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Identifying Opportunities for Improvement

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 7, 2014 9:02:34 AM

identify opportunities for improvementThere are numerous management theories and fads about quality production – Total Quality Management (TQM), Management by Objective (MBO), and Six Sigma, just to name a few. They all have one common element – improvement of processes. Whether you're overhauling an operation or introducing incremental improvements, managing the process is the key to success.

After you've documented the existing process, you can begin the work of targeting areas to be improved. Are there too many opportunities for errors? Is there a chance to implement automation? What are the bottlenecks that impede productivity? Are the right people working on the right parts of the process? Does the existing process support the company's overall strategy?

To ensure success, don't undertake this stage alone. Build a team that includes people from the original group that mapped out the existing process. Also, recruit staff from different levels of management to get different points of view. When appropriate, bring in vendors and outside consultants.

The team should question every step, however mundane. Investigate if new technology can add integrity or increase speed. Eliminate steps that don't add value. Nothing can be considered off-limits during this discussion phase.

When proposing changes, document the business reasons for doing so. Don't make changes for change sake. It's easier to support implementing modifications when you understand the reasons behind them. Also, this step provides a road map for future reviews and improvements.

Clearly state the goals of the process improvements. Establish objectives that can be accurately measured. Use the metrics determined earlier as a statement of the existing condition, or baseline. Set up a reporting format to review your progress. Be prepared to explain your successes and failures.

The power of "What if?"

Use the "What if?" methodology to uncover more improvements. For example, there are several "What if?" questions that could lead to improving a statement processing system. A short list would include:
  • What if statements weren't printed, but offered in a digital format?
  • What if print quality could be measured automatically during the process?
  • What if printer/inserter speed could be increased by 10%? By 20%? By 30%?
  • What if every piece could be tracked during production?
  • What if color print was introduced to highlight important information?
Also use "What if?" when considering proposed solutions. Evaluate the impact on technological and business factors. For example, with changes to the statement process, you should consider:
  • What if customers don't sign up for electronic statements?
  • What if the software/hardware provider is acquired or goes out of business?
  • What if the automated system crashes?
  • What if the new printers require significant programming to reformat statements?
These questions shouldn't be used to kill off ideas you don't agree with. Rather, they're intended to help you refine and maximize the impact of your solutions.

If the answers to your "What if?" questions include a positive impact on the bottom line, then you've identified key areas to improve. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis comparing the proposed solution to the intended benefits. Don't forget to include non-production costs, like call center operations, remittance processing, volumes of return mail, and customer retention.

Now you’re ready for the most challenging part – implementing the improvements.

Operations Management

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