Very Rarely the Right Solution...and Rarely Scalable
Just this morning, my husband and I stopped for breakfast at a lovely French bistro in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. But, they estimated that we would have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a table...on Monday...for breakfast. There were more employees than customers. There were many open tables and customers who did have a table were waiting impatiently for their food or to pay the bill. As we walked away, we thought, after all the incredible amount of work it takes to get customers, how would the owner feel if he saw empty tables and customers - with cold, hard pesos - just walking away? Clearly, he/she had already hired a large staff. Clearly, dollars had been allocated to quality food and an attractive ambiance. But, I have no doubt, if we were to offer our help (and trust me, we thought about it) they would say that they need more resources. But adding resources to an already-broken on clunky process (or disorganized ways of working) only makes things worse...and expensive.
Streamline Before Adding Resources
As painful as it can be, the first step to achieving excellence is to identify inefficiencies or waste in the current process. And then figuring out how to make changes that will eliminate the confusion, delays, mistakes and redundancies. The big challenge is that "we're too busy to spend time analyzing our process". But - don't make me say it - if you have time to do it wrong twice, then you certainly have time to figure out how to do it right once!
Identify and Eliminate Waste
Although some problems are mysterious and require deeper root cause analysis, we estimate that about 80% of problems can be solved by the people doing the work before they become big issues. And employees can do this with simple problem-solving tools. Tools and techniques such as Value Stream Mapping, PDCA (or Plan-Do-Check-Act) or the Eight Wastes or the Five Whys , a Time and Value Analysis, or a basic Gemba Walk are all simple but powerful problem-solving tools that will enable teams to recognize and eliminate inefficiencies in the process. And THAT, by the way, goes a long way to creating happy employees.
Clarify Goals, Roles, Procedures
When teams collaborate to create new and improved ways of working, they can work together to ensure that they are aligned and clear on their purpose or Goals. For example, are the servers at our breakfast bistro trying to turn tables quickly? Serve more customers? Keep people in the restaurant for a longer time? Achieve good customer feedback? If the people working in the process are not aware of or connected to the goals, then the chances of achieving them are about the same as earth getting ejected from the solar system.
But with clear and shared goals, the teams can then clarify who does what...the Roles. And then, how work gets done...specific Procedures. A very effective way to clarify the process and the goals is to have the team create a high-level process map (a SIPOC).
In our French bistro, this would mean, for example, that the staff understands that their top priorities or Goals are to deliver a great customer experience. This could be measured by timeliness (from seated to served) and quality of food and service (customer feedback). For the Roles, they could probably use a better method to assign sections so that 4 different servers don't go to take drink orders at the same table. And for procedures, they could benefit from bringing the menu to the table when the guests are seated and the credit card machine to the table along with the bill. And now the process starts to shape up!
NOW, Assess Resource Needs
When the process has been cleaned up and improved with inefficiencies and frustrations minimized, we can assess our human resource and financial needs. At this point, we can clearly see what it takes to run the process in a way to deliver a great output. Structured tools such as Process Mapping and a the role-clarifying RACI chart are simple ways to get the job done.
Prepare to Scale and Grow
When a process is free from cumbersome and costly waste and inefficiency, it's ready to scale up or down, it can flex to changing demands and allows for smooth and enjoyable growth. Tell employees who work in a clunky process that volume will double in 6 months and they will groan...I promise you! They're buried. But say the same thing to an efficient team working in a process that is streamlined - one that they worked to create - they will be energized and inspired.
And then, you are ready to welcome new employees and team members to this fulfilling and enjoyable thing we call work.