried to see what we could do with little capital investment and implement in one business unit and then how we could rapidly replicate the energy-saving idea to all other business units of the company. It turned out that we were able to find many small low hanging fruit that way. Each of these low hanging fruit produced some energy savings at each business unit level. Taken all together, they represented millions of dollars in annual savings. An analogy of this would be like grapes on a vine. Taken individually each grape is small and does not represent much. However, together they really add up.

Following our experience with the consultants, we decided that when it came time to find savings, low hanging fruits were always in season, and we no longer tried to find only big projects to save energy, we also looked at smaller items, which could be easily implemented and rolled out across the company. Sometimes making a simple pause in our workday, sitting down, and brainstorming a little can help find some of the low hanging fruit, which you never though were right there next to you waiting to be picked.