There are many ways for business to increase productivity without investing in new systems or tools. All you need is objectivity and a flexible mindset.
Here is a list of ten things you could do:
1. Observe how work is done
What you understand should be done could be very different from what is actually done. Get out of your office and spend a day in the field. Speak with the people who do the work and observe, or do the actual work yourself. The field day is an eye-opening experience. You gain knowledge on the daily challenges in the field. You appreciate the effort required to do the work. You uncover opportunities for improvement.
2. Question assumptions
Practices that have been in place for many years are no sacred cow. They could be suitable at one point based on former assumptions and conditions. These assumptions might no longer be applicable. When nobody knows why an assumption is valid, it is time to get rid of it. For example, a supervisor needs to review a junior staff’s work to ensure that there is no error. The assumption is that a junior employee makes error. This might be true when a person is new on the job. It shouldn’t be an issue when he is well trained. Otherwise, you have a training issue.
3. Validate business rules
This is different from assumptions in that business rules are generally the by-product of assumptions. Using the above example of the assumption that junior staff makes mistakes. The resulting business rule is to review their work. Is the business rule justified? If so, is the action appropriate? What modifications can you make to minimize unnecessary work?
4. Verify need
A task is done to satisfy certain requirement. The requirement could involve internal procedures such as expense approval; legal reviews for liability; quality checks for performance standard, and regulations for health and safety. The majority of work performed in a business should focus on the needs of the end customers. Work performed to satisfy internal needs is potential non-value-add work. Hence, check that the need is valid.
5. Examine roles
Departmental responsibilities generally determine who does specific work. This tends to set boundaries around job roles and unfortunately, could be more restrictive than one would like. Instead of having one person do the data entry and another person verify the data and select an action, why not combine the work and make one person accountable? This eliminates duplication of work by the second person and it saves time.
6. Rearrange sequence
Sequential arrangements take longer to complete the end-to-end process. There might be tasks which could be done concurrently or exceptions could be made. This reduces the risk of bottlenecks and expedites work.
7. Reduce steps
Work gets unwieldy when adhoc solutions are bandaged together. The tendency to reach a quick fix provides short-term gain but potentially, long-term pain. When work gets too cumbersome, it is a sign for an overhaul. Evaluate each step and determine if it serves a purpose. Get rid of it if doesn’t.
8. Minimize handoffs
When work involves multiple departments, the handoffs add time. Things could get lost in the transfer. Incomplete information might result in iterations of steps and frustration. Duplication of effort is inevitable. Assess each handoff point and determine if it is necessary. If so, look for ways to improve the effectiveness of the transfer.
9. Examine use of technology and tools
You might own the state-of-the-art technology and tools, but only use a small portion of the functionality. At the same time, you feel the tools are inadequate because you are not able to perform work as efficiently as you would like. This is a very common problem. Revisit the capabilities of the technology and tools. Explore how to better utilize what you have before abandoning them.
10. Remove roadblocks
Roadblocks stall progress. They could be generated internally or externally. For example, municipalities rely on the financial institutions to provide mortgage payment information so that the property tax accounts could be updated. If the financial institutes failed to co-operate, delays would result. The roadblock needs to be addressed. Identify the root cause of the roadblock and be tenacious in eliminating it.
To achieve productivity improvement, you simply need an impartial aptitude for trying new approaches. Be mindful about paving-the-cow-path and challenge the status quo. One could find many opportunities for low hanging fruit for improvement. Avoid jumping to the conclusion that you need a brand new tool every time you face a productivity issue.