Looking for Operational Improvement Opportunities? Don't Look Past the Obvious
The Downside of Chasing the External Quick Fix
With the phrenetic pace of today’s business environment, and in the face of near constant pressure to streamline, optimize, and simplify, we often see operations managers jumping too quickly to external solutions to provide a ‘quick fix’: the reporting application that will easily assimilate all of your operational data into amazing reports and visuals, or the enterprise resource planning software that promises to automate all of your manual work.
The attractiveness and perceived simplicity of plug-and-play tools and applications, and the fear of being left behind by cutting-edge concepts like Robotic Process Optimization (RPA), drive many organizations to commit valuable resources to these pursuits without first asking themselves an extremely important question: do our underlying business processes support the intended value of these solutions?’
Organizations often don’t fully appreciate the impact that their faulty business processes can have on these improvement efforts. The resulting implementation becomes quickly bogged down in on-the-fly attempts to redesign processes to fit the solution, or the customization of the application to fit the existing inefficient processes. However, both of these defeat the efficiency goals and leave the organization in a worse position than before.
Embrace the Potential Opportunities Within Quite often, the largest opportunities for gaining operational efficiencies and realizing significant savings lie right in front of operational leaders. Many organizations still foster processes with manually intensive steps, which lead to a high propensity for error, or oftentimes information is passed back and forth informally between teams with long periods of lost time ‘waiting to hear back.’
Other organizations struggle with clearly assigning process ownership or decision rights, resulting in haphazard decision making with little consideration for upstream or downstream implications, and ultimately leading to significantly lost productivity as team members spend much of their time attempting to manage the chaos.
How to Identify Inefficiencies Not sure how to identify your organization's inefficiencies? A simple but often overlooked step is to begin by talking directly with operations team members! These are the folks who live the processes day-to-day. They know the pain points and very often have thoughts - and strong opinions! - when asked ‘How can we be doing this better?’
When working with clients, we consistently find some of the most valuable insights and optimization opportunities not from managers or senior leaders, but from team members who have been dealing with frustrating inefficiencies for many years and just needed the forum through which they can present their ideas.
Give special consideration as well to those processes that are consistently prone to confusion and/or errors, as these are very often indications of a poorly structured or overly complex process. If it takes numerous resources and several meetings to cobble together an explanation of how a process works, it’s likely one which is worth some further exploration!
With a team of resources skilled in business process assessment and optimization, organizations can begin to identify processes ripe for improvement and then work with their operations peers to evaluate, prioritize, and implement these improvements.
After closely analyzing operational processes to eliminate waste and improve efficiency, your organization can confidently move toward the evaluation of these additional applications, tools, or technology, and explore opportunities to take your operations to the next level!
Process Optimization Best Practices 1.) Involve Those Closest to the Process Be sure to include your operations team members in every step of the process optimization effort, and don’t assume management truly understands all the tasks involved in a given process. A summary view rarely provides the sufficient level of detail needed to identify real opportunities for improvement. Instead, talking directly with those responsible for the work is the best way to get there.
2.) Consider the Entire Process Ensure a clear understanding of the process from beginning to end and avoid the temptation to fix the first problem and move on. Smaller or more obvious issues sometime mask much larger issues, which can be found through a complete process decomposition. See the process through to be confident that it’s been fully optimized.
3.) Document and Quantify Outcomes Whenever possible, identify baseline process performance to compare performance after optimization, and then translate the improvement into hard dollar savings and increases in productivity. For organizations that don’t have mature process optimization practices, this is the surest way to gain support and prove value!
Tim is an Engagement Manager with a deep history of success across a broad spectrum of business analysis, business architecture, strategic planning, and management roles. Detailed and analytical in his approach to problem solving, Tim has helped provide solutions to complex business challenges for clients across a variety of industries including healthcare, IT services and technology, and food service. Leveraging his experiences across a number of operational and strategic planning roles, Tim is passionate about helping clients address the gap between strategy and execution.