Process Improvement can Tame the Chaos
As a company grows, the senior executive becomes further removed from the customer. You begin to delegate thousands of activities outside of your direct purview as the frontline of your company inches out of your oversight. And rightly so of course, the senior leader cannot possibly continue to wear multiple hats if you want to achieve any kind of real scale for your product or service. You must expand your organization through the addition of people and increasingly complicated processes to profitably satisfy the needs of more and more customers. This is when the chaos ensues, because adding one person or process adds layers of interactions in a multiplicative factor with all your existing people and processes. But there is an easy way forward to manage potential chaos before it happens and get existing chaos under control. It is called process improvement.
You could say that process improvement has been around since the advent of industrialization, but the more formal approaches probably started with Total Quality Management in the 1960’s. From there many other methods have developed that are refinements of or directly stack onto TQM (Just In Time, Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, The Toyota Way, etc.). Some of these advances in-and-of themselves can be laborious to learn and implement. However, there are some key principles that can be easily and quickly adopted by any company to see immediate and lasting results. Bear in mind that everything is a process (just not always the right process) so these principles will work throughout your organization’s production, service, and administrative functions. The secret is to teach your frontline team members how to use these key elements of process improvement.
Four Critical Elements to Focus On
Process improvement does not need to be overly complicated to get started. The critical elements of all process improvement focus on 4 key concepts; minimizing rework, managing timing, clearing bottlenecks, and maximizing value.
1. Minimizing Rework
If you double the labor and the materials to make your product or service, how much money would you lose? Companies do that every day usually in the form of rework caused by human error or undocumented procedures. Human error can be reduced by giving team members the proper tools to (only) do the job right the first time. This can be as simple as replacing a hammer with a nail gun or a text box with a dropdown box. Similarly, proper training and standard procedures can be developed to get consistent performance on a task. Employees often do processes 100’s of times but perform it each time as if it were a one-off without a template or standard operating procedure. Create templates such as emails so they don’t have to be retyped every time, risking error and inconsistency. If you can’t create standard operating procedures, at the minimum create a checklist for any repeatable process and then refine that procedure over time. Don’t leave these up to chance or variance from employee to employee.
2. Managing Timing
Manage timing by focusing on the right priorities at the right time and delivering outputs when most appropriate. Do the urgent and important priorities first. Tasks that are both urgent and important take precedence. If something is important but not urgent, it can wait until the main priorities are done. If something is urgent but not important then consider whether it should be done at all. The other aspect of timing is delivering them in a timely manner. This doesn’t always mean “as soon as possible.” The outputs of one process become the inputs to another. Providing a deliverable way before it is needed can be inefficient for the producer, the receiver, or both. Additionally, the receiver may end up stockpiling materials before they are needed (duplicate handling and excess stocking is inefficient). Best practice is to time delivery comfortably in advance, and never late.
3. Clearing Bottlenecks
Clearing bottlenecks is usually the improvement that most team members resonate with first, because like most bottles, company bottlenecks are often at the top. Find ways to open up these constraints (this could be a process method, task point, paperwork, or even a decision maker in the workflow). Every process has a bottleneck that controls how fast work can pass through from input to output. Once you clear one bottleneck the workflow will speed up, thus revealing the next slowest constraint, so you will discover another bottleneck someplace else in the process. This could be upstream or downstream from the constraint you opened up. Rinse and repeat clearing bottlenecks as needed. With enough experience you will be able to look at an entire process and predict where the sequence of bottlenecks is likely to happen and make a sweeping change to handle all of them at once.
4. Maximize Value
Providing lots of features and benefits customers don’t actually want to pay for is not maximizing value. What you want is to eliminate wasted actions and only deliver what is valued by the customer. Find out what features your customers actually want to pay for and then build your process to provide exactly those products/services with the fewest steps necessary. Whenever possible create processes that satisfy multiple requested features with one output. To guide your thinking on maximizing value, ask the following questions: Would you do this if your customer were watching and knew they were paying for that work in the final product/service? Would your customer happily pay the price of your product/service if they knew how messy and wasteful the processes are to deliver that solution?
These 4 key concepts will clear up many aspects of the chaos in the average company and take very little time to learn and apply. The profitable return on time invested executing these simple principles will be well worth the effort and get most companies on the way to improving the quality and efficiency of their operations. If each team member applied one principle each day, the results would be exponential over the course of a single quarter.
Where to Start
Most companies have plenty of need for process improvement. The question often arises regarding where to start, which process to fix first. The best place to start is any product or service output that touches the customer. Since the primary goal is to profitably provide a solution for customers, their needs should be the ultimate focus. The second-best place to start is any process that frustrates team members. Frustration is a sure sign that something is amiss or could be done better. By eliminating frustration, employee engagement improves and leads to a whole host of other positive benefits.
Interested in eliminating chaos in your processes? We can help! A Certified Scaling Up Coach can guide you and your leadership team toward a path of crushing your goals and scaling your business with confidence. Please contact our team at align5 by clicking here. Or please take our Free Growth Assessment, which will evaluate the strength of your company based on four core business disciplines that must be in place before scaling successfully – People, Strategy, Execution and Cash.