When we talk about helping companies with process improvement, people seem to think it is not very exciting. Something that is incremental, or, in other words . . . slow.
Some companies like to buy their process improvements – just get a new piece of equipment, and it will force some internal change while providing a new product or service or higher quality or faster delivery, or . . . lots of other things that don’t actually happen easily.
New equipment and new software tools are the cool stuff; we can show “products” or output to our prospects and customers. Our sales team gets it, and our customers get it. We all “get” what we can hold in our hands, or see on our screens, and even the self-proclaimed non-technical among us get the benefits of having software tools that enhance or accelerate our delivery of products or services to our customers . . . and sometimes at lower prices!
We put a shiny new full color roll-fed inkjet printer the size of an Airstream travel trailer on the floor, and we have samples of the great quality and talk about how fast we can deliver to our customers. Or we get a mail sorter, even bigger than the printer, to reduce postage costs. You can walk a customer around these things and show them the commitment and the investments the company is making to support them.
Many companies create great plans for the acquisition and integration of software or hardware to provide new products or services. The plans include an ROI that seems quite reasonable. Almost inevitably, the upstream or downstream requirements or impacts are not entirely understood or represented in the plan.
These other “mini-projects”, (if you’re lucky they are mini), require resources in people or skills that are not available, or maybe resources you don’t even have. The project plan grows. The implementation date moves out. You find yourself to be stuck – either due to the lack of the right resources at the right time, or due to paralysis as you try to assure you now address every opportunity, risk, and option you can imagine before proceeding one step further. Minimally, you find your implementation to be taking much longer than you expected, and the ROI not kicking in as you’d planned.
So, back to process improvement. A critical but often overlooked component of process improvement is making decisions about what NOT to work on, what investment NOT to make, if you are not ready. Do not bring on a piece of equipment until the resources are available to transform the existing printstreams to take advantage of the capabilities. Don’t invest in software to provide new services until you have a specific vision based on what your customers would value, and what you can deliver to them, and staff with the skills, or staff available to be trained. And those other projects that you ARE ready for? They’ll get done much faster, because the resources are not distracted.
Human beings tend to be oriented to eat the whole elephant. Make sure there are short term wins you can see, as well as milestones on the way to meet the long-term goals. Don’t just do it.