Improving your organization’s processes doesn’t have to be a difficult task. In fact, some of the most cost-effective process improvement techniques don’t require expensive process analysis software or a single, sweeping change program.
On the contrary, the best organizational process improvements require that you alter your mindset, your habits and your approach to problem solving. While these changes may appear to be small or insignificant, their return on your time investment makes them well worth the effort.
Here are four and a half operational process improvement steps that start yielding immediate results for your business or organization:
1. Focus On Your Daily “Top Five”
In today’s busy work environment, many employees find they have to-do lists a mile long. After working hard all day, they go home feeling they’ve accomplished so little from their lists, which takes a daily toll on company morale. The problem is often a lack of prioritization – a large number of unimportant tasks crowd out the higher priority items.
The Fix: Ask every employee, on a daily basis, to whittle down his or her long to-do list to just five tasks – that is, the tasks that are the true priority. Have each employee focus on the first task until it’s done, then the second, and so on until all five are finished. Make this a daily habit.
To ensure maximum success, double check that each item is doable in a day. For larger deliverables, break down the task into smaller, prioritized steps. Also, have employees keep a list of items that are doable in ten minutes or less. When they need a mental break, they can tackle one of these items for a quick change, and then dig back into their top five priorities feeling refreshed.
2. Communicate Daily
According to the Project Management Institute, the most crucial success factor in project management is effective communication to all project stakeholders. In fact, a recent survey of executives found that effective communication is associated with a 17% increase in finishing projects within budget.
The Fix: Commit to a daily 10-minute company or team sync every morning. During the meeting, have team members share their top five priorities for the day, as well as any issues or problems they are facing. This brief meeting keeps your whole staff informed, fostering collaboration and communication about any issues or problems. A quick meeting also reduces extraneous emails to project managers during the day.
Remember: You aren’t saving time if the meeting regularly goes past the 10-minute mark. If you have trouble keeping to time, ask everyone to stand during the meeting. When employees can’t sit, everyone works together to finish the meeting quickly.
3. Rearrange Your Office
Most senior managers consider business process improvements to be large-scale programs that save millions in clear, bottom-line results. However, they often overlook the small details of an effective office layout, which does save millions. Unnecessary trips through the office or building waste your employees’ time – whether they are trips to talk with project co-workers, to consult with a manager or to use the restroom.
The Fix: Rearrange the layout of your office so that employees’ trips are eliminated or shortened for the highest frequency tasks. This means project team members should sit near each other with easy access to their managers and other office tools, such as printers and copiers. The more trips you eliminate or shorten, the more distractions you reduce along the way.
Before you start reorganizing your whole office, talk with your employees to understand their most important needs, such as their key co-workers, their printer or copier usage, their need to access a manager and so on. Once you gather this information, your office rearrangement is more effective.
4. Develop A Common Filing System
It happens all the time: You need to reference a report from last month, but a co-worker wrote it and you don’t know where she stored the file. Or, you’re working on a document with your team but you aren’t sure which version is the most recent. While each of these issues seems inconsequential, they’re costing your business unnecessary expenses in time and money.
The Fix: Create a common information sharing and storing system, and stick to it. There is no best way to organize and name electronic files, so the most important step is to find a system that works well for your team and then to use it consistently. The time you invest in developing a system returns in huge cost efficiencies over the long term.
Other common issues to address for your electronic files include:
- Keeping a “defunct” folder for older versions of files
- Collaborating on files via a shared drive and not just through email
- Maintaining a common date format (e.g., MMDDYY vs. DDMMYY)
- Using file templates for recurring documents, such as reports
- Employing acronyms or abbreviations for speed and clarity (e.g., “DFT” for “draft”)
- Differentiating between completed and working documents
- Tracking editors and versions of documents in progress
4.5 Fix Your Problem Printer
Perhaps the most time-consuming piece of equipment in your office is the printer or copier. Often, managers choose to defer the immediate investment of fixing or replacing a troublesome machine – resulting in even more time and energy lost in employee frustration, calls to IT support and efforts to work around the problem.
The Fix: Ignoring a problem printer translates into continued costs in employee efficiency and morale, so fix faulty equipment early. The sooner you invest in repairs or a new unit, the sooner you reap the returns in employee effectiveness. The same goes for other office equipment issues or process improvements: Fix them early and you won’t regret the investment.
With the right changes in habits and mindsets, your business or government agency runs more effectively, giving you more time (and budget) for pressing priorities and projects. Small operational process improvements made today yield significant savings for your organization tomorrow.
Looking for more organizational process improvement techniques? Click below to read a free tip sheet from Big Sky Associates for better process improvements in your data analysis and visualization.