If It Ain't Broke, Should I Still Fix It?

When was the last time you really took a close look at how you are doing things and asked yourself “how can I do this faster, cheaper, simpler and easier while maintaining quality and customer satisfaction?” In the “old days” this might be something you look at once every couple of years. However, in today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing environment I would suggest you need to ask yourself this on a daily basis. Otherwise you might find yourself left in the proverbial dust. You need to continuously perform process analysis and process re-engineering in order to get higher levels of output with the same or less resources. 

In order to constantly make changes without creating chaos and bringing the business to a screeching halt you need to have a consistent vision for the business and insure it is understood by everyone in the organization. Having a clear vision is like giving everyone the same directions on which way to go. Without it everyone will determine there own direction and most likely it won’t be the same as yours. Try this exercise in your next staff meeting to illustrate this point. Ask everyone to close their eyes. Now ask them to point north. While continuing to point north ask everyone to open their eyes and look at the direction that everyone else thinks is north. You will see some pointing left, some pointing right, some straight ahead and even others pointing to the ceiling. This exercise clearly illustrates the importance of having a clear vision that is understood by all. Once your vision is in place you can feel free to re-engineer the processes and systems so you are more capable of fulfilling that vision. It is usually those businesses that are unclear of their vision and direction that re-engineering causes confusion and chaos.

Now, with your vision in place, how do you go about re-engineering something? Well, you must start with a process or system analysis. This is where you define each and every step it takes to get a particular activity completed from start to finish. These activities could include selling, order processing, manufacturing, delivering products or services to customers, invoicing and collecting. One way I have found useful is to use post-it notes. Use one note for each step and stick it to the wall or a table in the order the steps are completed. You can then easily rearrange the notes or add and delete to accurately depict how something is done. Once this is completed you can then consolidate steps, consider outsourcing steps or even eliminate steps in order to complete the activity with more efficiency. However, there are several things to keep in mind while doing all of this. Ask yourself “will this improve customer satisfaction and is it in line with our vision.” Ultimately, if the answer to these questions is not “yes” then you need to rethink the process.

If you’ve never really done this process analysis and re-engineering (or haven’t done it in quite some time) you might find you can eliminate 20 to 30 percent of the steps the first time through an activity. Those businesses that continuously perform this exercise continue to find ways to do things faster, easier, simpler and better. And all that adds up to being more competitive in the market place and ultimately making more money. The faster and more efficient you can perform the business cycle….that is, from the time the customer orders something to the time you collect the cash and all the steps in between the more money you will make. And, not to mention, the better cash flow you will have.

It used to be said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I would contend that in today’s highly competitive and fast changing environment you should fix it anyway. You should continuously be evaluating your processes and systems to see where you can make improvements.