With the day to day pressures of business, the most common method of dealing with process inefficiency and breakdown is through firefighting. We often end up focusing solely on the immediate glaring symptoms of a problem and we overlook the bigger picture.
Firefighting may put a temporary stop to the immediate issue and allow business to return to normal for a while, but the root cause of the issue will often remain and will almost certainly rear its ugly head again at some point in the future.
Across all industries and professions, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best way to do something is the way it has always been done. That’s not a surprise - whatever has historically been done works, up to a point. However, if you only stick to what’s been done before, you’ll never know whether it can be done better. By fire fighting, we can end up extinguishing the same flames over and over and doing nothing about the root cause. Wouldn’t it be better to prevent the fires from being started in the first place?
We may not feel like we have time to spare to focus on individual process improvement, but the rewards are worth it. Processes can be made more robust, more efficient and, importantly, they can be more focussed on the needs of customers and clients.
There are various formal routes for process improvement, notably Lean Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints, but even without employing formal methodology, there are benefits to taking a step-back, looking at the processes used in your business and thinking about how they can be improved.
Reflect and refine.
How you reflect and make changes should be tailored to your organisation. If the team is relatively small, perhaps consider a whole team away-day to create a platform for all team members to generate ideas and discuss the issues that most impact on their day to day role. For larger businesses, perhaps split into individual department days. Given the commitment of time, this may only be on an annual basis.
Conversely, reflection may be a more regular process. This might include regular departmental meetings that have the sole purpose of enabling each team member to take a step back and openly discuss processes that don’t work as well as they could do. Alternatively, surveys could be used which involve each team member noting down several things that cause problems on a regular basis.
Once we know what the issues are, we can focus on creating solutions to those issues.
There are huge benefits to focussing on the root cause of an issue, rather than just firefighting the symptoms or immediate problems. Committing time and energy to working together to look at the core issues for your team can pay long-term dividends. As can looking at the process with the issue and carefully analysing this, then identifying exactly what the cause of the issue is. This creates the possibility of refining the process to ensure that the issue won’t happen again.
A time commitment now will save time in the future.
Taking time out of the normal running of your business to try and identify and combat process issues, getting the input from team members of all levels and your customers, can create long-term solutions.
This will prevent the need to constantly firefight symptoms of a process that isn’t working optimally and this will ultimately push your business to the next level.