The Unappreciated Art of Efficiency

Is there anything sexier in business than process improvement?

Gears churning

Everything working together.

Okay, sure. Lots of things: A hit product, explosive growth, taking a company public. Suddenly the nebulous undertaking that is process improvement doesn’t seem like the thing that’s going to earn you a windfall. It just does not scream success the same way as those other things. Nobody says, “Wow, you improved a process? I’ll bet the next thing you did was buy a Porsche.” What brings more of the feeling of success is productivity improvement. That’s what we call it in our office. It just feels stronger, more desirable, and more accurate. More like a home run.

The thing that makes a home run so satisfying is that it’s definite, in both what it takes to be called, and what results. There is a fence determining a goal, and you hit the ball far enough to exceed it. So to get process improvement to feel like a home run, you have to clearly determine your productivity expectations, and then decide how much more you want to get done with the same amount of effort, or how much less effort you want to put out to accomplish a particular task. There’s your fence.

Only once the fence is out there can you begin to hone your swing so that you have the power and prowess to hit it over, not just once, but with some consistency. A better process, or more accurately the effectiveness of a better process, is also measured in its stability and predictability. For most of us, getting consistently close to the fence, and over it some of the time, delivers great success.

Of course, there are obstacles to building that fence. Sometimes they have to do with productivity complacency. Aside from our general dislike of change, people typically do not enjoy admitting that they could get more done with less, that they have overlooked some terrific resource, or that they are slow or inefficient. And there are often stakeholders in existing processes (managers, vendors, etc.) who, even unintentionally, sabotage productivity improvement to protect their jobs and their financial or reputational interests. You either have to get them to help you establish the fence line by showing that there is something in it for them, or you have to be prepared to hit it over their heads.

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