One of the realities of living in a microwave society is the expectation that there’s a quick fix to almost anything. People often treat technology as this magical black box that’s going to solve all their business problems. When things are going wrong for businesses, our default position seems to be “If we can grab a piece of technology off the shelf and pay $X amount for it, it’s going to take us to the next level and we don’t have to do all the hard work to actually get into business and fully understand the problems.”
The reality is that a piece of technology is not going to solve your broken business processes. There is no quick fix. The only way forward is to roll up your sleeves, lift up the covers and try to understand exactly where the inefficiencies are and what processes you need to fix.
Understand the Status Quo
While technology can speed up processes, you might be speeding up the wrong process. I think Bill Gates said it best “The first rule of technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
The first step in understanding where your process problems are is to fully understand what the status quo is (rather than what you think it is). The best way to do this is to have a facilitated session with a cross-section of your team. You don’t want people to hold back, so give them permission to be totally honest about the way things are actually done, the workarounds that take place, and the additional steps that don’t need to be there.
People within the business often have the answers because they’re the ones living and breathing it every day but they seldom actually get the chance to voice their ideas for improvements because everyone’s just so busy doing their jobs.
This process allows people to step back out of their day-to-day and question why we do things a certain way. Asking the five “Whys” (why do you do it that way?, why is it like that? etc) can help you get to the root cause of your inefficiencies.
Create High-Level Process Flow Charts
Get into problem solving mode- start by putting together a simple framework that outlines the high-level steps needed to improve your processes. Then as you go round the room, map out the details underneath each step. This is much more manageable than asking people to start with a blank piece of paper.
Sometimes it helps to get hands on. When I facilitate these sessions, I have about 20 meters of brown butchers paper with a whole lot of ‘post it’ notes running across it mapping out the framework. I then get people to write their improvement initiatives on a green ‘post it’ and walk up and stick it under the relevant issue. It’s a really tactile way of getting the team to engage with the process and people really value seeing the process unfold before them.
Categorise Your Improvements
Once you have your framework of improvements, categorise each item as “value-add”, “non value-add”, or “business value-add”. Also put an estimated time against each step and who in the business does this task, along with the approximate hourly rate for someone at that level. You can then create an Activity Based Costing model that highlights where the highest cost areas are and the cost of non-value add steps. And then you can start to use that data to identify not only how much your entire process costs from start to finish, you can break it down to see how you can prioritise your improvements.
Technology Should be an Enabler of an Already Optimised Process
Organisations need to take the time to really understand the way their business works and what it really needs. Once you have uncovered the cracks in your processes and started on your journey to fix these, then you can start to think about the technology that is going to drive your process improvement and enhance your new way of working. The onus should be on the vendors to match your requirements rather than the other way round.
Matt Smith is the Managing Director of Shutdowns Australia, helping employers of Maintenance and Construction teams halve the cost and decrease the burden associated with accessing workers to fill project roles through online technology. Shutdowns Australia is a proud partner of Mainstream Conference, a gathering of minds to celebrating the leadership, technology, ideas, and innovations that are literally transforming Asset Management.