One thing we hear from leaders who are looking to implement a structured approach to business process improvement is that it is difficult to explain to employees how to spot an opportunity for improvement. There are usually a few straightforward ideas that people point to right away, but once they are taken care of, it can be challenging to spot problems in processes, especially those you engage with every day.
An effective way to overcome this problem is to give employees categories of improvement opportunities to consider. Priming the pump with some examples and providing some questions to ask is an excellent way to get people thinking creatively. Of course, every business is different, and all of these examples might not apply to you, but here are 30 ideas that might spark a few of your own.
Keeping costs low might not be something that our front-line employees think much about, but our customers find they have lots of ideas when asked. Process operators must understand that their attention to cost can have a significant impact and immense benefits for customers and employees alike. Common examples of waste that increase costs are:
- Too much inventory of a perishable item
- Unnecessary creation of paper records
- Vendor contracts with automated renewals and no annual review
- Space devoted to excess inventory
You might not suffer from these exact problems, but giving folks examples may uncover similar issues or generate other ideas.
It may be a little odd to ask for ideas about getting more revenue from people who aren’t on the sales team or in product development. Still, surprisingly, ideas for increasing sales can come from any employee. Our customers have implemented revenue-generating improvements by:
- Changing product and service packages to better meet customer demand
- Taking existing products to new markets or audiences
- Providing better structure to collections practices
- Doing a better job of marketing to existing customers
Anyone in a customer-facing role is well-positioned to submit ideas for turning up the dial on sales.
Defects and errors are the enemies of profitability. Not only do they waste materials and time, but they also risk irritated customers and disheartened employees. That’s why most organizations begin their improvement efforts by targeting problems that impact product or service quality. Some quality problems will jump right out at you, while others take a little more thought and investigation. Here are some ideas our customers have implemented successfully.
- Implement tracking of customer complaints or reasons for return or cancellation
- Find common and special causes of defects using control charts
- Us the 5-whys technique to get to the actual root cause of any rework
- Report on the financial impact of quality problems
- Give employees an easy way to report equipment that needs repair or maintenance
When you talk to your team about quality improvements, be sure to emphasize that it isn’t just the final product that goes to the customer that can have errors. Internal process and documentation should also be free from defects and require little rework. Opportunity for error can be reduced by:
- Eliminating duplicate data entry
- Automating manual processes
- Applying standard work procedures
- Relying more on process improvements and less on inspection
While safety risks vary with the type of business, every organization should keep employee and guest safety top of mind. When it comes to safety, front-line employees are your first line of defense. Safety-related process improvement examples include:
- More effective employee training
- A culture that embraces “see something, say something.”
- Workspace organization and standards
- A seamless process for reporting potential hazards
- Careful attention to near-miss situations
Although it makes a ton of sense that the people who know precisely how to improve customer satisfaction are the folks who interact with them most often, too often, leaders don’t bother to ask. If you do, you might get simple yet powerful ideas like:
- Improvements to call flow for customer inquires
- New ideas for communication frequency and content
- A structured method for handling complaints
- Transaction triggered satisfaction questionnaires
- Proactive post-sale follow up
In an efficient organization, employees are in the position to do their best work. People become disengaged when they waste time, don’t have the proper resources, and have to deal with redundancies. Some ideas for overcoming inefficiency include:
- Making sure that equipment and supplies are available when and where they are needed
- Eliminating unnecessary layers of approval
- Ensuring that every meeting is useful and necessary
By providing your team with examples of potential business process improvements, you can start the ball rolling and hone in on challenges and opportunities unique to your organization. If you then provide structure for capturing and implementing positive change, you’ll be on the path to better results in no time.