How Stuck are We in Old Habits? How much does this hold us back from achieving things?
It is usually the case that we do the same thing today that we did yesterday. It sometimes seems that inertia is the strongest human force. Old habits are not necessarily bad, but it is good to have a quick review every now and again.
When looking at a business task, I ask myself the following questions:
- Does it need to be done at all?
- Does it need to be done in this location?
- Does it need to be done at this time?
- Does it need to be done by this person?
- Does it need to be done with this method?
The first question is the best! Often we have extra approval steps or crosschecks that seldom prevent a serious problem. The unusual is the most memorable, and we may have introduced extra tasks in reaction to some poignant but infrequent occurrence. Instead of checking every transaction, perhaps just check 10 percent to ensure no big problem is arising. With a little thought, you can probably find work steps that may have been useful in the past, but are now either obsolete or unimportant.
The internet has made geography less relevant in work planning. It doesn’t mean that you should send all your computer programming to India, but it does mean that you could now consider a shared resource center for corporate accounting, rather than having individual divisional accounting centers. Being able to move work from one place to another can even out the workload, and allocate work to wherever is the most relevant expertise.
Processes generally evolve over time as a series of sequential steps. Each step takes a little time, and so each step delays the final output by that unit of time. Reconsider the time sequence of your processes. Perhaps some tasks could be done in parallel, rather than in series. Perhaps a task can be performed more easily later in the process when more information is available.
We tend to think in terms of tasks being done by a certain person. Depending on the day that person may be an overworked bottleneck in the flow or may not be too busy. Consider assigning work based on roles, rather than individuals. Individuals can take on several roles, and the work will tend to balance out more evenly. Also at the same time, give your roles more authority, to avoid extra approval steps. Your team is on your side – trust them.
Computers, automation, and self-service applications are dramatically changing the way tasks are completed. Maybe you have always done this task in this fashion, but is a new technology, or a new resource, or a new material now available? Constantly think whether a customer can enter their own data, or if a graphics file can be uploaded to a machining center. If the task does not involve your core institutional skills, maybe it should be outsourced.
The “right task” and the “right way” change over time. A period rethink can keep your operations running at an optimal level.