Business efficiency isn’t just a question of improved profitability. Efficiency should encompass a wider range of attributes that you need to prioritise and then focus on improving. After all trying to blindly improve profitability is far too broad a challenge. Like eating the proverbial elephant, you need to chose which bits to eat first.
At 768 pages, and with a £50 price tag, Operations Management by Prof Nigel Slack is a heavy weight tome that takes some effort to read through. However there is a very good definition of how efficiency can be defined:
Cost – Ability to control operational costs and deliver within budget
Quality – Ability to deliver work to expected quality standards
Dependability – Ability to deliver projects and outcomes according to expectations
Speed – Ability to complete work quickly and in accordance with expectations
Innovation – Ability to develop new and creative solutions that fulfil business needs
Flexibility – Ability to react to new requests and requirements
Naturally, one might look at this list and think “yes I want all of these things”. Good prioritisation happens when each attribute is put into conflict with the others.
Prioritisation through conflict
Would you rather deliver a project late and perfect, or on time with flaws?
What is more important; getting the job done quickly at any price, or working slowly to control the budget?
These types of questions can help you determine what is most important for your business as they place each attribute up against the other one.
The following statements can be used to determine where priorities lie using a likert rating of how much the respondent agrees or disagrees with each statement:
- Scheduled work is more important new requests – (Dependability vs Flexibility)
- Project timelines may slip to ensure that costs do not overrun – (Cost vs Dependability)
- Quality is important regardless of the price – (Quality vs Cost)
- To complete work quickly, errors are acceptable – (Speed vs Quality)
- We should be flexible to change even if this slows things down – (Flexibility vs Speed)
- Failing to achieve project benefits is ok if the project is completed quickly – (Dependability vs Speed)
- Keeping costs under control is more important than being flexible to new requests – (Cost vs Flexibility)
- Quality of the output is more impotant than the schedule – (Quality vs Dependability)
- Speed of delivery is more important than the cost of delivery – (Speed vs Cost)
- We need to be more flexible even if these means quality drops – (Flexibility vs Quality)
- Time lines are more important the quality – (Dependability vs Quality)
- Costs can increase to ensure that projects are delivered rapidly – (Cost vs Speed)
- New requests should not be allowed to affect the quality of work – (Quality vs Flexibility)
- Getting work completed quickly is more important than the outcome – (Speed vs Dependability)
- We need to be more flexible regardless of the cost – (Flexibility vs Cost)
- We should achieve project objectives regardless of the cost – (Dependability vs Cost)
- Quality can be compromised to keep costs down – (Cost vs Quality)
- It better to be slow and careful, rather than fast and sloppy – (Quality vs Speed)
- Being quick is preferable to being flexible – (Speed vs Flexibility)
- It is acceptable for a new request to delay an existing project – (Flexibility vs Dependability)
- Projects can be delayed to add new features to them – (Innovation vs Dependability)
- We should spend lots on innovation and R&D – (Innovation vs Cost)
- Taking risks and cutting corners is acceptable when innovating – (Innovation vs Quality)
- Innovative projects may slow down the delivery of business as usual – (Innovation vs Speed)
- Being innovative is more important than being flexible – (Innovation vs Flexibility)
The following is taken from the output of client work from a couple of year’s ago:/
Finding the digital solutions to efficiency goals
With a clear focus on what matters most you can begin experimenting with new tools that will improve efficiency.
For cost management you may want to use the Basecamp, Salesforce or potentially create something quick for cost management in Knack. Whilst I’m a fan of Excel in certain settings, I find it used all too frequently to manage complex cost situations.
Dependability and Speed may require the use of MavenLink or Jira tools. Trello may also be a decent way of creating an online Kanban board.
Innovation may require improved corporate communication. Evernote, Wiki/Confluence, Dropbox and Slack could be great tools.
My recommendation is to try these tools on a limited roll out in a team and then, if it works, expand the trial and create better operational guides for the corporate use of the tool. Just ensure that you start in the area that is most important for your business/team.
Another crucial matter is to consider integration with these new digital tools. Many come pre-packaged with easy to configure integrations to other popular tools (often creating their own app store or partner eco-system). For everything else, I can’t recommend the use of Zapier and IFTT enough.
What tools have helped your teams become more efficient?