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Ways to Increase Your Business Productivity


Would your business be interested in a 30 percent boost in productivity? That’s right, being able to do 30 percent more of whatever your business does – from building widgets to treating patients – with the same people, equipment, space, and so on? And, as a bonus, you’d be able to do this work in less time, from start to finish?

I suspect the answer to this question is a resounding “yes”— as I can’t imagine any business that isn’t trying to increase productivity and output, while  lowering the cost of providing their product or service. So what does it take to capture 30 percent more productivity? Let’s take a look at two important ways to make this happen.

Eliminate tasks and work that offer low returns or no value to your business.

Your business is constantly evolving. Customers come and go. New products and services are added. People are hired and fired. There are countless changes like this that take place almost every day. In response to our changing environment, we are constantly adding to and modifying our daily work. We create new reports, have more meetings, develop new projects, handle new information to add to new systems, and so on. Unfortunately, we rarely apply the same energy to getting rid of obsolete work that adds little or no value to the business. The result: probably 10 to 30 percent of what we do every day at work adds very little value and could potentially be eliminated, with no ill-effect to the business or to our customers.

Of course, less time spent doing the non-value adding work will allow for more time to be applied to the things that really matter, which will improve productivity and output.

Finding non-value adding activities requires a hard look at the day-to-day processes of the business.  From start to finish, each process task needs to be reviewed, and the question asked “does this step add value?” Much like sorting through a garage full of “stuff” we have accumulated over the years, this process requires a mindset that challenges the status quo and is willing to “let go” of the practices and tasks that we’ve become comfortable with, but no longer add any real value.

Synchronize work to achieve a smooth and steady flow.

The last time you took a flight for work or vacation, I bet the experience was something like this … line-up at the check-in kiosk. Print your boarding passes, then line-up to drop off your bag. Line-up at Security, go through, then line-up at Starbucks for a coffee. Wait at the gate until it’s time to board and line-up again to get on the plane. In other words, the hurry up and wait process is repeated over and over.

Many of our daily work processes are very similar to this analogy. There’s lots of stopping and starting, and waiting as certain steps in the process must be done in sequence. Not only does this slow down the overall process, but it destroys productivity. What’s the point of being as efficient as possible at, say, dispensing boarding passes and baggage tags when the passenger is just going to wait in the bottleneck called security?  However, if the rate at which passengers move through the boarding pass kiosk and the rate at which they are processed through security are designed to be synchronized, then the result is that both activities run at a high level of efficiency. In this situation, if a queue of passengers forms in front of either activity, then this is taken as a sign that something is out of synch and needs attention, rather than being considered just another typical day.

In business, we need to build processes so that work flows continuously. Indeed, almost every time work stops and people are in a holding pattern, this is a sign that the people involved in doing the work are out-of-synch. And, just like our trip through an airport, being out-of-synch reduces productivity and increases lead-times.

Achieving synchronization requires a hard look at our day-to-day work processes, with particular focus on the path that the work follows, and the capacities of the various work activities. A process is  only efficient if it is productive and has no bottlenecks. To ensure activities flow work capacity both up and down-stream must be balanced.

These two tactics have a long track record of success in the manufacturing sector where they were developed (from Henry Ford and the Model-T assembly line to Dell and their almost inventory-free supply chain).  Now, it’s time to apply these proven tactics across all businesses.