Five techniques are often recommended for streamlining processes and improving efficiency:
- Process Mapping: Get the experts in the process in a room and visually document the workflow involved in the process, including inputs, outputs, handoffs between roles, etc.
- Brainstorming: Ask the people who do the work to tell you what should change.
- Positive Deviants: Identify people who deviate from the norm, study what they do, and share it out as best practices.
- Automate: invest in work management or scheduling software, PowerBI, an ATD, or Power-Automate.
- Break process down into smaller tasks. Time each bite and complete them in pieces between meetings or other work.
These are all great tactics.
I’ve used these tactics successfully for years.
I have a Six Sigma Black Belt, I’ve put in my 10,000 hours, and saved companies millions of dollars, positioning them to better compete in their marketplace.
And I can tell you that you’re wasting your time on tactical work if your strategy is wrong.
Outdated Policies Kill the Business
I worked with a company that had invested a lot of headcount and effort in support of a particular business decision. Entire departments had been created to support this policy and other, functioning, processes were undermined by this policy. Whenever I did site visits with the leadership team, line managers pointed out symptoms of the fact that this policy wasn’t working.
The policy had made sense years before, when it had been originally been implemented, but it had long since become outdated. Unfortunately, a C-level executive championed this policy – it gave that person a level of pathological control – and no one was able to successfully challenge it. Instead huge amounts of money were invested in streamlining other processes to accommodate it.
When the line managers had done everything they could do at a local level, they proposed over 50 tiny shifts to the policy that would save $2 million per year in payroll – and allow them to reinvest that effort in revenue-producing activities, which the organization desperately needed. The leadership team presented these to the executive and the proposals were shot down one by one in a meeting that can only be described as Sheer Torture for Everyone Involved and a Colossal Waste of Executive Payroll.
Happy Ending: Not long after, that executive “resigned” and a new CEO very quickly eliminated the outdated policy. A huge weight was lifted off the organization and they began their path towards recovery.
Streamlining your tactics is a waste of time if the business decision they support is the problem.
So yes, do the process mapping and all the rest of it.
But – before you begin streamlining processes or investing in automation – look at the list at the macro level and ask yourself if it’s time to change the business policy that lies beneath the process.
Changing a business decision can eliminate the need for streamlining the processes that have grown up to support that decision.