Why is your enterprise doing things the way they do them? As the leader of the organization, are you asking your team to push the envelope or are you satisfied with the status quo, as long as things seem to be moving along reasonably well? I mean to apply the question in every aspect of your business; from accounting methodologies to engineering systems to manufacturing processes to hiring policies.
So, you have a particular process that’s doing just fine. It’s been in place for months or years. Nobody is complaining, there are no known errors and the job seems to be getting done. If you haven’t asked your senior management to process map their workflow then you are likely paying for wasteful activity that doesn’t directly contribute to the value that your customer is willing to pay for, in the context of Lean or Kaizen. Without intentionally searching for, and removing waste, company processes tend to grow like the IRS tax code or become obsolete in our competitive, hyper-improvement business environment.
Often, “workarounds” are put in place as Band Aids to achieve the output that were intended of the process. However, the “output” might be different than the “results”, which go beyond the actual product of the process and include cost, timing and quality parameters. By adding a workaround, the process might yield the same product, but at a cost that erodes margin. With changes in business and advancements in technology, it is likely that entire processes can be eliminated but they remain because of the “we’ve always done it that way” or “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to business. Routine can be the silent enemy of an enterprise. If you’re in a rut, it might be time to go break something.
Best Practices (Benchmark) or “Next Practices”
“Best practices” forces you to ask if you are doing things at least as efficiently as your competitors or as is available on the market. If you’re only comparing today’s performance with yesterday’s performance, you can get a false sense of confidence or pride. It might be that your best is still twice as slow, expensive or of a poor quality as your competitor but your internal-only data has prescribed rose-colored glasses to mask the disadvantage.
Potential sources for process improvements include benchmarking your competitor’s products, listening to suggestions from your direct labor, consultants, your new hire that came from a competitor, suppliers, customers, challenging your team to propose alternate process flow and trade shows.
Best practices, however, can be a slippery slope. As Mike Myatt suggests in his article, “Best Practices – Aren’t” (11/18/11, Forbes online), you have to be careful about selecting a process just because your competitors use it. What worked for them might not work for you and, instead of a “best practice” your team should be seeking the “next practice”. Given the complexities of running an enterprise, it is unlikely that there is a one-size-fits-all solution for every process at every company. Also, if you succeed in copying your competitor you have missed the opportunity to take a strategic leap past them. So, “best practices” should be sufficient to demonstrate that there might be something better/faster/cheaper available. However, an enterprise should rely on the resourcefulness of their team to develop the ultimate, competitive “next practice” rather than resorting to an also-ran, me-too, cookie-cutter solution as a reflex.
Whichever path to continuous improvement you choose to take, the message to challenge the status quo is of vital importance for any hope of sustained competitive advantage. Use best practices, and thoughts of next practices, to look for the next strategic leap beyond your practices.