First, a quick definition of ZBB. ZBB was the darling of the consultant community many years ago as a way to wring costs out of bloated companies. Consultants loved it because it allowed for a lot of business ("I am a ZBB certified...), companies loved it because it had the promise of driving out costs and Wall Street loved it because they generally love all things that are short term profit boosters. And, in my opinion, it is a good program. It forces you to reevaluate your costs every year. Just because you did "x" last year does not mean you need to do it again next year yet the standard budget process assumes programs and positions continue forever. ZBB does not. ZBB picks the arbitrary time of one year and says every year every cost needs to be justified.
The reason for this however may be what KHC and 3G totally missed. The reason you do this is so you can reinvest savings generated from non value added (non competitive) functions of the company to value added functions or better said, programs which make your company more competitive in the market place. Pocketing the savings or paying it out in dividends is a short term strategy which ultimately ends. And that is what happened to 3G. They did not appear to invest the money but rather they pocketed it.
This is also why KHZ and the 3G model relied on acquisitions. The only way this method of ZBB works is if you keep acquiring bloated companies and implement the program with them. It is somewhat of a Ponzi scheme.
So, what should they have done differently? Many of you have read my writings on the customer centered supply chain and outside-in thinking. This is the fundamental miss of KHC. They were inside-out in their thinking as they were so focused on the drug of cutting costs then keeping the money they forgot to invest in the future. Perhaps they felt they would have an endless stream of acquisitions so the music would never stop (Remember, they tried to buy Unilever but were rebuffed and they tried to buy Campbell's but they claim the price was too high)? What they did not anticipate is many of the acquisition targets had implemented their own ZBB and thus the opportunity to wring costs out after acquisition diminished dramatically.
There are lessons for supply chain design and management:
- Always work and design using outside-in thinking. Start with the customer and work your way back in. Never start in and work out.
- Not all costs are bad. You can break costs into competitive and non-competitive costs. Competitive costs are this which deliver competitive advantage in the market place. Those are good and necessary. Non-competitive are those which are either excess or just "cost of doing business" and those you want to minimize.
- Your mother taught you this lesson: Anything taken to the extreme can, and likely will, be bad. Just because you have a hammer does not mean everything is a nail.
- Don't lose sight of your business. Sears did this and perhaps KHC is doing some of this. They are in the business of lightening up people's day by selling great food products. The business is not "how can I cut costs the fastest". The ultimate tail wagging the dog.
Lots of lessons here and I just hope a great budgeting tool is not thrown out due to very poor execution.