How To Boost Business Productivity
AKA How to Get More Work Done
Productivity. Yuck. Frankly, I dislike the word. Why? It’s one of those words that we throw around but don’t understand. What the heck is productivity?
On some level we know it has to do with getting more work done. That’s true. And if we run a factory, it might mean making more units in the same amount of time.
Getting more work done? What does that mean? Again, it has a ring like something we think we understand. You know, there’s work to do and we want to get more of it done.
Before trying to improve productivity, it’s important to look at whether the work being done is actually productive. I worked with a client recently that was on the razor’s edge of bankruptcy. There was no reason this company should be in such serious financial straights. Their product had huge demand that they couldn’t meet. Problem is, the production department just bungled a huge batch of product costing the company a month’s worth of sales. Even worse, the production department continued making defective product after identifying the defect which cost another month of sales. Worse still, rather that focus on getting as much product of the best quality ready for market, the production manager, with the blessing of management, was wasting time creating a massive (and quite nonsensical) corrective action report. Key target dates were missed by their production department and another month was lost. This company won’t last to see 2018.
The company could hire an assistant to help write corrective action reports. That would enable the company to crank out lots and lots of corrective observations. Those CARs could go in the file with the 1,000 page manual of SOPs which supposedly prevent the problems in the first place. Maybe they could dedicate someone to write CARs and SOPs?! That would increase written production. By the time they go out of business they could have 2,000 pages of SOPs and hundreds of CARs.
Get my point?
Before trying to figure out how to do more of something, consider first the value of that work. Certainly, SOPs and CARs have value. But if the company can’t ship, do those things matter? No.
What needs to be done at any given point in time must be prioritized. It may not be important if some paperwork falls behind if the factory isn’t shipping goods. At that point, everything must focus on production. If the company had product going out the door and a reasonable reserve of finished goods to meet demand, it may be of value to write a CAR on the most recent failure. It’s a relative thing.
Step 1 in getting more done is to determine the value and priority of what needs to get done. Sounds obvious to you because in larger businesses when something falls behind there is always someone to push for ‘more and faster’. They may not prioritize but they will certainly demand more. The small business will often fall to busy work. Sales fall and the small business owner will resort to ‘to-do’ lists of make work. Rather than discussing new product development the small business will push the sales people to ‘see more people, make more calls’. The problem could be with the product.
I get frustrated by clients who miss big opportunities because they get lost in the weeds. You don’t need a massive analysis with calculations to 18 standards deviations in a 10 person business that can’t get finished goods out the door. In that case, you need to focus every resource on getting finished goods out the door.
There is more to productivity than prioritizing. However, if the business would simply shift to putting the effort in the right place, even if efficiency isn’t maximized, the business will be better off. We’ll discuss improving efficiency later. For now, prioritize.
The ability to flex priorities is the biggest advantage of the small business. Problem is, many small businesses want to be like a big business and will dive into time-wasting analysis rather than address the obvious. A small business asked me to help them develop budgets. The business was losing a lot of money and they wanted to adopt budgets. I recommended looking at the 10 most important line items on the P&L and budgeting those things. They weren’t happy with that answer and put 5 people to work on budgets. After a month the budgeting process was abandoned. Sales fell, costs rose taxes came due. I wanted the company to focus on the big expenses that were coming up and the key budget items that seemed to wobble badly. They wanted an S&P 500 type budget which never got done. Priority.
I call that “Big Rocks First”. Get the important stuff done. Then work on efficiency.
When the going is rough, cash flow tight, sales drop, disaster in production, whatever adds pressure hits your business it can be tough to see what the priorities are. If you find yourself making ‘to-do’ lists, you probably are in trouble. If you add an item that you have already completed so you can cross it off, you might need some advice on getting your business back on track. There is nothing wrong with that. When the car makes a weird noise, you go to a mechanic. Why let your business suffer?
Chris Reich, TeachU