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Slowing Economy: Why spend money on efficiencies? September 24, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process.
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I am someone who is very interested in economics and business so I have definitely been reading about all of the issues with the financial industry.  This is also having some ripple effect into other business sectors.  So, I am sure that many people are thinking that the best move is to just ride out the slow cycle and not “rock the boat” by spending any money on technology and business system upgrades.  I will actually say that now may be a great time to invest in efficiencies for a couple of reasons.

Be Prepared for the Upswing

The Boy Scout motto is: “Be Prepared”.  I would argue that is great advice for the current business cycle.  An upswing is coming.  (No, if I knew when I would be having lunch with Warren Buffett)  If you utilize this down period to refine and improve your processes and efficiency when business takes off with the next upswing you will be in a much better position to handle the increased business with a much lower cost structure.  It is much better to have something in place before you absolutely need it than trying to put it in place after you realize that should have had it 2 months ago.

I think that the current market really lends to the being prepared concept.  Now while you have a little bit of time to breathe you can invest in the refinement and optimization of your business.  Then when the volume increases the improvements are in place and you can do what you do best – your business.

Step up on competitors

Some of your competitors are considering or are optimizing their businesses but many others are laying low during the slow down.  If you take the opportunity to refine and improve you will have a step on them when things turn around.  Imagine that you can go into a project with the improvements in place and beat their estimates by 5, 10,  or even 20 percent or more because you have optimized your business and your expenses.  You now have put yourself in a position to land quite a few more contracts.

Investment In Your Business

This is a pretty simple concept.  If you invest in your business now you can and will see returns on it for years to come.  During the busy times you may not have time to stop look around and reassess.  You probably don’t have time to analyze and improve your processes.  You are way too busy for that.  Now, take the time and look at what you are doing and invest the needed time into your business.  Every business has to improve and adapt in order to continue competing.  As you make this investment you will position your business to be more strong and resilient in the future.

To Wrap it up… Carpe Diem

That’s right Seize the Day.  I personally believe that this is a great time to consider how to improve and strengthen your business through improving efficiencies.  You will find yourself in a much more competitive situation once the market turns.  You really don’t even need to hire someone to start this process.  Spend some time looking at your business processes.  Figure how they can be improved.  If you need help then call someone and have them consult with you.  You have a golden opportunity to build your business… seize it.

As always, if I can help please contact me. 

Also, if you have any stories about your business improvements or you completely disagree/agree let me know with a comment!

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Business System Analysis September 3, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process.
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Business Systems

My belief is that if every company focused on building a system (a business system not a software system) to do their business they would be vastly more effective.  A system allows for things to move along in a very uniform pattern.  This makes things easy to deal with and conform to a set of standards.  It makes it very easy on employees and also makes it easy to train someone new coming in the door. 

It takes a significant amount of time and effort though to define your business system or process.  It follows a simple set of steps but they can definitely take time:

Step 1: What are the current process steps and Why?

This sounds like a simple task but in many cases it is not as simple as it seems.  In many cases there are multiple people who do the task and not a lot of process documentation to outline how it’s done.  Also, many times no one will really know why a certain task is done the way it is.  Many times this is due to the fact that it has been passed down from one employee to another and the reason may not have been passed.

**NOTE: In this step, the answer “Because that is the way it has always been done” should not be acceptable.  You should strive to have a true answer to Why or realize that the step may need to be looked at.

This is a very important step.  It is very important that the proper amount of time is taken to truly understand the current process.  Only if this step is done properly can the rest of the steps come out correctly.

Step 2: Is there a better way to do the task and does it need to be done at all?

This step can be difficult and needs to be handled gently.  You definitely don’t want to make this an interrogation of the employee.  This should be a very open, honest brainstorming session.  This is where the process refinement comes into play.  The people involved in this discussion should really consider better ways to do the task and also consider if there are ways to not do the task at all.  This is where you can get rid of the non-essential tasks and bureaucratic red-tape if possible.

This is also where there should be discussions of how to automate certain tasks.  In many cases, if there are specific steps that have to occur each time and they are pretty reproducable a software solution may be able to help simplify the the process.  This is something that you should discuss with a solution architect to figure out if automation processes will be applicable and feasible for your process.

Step 3: Revise process

The process should now be written in a draft format and reviewed by the members of the process team to verify that they will work.  During this process you may find that you will go through Step 1 and Step 2 multiple times to further refine the process.  This is fine because your end goal is the definition of an efficient process. 

At the end of this task, you should be very comfortable with how the process works, why each step occurs, and where the improvements will happen.  This will allow you to move on to the next step.

Step 4: Document the process

It is just like they say in the legal field, a oral agreement is as good as the paper it’s written on.  This information needs to be documented.  Each step in the process should be outlined as to who, what, why, where, and how.  Everything about the task that is known should be documented.  This will make it easy in the future when you need to train someone else or when you have to go back and look at why a process works a certain way.

During this step do not tie tasks to a specific person tie it to a specific role.  Over time people change roles so the documentation will lose some value.  If you outline the role that should do it the documentation will transition much easier from person to person.

Conclusion

This process is by no means simple and it will be time consuming but it can produce lasting benefits.  Many processes are defined and then never looked at again even though circumstances and resources change.  Many companies will add new customers, products, and resources yet they don’t consider looking at their process to see if it can and should be changed to support the new requirements.

Even though this task may seem daunting, it is something that will pay off in many ways once completed.  It gives you an outline of what you do and why you do it.  This information will help everyone understand the process and do it as efficiently as possible.  It shows you where you can improve and allows you to remove aspects no longer needed.  The bottom line is that it can and will effect your bottom line.