We talk a lot about the mechanics of business process improvement and the technology to support it on this blog. Today, we thought we’d share some real-world examples of process improvements that made a difference to critical performance metrics.
They come from a wide array of industries and target vastly different problems. What they have in common is that someone recognized an opportunity for improvement, found the root cause, and implemented a fix.
To top it off, none of these improvements cost a dime.
You probably don’t have these specific challenges, but these business process improvement examples might get you thinking in a new way about the ones you do face.
Realigning Around Customer Needs
A software company that provides dealer management solutions to powersports dealers started with a support team organized in a way you might suspect, with a team for each functional area of the system. There was a team for questions about the Sales, Service, and Accounting modules and one for system administration. This allowed the support team members to become experts at the part of the system they supported.
But there was a problem.
It turns out the people need a different type of support when they first implement the solution, than when they had become more proficient. New customers calling into support were frustrated because they needed to speak to multiple people to cover all of their questions. Long-time clients in turn, got unacceptable wait times. A Kaizen event was held to address the problem.
The team devised a solution.
Newer clients needed more hand holding and would benefit from working with one person who knew the details about their account, even if they didn’t have deep expertise in every functional area. Existing customers needed quick answers from specialists. The solution was to create an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) to provide one person to work with each new customer. Once the customer was adept at using the solution, they “graduated” from ICU and moved to regular, module-based support. This approach approved satisfaction for both groups of customers and the employees as well. The company didn’t add more people; they just thought differently about how to use the resources they had.
A Better Way to Dump Junk
A company that provides junk hauling services to residences scheduled appointments like many other service providers. The customer was given a window for pickup on a specific day. Each morning the scheduler would create a route for the drivers based on the customer’s location. Makes sense, right?
It turns out …
Scheduling an efficient route for a junk hauler is not like scheduling the cable technician. Why? Because the capacity of the truck is limited, and people are terrible at guessing how much of the truck their stuff will fill. This meant that the haulers would never know how many clients they could visit before they’d need to make a trip to the dump. Sometimes, they would go to the dump before it was necessary based on the client’s estimate of the load. On other occasions, they would arrive at a house only to find that there wasn’t enough room. This wasted not only the driver’s time, but also gas, and dumping fees. On top of that, it was frustrating to clients and made it more difficult to meet the expected timeframe.
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
The company made a straightforward change. When they called to confirm the pickup window, they asked the client to snap a photo of the items to be removed. People aren’t good at guessing how much of the truck they’ll need, but the haulers are. They could then use this data to create the most efficient route possible. It’s not perfect, but it has reduced the number of trips to the dump and delays for the customer. Brilliantly simple.
Addition by subtraction
A university cafeteria prided itself in providing healthy meals to hungry students. But like many other food service organizations, they had a huge problem. Food waste. Hungry students who had “all you can eat” privileges would fill up their trays with all of the tasty items, but with most having only 45 minutes to eat, a lot of it was getting thrown in the trash. Thousands of dollars’ worth each month. The team considered a range of solutions from pre-dishing each item, to moving things around, or limiting the number of plates each student could use.
Guess we could have seen this one coming.
What they did was take away the trays. The students could still have as much to eat as they’d like, but they’d have to make more trips if they wanted more items. Forcing that, “Do I really want to walk over there and get another plate of macaroni?” moment had a drastic impact on the amount of food that went to waste. It was a no-cost solution that resulted in enormous savings.
These stories illustrate the fact that opportunities for improvement are all around us and that sometimes just a simple fix can make all the difference. They also reinforce the ideas the great ideas can come from anywhere and that no potential change should be dismissed out of hand.
We’d love to hear about your biggest successes in the comments.