Failing to embrace the technology that your competitors rely on can slow your business down. In order to thrive, businesses must reach a new level of operational excellence, says Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of Wrike
Most scientists agree that dinosaurs became extinct because of an asteroid that hit the earth millions of years ago. It was a sudden, violent impact that took the planet by surprise. Fortunately, in the world of business, extinction rarely comes so suddenly. With foresight and the evolution of habits, your business can not only survive changes in the economy, but thrive as a result of them.
To survive the newest epoch – the age of digital – we need to ensure our teams perform at an entirely new level of efficiency. But what happens when we are – perhaps unknowingly – still working like dinosaurs ourselves, and failing to embrace the same technology as our competitors? There are more tools than ever at the disposal of UK businesses, so the trick is knowing how and when to use them.
Expectations from consumers are ever increasing, demanding faster turnaround times, at always low-prices. As these expectations increase, it’s impossible to meet them using the same processes and tools as in the past. That’s why thriving in the digital economy requires a new level of operational excellence from businesses to meet these seemingly impossible demands.
Operational excellence is a holistic term that encompasses the culture of your team, the processes of your work, and the technology that moves information through your company. To achieve excellence, you must start by examining all three of the above, and identify opportunity to improve. There are a few common systems that I recommend people evaluate their use of.
The problem with email in my opinion is that it fails to bring process and order into inter-office communications. If I get 100 emails in a day, how do I prioritise them? How can I tell which one is the most urgent? Sadly – despite the fact that email is still the collaboration backbone of thousands of companies – it falls short in helping to execute projects in a timely manner. For this reason, email should be used sparingly for internal collaboration and project management – and instead be used primarily for simple back and forth conversations between individuals.
Spreadsheets were developed to help crunch numbers. They weren’t invented to be a repository of your team’s knowledge. Still, many teams use spreadsheets as task lists to share the statuses of projects. This may work for one project, but at scale it causes team productivity to break down. Have you ever had to update spreadsheets for 10 projects at a time? How did you feel about work that day?
There are better ways to share updates that are more conducive to a culture of collaboration and real-time visibility, and that brings a better user experience to your workers. In the modern economy, managing projects via spreadsheet just won’t cut it.
No one ever went to their deathbed saying they wish they’d spent more time in meetings. They take valuable work time from a group of people, and sometimes, people leave just as confused as when they entered. Like spreadsheets, meetings are a misused tool that effect businesses most at scale, when the volume and speed of projects is very high.
Teams must find better ways to distribute updates, both digitally and in-person.
Designing operations for the on-demand age
If the tools of the past aren’t good enough for the future, what can be done to ensure work can be executed quickly and with consistent quality? I think digital work needs to learn from physical manufacturing, and bring the concept of the conveyor belt into the office.
Consider that 100+ years ago, the conveyor belt allowed production volume from automakers to go through the roof, while also insuring that every car coming off the line was nearly error-free and ready for delivery. Now consider the processes we discussed above, and think about how work moves through your company. Do you know where you tasks come from? Do they know who to send them to next? Will that person even know when they’ve received it?
These questions are all ones that operational excellence can answer. Here are a few simple ways you can bring excellence to your company.
- Automation of repetitive tasks
We all deal with a certain amount of repetitive work. If you introduce automation to those tasks, you can save yourself and your team time to focus on more valuable tasks. One example of a common task is building a project schedule. With a little foresight and a decent solution for project management, you can templatise your recurring projects, then duplicate them to onboard a new employee, service a new customer, or update some physical facilities. The templates save time, and ensure you’re following the exact same steps, every time.
Automation doesn’t just mean completing work. From a process perspective, you can automate reminder emails about tasks that are approaching their due dates, or notify a director that they have work to approve. These automations supplement the human mind, and help people stay on top of tasks that may hold up critical projects if not completed on time.
- Implement a single source of truth
So much of the work that we do is just about looking for answers. They’re spread through emails, notes from meetings, spreadsheets – maybe even text messages or messaging apps. Teams need a single-source-of-truth, that can be relied upon to always contain the most up-to-date information about a project’s status.
Such a system saves countless hours for workers who need to use this information to execute their work, and also brings huge value to managers who need to aggregate and report on it.
- Build a culture of continuous improvement
Have you ever heard the phrase, “that’s just the way we’ve always done things” as justification for bad processes that yield poor results? This phrase should be stricken from the vocabulary in your team.
After every project, you should assess the outcomes, ask the “5-Why’s” for any failures, and commit to improving for the next time. If you can trim 1% of waste from each project, at scale those improvements will compound and bring you closer and closer to excellence.
There’s no one trick to bringing operational excellence to your organisation, however the key elements are centred around scalability, visibility, and repeatability of work. By designing repeatable processes and implementing technology that allows you to execute a high volume of projects using those processes, you can ensure that your business is ready to survive and thrive under the on-demand nature of the digital economy.