Process Improvement

Process Improvement Is About The Entire Business

We have heard about the need for process improvement. This concept has been the cornerstone for achieving a competitive advantage in business for decades. The idea is the more efficient your processes, the lower your cost and ideally the better your quality.

What isn’t often mentioned is how each of those processes work together in the larger system called, the business. When a business is not achieving a result, it generally means one or more of the internal processes is not holding up its end of the burden.

Think about it this way. Let’s say your company has struggling sales in a quarter. Everyone has been working hard to make it happen and it just didn’t seem to yield the results everyone was expecting. Everyone is looking at what the problem is.

The salespeople say the marketing department aren’t qualifying the leads and that was the reason for the poor sales. The marketing department says the product is the issue and that the market isn’t interested in it. The accounting department believe that the costs are too high and want to look at how they can control them, with the downturn in sales. The operations folks, believe the salespeople, don’t know what they are doing. Human resources will want to look at additional training.

Sound familiar? The crazy thing is if you went into anyone of these departments, they have likely done a great job of defining and improving their processes. Now a days, this usually means they have automated and applied all kinds of technology to the process and yet, they are not yielding a result. Each department will feel that they are justified in believing it is someone else’s issue, because after all their processes are efficient.

A business is like a chain. It is only as strong as its weakest link. In this example, let say in order to streamline a process, the accounting department decided that from now on, they were no longer going to accept cheque payments and only electronic fund transfers. They sent out the notice and only heard from a couple of customers about the change. They helped those people get set up in the new system and assumed everything else was fine. They stated in the notification that if there were any concerns, people could contact them, so of course everything was fine.

Turned out, this change was a much bigger issue, but no one heard about it. Customers didn’t feel there was an option, so they decided to take their business elsewhere. It was easier to move, than it was to call.

You might think this couldn’t happen to you, but we see this type of thing all the time. There is absolutely a need to streamline processes, but in doing so, you need to know who your customer is and what they need. Running an efficient process, that turns out a “garbage output”, is only efficient at turning out garbage.

Your customer can be either internal or external. It is easy to overlook the internal customer, but they are equally important. The next time you are looking to streamline a process, define the outcome requirements with your customer and keep this in the forefront of any decisions you make. Make sure that in the end of any improvement you are able to deliver on those requirements and you will know you have achieved real success.