Optimisation of business processes

There are many ways to see through optimisation of business processes.  Some use formal methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma or Kaizen Principles.  Others just use some common sense.  This blog starts the process of deconstructing a business process to start optimising it and the mind set to do it.

This blog is broken into set of staged examinations

  1. Why bother?
  2. I want to optimise
  3. Growing the idea

 

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Why bother?

Why bother optimising anything?

The definition of optimisation is “make the best or most effective use of (a situation or resource).”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

We all know that the world is constantly changing.  Tides come in and out.  Very slowly, over decades, costal lines change, glaciers move and fault lines change the size and position of continents.  Change happens whether you want it to or not.

“Death and taxes” is one of the most commonly quoted inevitabilities.  Death is change.

Optimising will only occur if someone has the mindset to want to change.  This is often the hardest part when I’m dealing with a business.  There is a natural personal desire and resistance to change.

So lets look at the pros and cons and that’s where the key of the challenge lies.  Depending on your perspective optimisation is full of pros or full of cons.  This is due to the risk / reward nature of people’s personalities.

 

Crossing the Chasm
Ron Mader image from Flickr about Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm

Geoffrey Moore wrote a book called “Crossing the Chasm” which grouped people into different categories to help the sales process.  Those groups are very useful for this discussion.

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • Laggards

 

 

Addressing the different perspectives

Perspective descriptions

It is only possible to speak in generalities as the world is a wonderful tapestry characters, experiences and opinions.  Optimising is different to everyone.

A laggard is the person of the perspective that I’ll only change if it is forced upon them.  I will alter my process because the law has changed and I have to.  For these optimisation is not a good thing and will always find more cons than pros.

The late majority, well if everyone else is doing it now I probably should too.  Safety conscious and quite resistant to change.  It’s worked for us this long but the writing is on the wall and has been for a while.  Optimisation usually does this, so we know what to expect.

The early majority.  Ok, there are a ton of others doing or starting to do this.  We should really keep up with them. Optimisation is a 50:50 risk reward split.

Early adopter will take risks for rewards.  Not too much risk though.  I need to see that someone else has already done this at least once and it’s worked.  Optimising could help set us further ahead than our competition.  It’s safer than completely new, so will generally be readily willing to apply optimisation.

Innovators.  These are usually people with vision and are often referred to as business leaders.  The risk is higher but the rewards are greater.  If it works, great.  If it fails, you’re an idiot.  As there is probably not a process in place in the first place, optimistaion is intrinsically linked to create the newest, best process possible.

 

Know thyself

It is important to identify in yourself what you believe your category is as it helps you understand your decisions and more importantly your motivations.

I personally put my attitude in the Innovator category as I personally get the most satisfaction from seeing new and untried things become the reality and the norm for others.  The risk reward for me in innovation is worth the highs and lows.

 

The business perspective

Business facts

A business is a legal entity of itself.  A business however delivers through the people in it.  So recognising in the leadership their approach helps to understand the general risk / reward appetite of the business.

Looking at a business objectively, rather than from our person place, there are some things which are facts:

  • If you are a profitable business, over time, someone will copy the products and services and produce the same thing or better for cheaper.
  • Business arrangements are one off sales or contractual.  The choice is the customer’s not the business’.
  • Laws will change.  A business must adapt to them.
  • Employees, managers, directors and shareholders are as much customers of the business as the customers themselves

It is important then for the business to have clearly defined goals as these goals will influence all decisions for all people regardless of their personal opinion.  Choosing “optimising” as a goal may be one of these goals.

 

Personal delivery

The actress Allison Janney, playing the character C.J. Cregg in the award winning NBC TV series The West Wing.

Delivering against goals and ambitions is what can cause the greatest conflict in a business.  The business definition may be to choose to make the maximum profit for the shareholders but the managers may not want to implement that directive if it means doing something contrary to their perceived best interests.

 

In the United States there is an expression “I serve at the pleasure of the President”.  This means that “my opinion doesn’t matter, what the President says, goes!”  A business does not have this luxury.  It would definitely be simpler in some instances but if the president of the business makes a mistake everyone suffers for it.

 

So business optimising is in the hands of individuals who not only want to optimise but also have the authority to implement change.  This is why it is usually management who see optimisation implemented.

I want to optimise

Who has been convinced?

This blog has now avoided the whole argument of trying to convince you that optimisation is a good thing because you’ve decided for better or for worse (for risk vs. reward) optimisation is a good thing, so you are reading on.

If you can’t see any reward in optimisation, of finding a better, cheaper more effective way of doing something, there’s very little anyone else is going to say to convince you of that.  I will caution though, that like inevitability, someday you may be left behind or caught out as change will continue without you.  Optimising = change.

Where do I start? With an email

Communication is key and all the worst challenges I’ve ever experienced were not from the work but stemmed from not enough communication.

So the with your desire to change in mind, you need to identify a process that needs optimisation.  Next you need to find the group of individual this will affect.  These are often referred to as the stakeholders.

This is often where mistakes are made.  Even by seasoned veterans missing key people for a variety of reasons will result in a lot of hassle.

Start by identifying a specific process.  Not “our business” but specifics within it.  Which areas are

  • Always running out of time
  • Have trouble keeping staff in them
  • Seem to always spend more money than they make
  • Are always at the centre of difficult conversations

Where are your challenges?

Remember this process will work on you as an individual as well as a group or company.

With your process in mind identify the stakeholders.  This isn’t just managers who control the area but also the staff who work there and the customers who will experience the output of the product or service.

Also take into consideration people who are unable to attend meetings, are too busy, on leave of one form or another.

Begin with a mass communication.  A simple email.  Don’t have a meeting yet.

Remember that you don’t have the privilege of President, as discussed above, as the process optimiser you are seeking to get everyone to agree but you must keep everyone happy.

 

What do I put in that email?

Considerations

Scope is what goes in here.  How far and wide will this change go?

Remember that you are going to have a mixture of the personality types discussed earlier receiving this email.  Everything from “this is a great idea” innovators through to “we should not change” laggards.  Your job now starts to convince all of them to change.

The primary challenge is to off set the fear and focus on reward.  What’s in it for me?  Using each member of the stakeholder list individually identify what’s in it for them.  If you can’t see anything, chances are you’re going to get a lot of push back.

Customers and service consumers need also to be shown what they’re getting.  There may be too many of them to address, so grouping or profiling character types is the best approach for these groups.

 

Email structure

The email should have the structure.

Process.  This is what is being optimised.

Focus.  The scope of the project.  Generally what you’re going to try to do with this project.

Stakeholders.  Everyone’s name and group as people like to know they’re included in the process.

Challenge areas.  Area’s that you and the team know are causing trouble

Rewards. Without naming names state what people should be able to look forward to after the process is complete.

Now that you have the email, you need to find your president.

 

Find your President

For real change to happen you must have authority.  This quintessential aspect of change requires you to find the boss, if you’re not the boss and convince them this is worth doing.  Why is this important?

 

Masala Chai
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_chai

A customer walks into a coffee shop and asks for a Masala Chai.  This coffee shop doesn’t have that.  Suddenly you have to consider four different perspectives.  You also have to negotiate the personality traits of theses people.

  • The customer
  • The server
  • The shop manager
  • The business director

So what is the standard position for dealing with a challenge like this.  How will the business respond to this request?  The business as stated is the people who operate it. Who’s perspective will win out?  How will you handle the situation going forward?

The one person who is not in the room is the only person who matters.  The business director should have laid the ground rules of engagement.  The goals and ambitions of the company will set the tone of the business on how this customer will be dealt with.  For better or worse.

Whilst a director can’t spell out every scenario they can spell out a general approach to be adopted.  Treat the customer with respect and dignity.  Look after our staff and ensure they have a safe and effective working environment.

So before you go changing anything, make sure you know who has the highest level of power in this process and who can affect change.  They are the one you’re going to have to sell the benefits of optimisation to.

Resistance to change

Harvard Business Review did a great article on resistance to change.

https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang

Their solution is to “strategise” around these concerns.  I sell the idea of change to each of the groups differently.  This is also the key approach of the Crossing the Chasm book at the start of this blog.

Now once you have your scope and you have the authority and backing to effect change, time to get feedback.  This is the single hardest part of any change, let alone optimisation.

  • Why do I have to sell my idea to anyone other than me?
  • This is right, why does anyone else matter?

You may believe you’re right but you need everyone to agree to implement the solution and if you don’t have general agreement it will make any new idea confrontational and stifle the benefits of its implementation.

After generating your email send it to your stakeholders informing them of what you’re trying to be accomplish.  You add to the email one important thing to the end of the email.

“Your opinion matters to me.  If you have any thoughts or ideas please email me directly so I can incorporate them in the planning stages.”

The seed is sown

Take a breath

You haven’t even lifted a finger to optimise anything and already you’re exhausted.  There are emails of support and condemnation flooding into you. Emails of cagey scepticism and veiled threats of fear in equal measure.  Welcome to the land of being an innovator.  It’s insanely hard to think why it’s worth it and often people go, nope… not interested and give up at this stage.

Optimising = change = fear.

Your motivation

Steel yourself as not everyone is going to agree with you.  Identify for you, the specific rewards to be gained in this.  Why would you do this?

  • Fiscal.  Is there a bonus in your salary for doing this?
  • Career advancement.  Successful optimisation projects can gets you noticed higher up the corporate ladder.
  • An easier life.  Let’s face it you’re addressing something that you know is wrong to make it better
  • Your adventurous spirit.  Proving you can especially when more and more people say you can’t

The process above can lessen the blow of starting into something and seeing it shot down.  Quite often people react better to seeing something working than starting a conversation that will be controversial.  This management approach is very do or die and can often ruffle feathers and get people’s backs up.

Every situation is different.  Tactics, formal approaches and structured process will always alleviate some of the pressures but negotiating personalities is always the hardest part of change and optimisation is change.

It might even be worth examining your own motivations at this stage.

 

As this discussion continues there will be further articles and the process continues.  If you have any questions or comments please do get in touch.

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