One of the primary goals of any business is to be faster and agiler than its competitors. Eventually, it defines whether you can deliver new product earlier, be flexible in your reactions to changing a market situation, do more in less time. However, many managers and business owners are rather fuzzy on how it is achieved and never go further than using vague buzzwords like “streamline decision-making” or “eliminate nonessential activities.” In this article, we will cover a few more specific ideas you can start implementing right now.
The world today changes at an unprecedented rate, and you cannot expect your business to grow by simply doing what you’ve always been doing, perhaps with a little adjustment. Businesses tend to accumulate a lot of baggage as they develop: staff positions, projects, procedures, and teams. Large companies sometimes have entire departments that do busywork like compiling reports nobody ever reads because it was deemed useful at some point in the past.
Budgeting here refers not just to funds but time and effort of your employees. You should start every year from a clean slate, not taking anything for granted. Decide what your goals are for the next period and, given that, what you should concentrate your efforts on. If something doesn’t move this goal along, cut it off without hesitation.
1. Invest in Project Management Software
You may believe that you know everything that happens in your business and can give directions manually whenever the need arises. When your company started out and consisted of just a few employees, it probably was true. However, as a business keeps growing in complexity the number of projects, tasks, deadlines, and timelines increases at an exponential rate, eventually resulting in a cumbersome, chaotic, inefficient organization that exists only because it is how the things were always done.
What you need in such a situation is some kind of project management. There are many PM methods: Agile, Scrum, PRINCE2 and so on; however, most of them are highly specialized and don’t make much sense when separated from the type of project, produce or service they were designed for. If you don’t have much experience in this field, you should probably choose Kanban – it is perhaps the most flexible, adaptable and user-friendly approach. Using a well-designed tool like kanban project management will make it even more accessible.
2. Concentrate on Speed, not Cost
Cutting costs is a constant goal of most process improvement initiatives. However, it is often misguided because it is usually accompanied by getting overly cautious about what your business does, introducing additional control checks and sign-offs. As they accumulate, they slow down your processes and lead to losses, not gains. To tackle this problem, you should focus all your process improvements on increasing their speed and reaction time. This doesn’t mean it has to be done to the detriment of safety and quality – just keep in mind that additional controls quickly reach a point of diminishing returns.
3. Cut Down on Meetings
Meetings are probably the most inefficient, time-consuming and purposeless activity business employees can engage in. Whatever their responsibilities are, in most cases they can better use their time doing something else – especially if we are talking about weekly or monthly status and update meetings. Not only they are a huge time sink by themselves, but they also create a habit of waiting for the next meeting to deal with a problem instead of tackling it here and now. Again, this is where collaboration and project management software can immensely help you by streamlining the work process and eliminating the need for update meetings.
4. Keep Your Teams Small
This idea originates from agile methods used in software development but can be effectively used in many other industries. Organizing your business around the idea of breaking larger problems and projects into smaller ones and assigning small, highly focused teams to deal with them leads to higher productivity, flexibility, and faster results.
5. Introduce Plan Challenge Phase into Your Work
Quite often, there is a lot of difference between the initial plan for the project and what eventually gets done. The problem is not always clearly defined and understood by all participants; the client, project manager and people responsible for specific tasks may have a different understanding of what successful result means, and so on. If company culture doesn’t support asking questions before doing things, employees may start working with an unclear understanding of the project scope and other variables, hoping that things will figure themselves out as they go along. Counter this by making plan discussion and clarification a regular part of work – this will help your team always start working with the clear knowledge of what is expected of them.
Different industries may have different approaches to optimizing their business processes, but in the long run, it all boils down to a better organization – so when you find what works for you, stick to it!