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Business Process Innovation: Avoiding Equipment Focus at the Expense of Experience
It is easy to become equipment focused and ignore knowledge and experience. When that happens there is a decline in product quality, and services suffer due to a lack of judgement and decision-making.
Organizations that become equipment focused become bureaucratic, and employees become lackadaisical and disincentivized by doing work that requires no thought or judgement. By trusting on equipment to carry out all work and decision-making a business tends to lose its experience and knowledge of the product and the way it is produced, and so also loses the ability to improve either the product or the process.
Equipment cannot make decisions in the same way that experienced employees can, and adds considerable overhead and capital cost to a business. Quality can be improved by the design of better and more elegant processes, while personal interaction with customers offers them a more satisfying experience that dealing with machines.
Business should build on the knowledge and experience they already have rather than discarding the valuable experience, and by developing processes that employees have not only been involved in setting up, but can also interact with, a business can benefit by a more involved workforce with commitment to their jobs.
By committing to equipment development rather than personnel, companies tend to pay for a large number of features they will never use, and in fact most firms do not use up to 80% of the capability of their equipment. Not so with experienced employees where the time and money spent in training offers a significantly better return on investment.
It is frequently said that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and that more experienced employees are ingrained in their ways and cannot adapt to new ideas. However, it is a lot simpler to teach experienced employees to open their eyes to new opportunities than it is to instil years of experience into new people.
Consider a business that employs only inexperienced people doing work requiring no thought because the machines do it all. Where are the process improvements to come from? How is the product to be improved so that the firm can retain its market share in an ever-competitive world? Without experience of how processes and machinery work, and without product knowledge, a business will soon find itself producing obsolete products on obsolete equipment.
While it is not enough to have just knowledge of the work, it is not difficult to lead experienced and capable people to take a fresh perspective on what they are doing and develop improvements.
It is easier to get information about a process from people that are using it and know most about it, than it is to train others to do so. Don’t throw out the experience simply to generate creativity, because there are ways that can get the best from your people with the knowledge.
Newcomers to a business often look to the equipment first and the people last. They are equipment focused and cannot see past the bureaucratic assumptions instilled into them. However, Business Process Innovation (BPI) can be used to create slick processes that produce a result easier and quicker by pooling the experience and knowledge that a company already has. How does BPI work?
Business Process Innovation at Work
BPI uses what has become a dirty word in many modern businesses: plain old common sense. It cannot be quantified nor defined in a procedure, so it is not well liked by bureaucrats.
BPI takes common sense and applies it in an organized way by getting together various aspects of a process and setting them out before those knowledgeable enough about the processes and products to question them: i.e. experienced employees.
The result of BPI will amaze many of those that believed that businesses can be run by robots without the need of employees with experience and knowledge.
Some of these results could involve changing the way that processes are carried, streamlining through combining some processes into one, or even eliminating chunks of a process or an entire procedure. The people that carry the process could be changed to a more logical department or job function, and even where certain tasks are carried could be questioned.
The steps that will give the most significant improvements to procedures would involve the elimination of processes and steps within a process. This will offer the greatest benefits at least cost as opposed to changing where and how they are completed which could be associated with higher costs.
The thought processes behind effecting improvements to remedy poor results can be complex, but basically split between two camps. The realists and the blue sky group.
The former tend to be set in their ways, and tend to be traditional, hidebound and uncreative, against change for change’s sake and more likely to prefer the status quo. They believe that the process will provide best results if left unchanged, and is best run by machines and not people.
The blue sky approach is to dabble in flights of fancy and be imaginative, visionary and often impractical. They believe that developments in processes and products come from throwing away tradition and unleashing the power of new thought and innovation.
Both of these camps disagree over how a business should progress, while in reality, neither is right, and the best way forward is through a combination of each.
We need the experience of tradition with the capriciousness of the dreamer to extract a solution from a problem that is both effective and workable. Machines cannot do that, just people, and to believe differently is to head for disaster. Involving both in Business Process Innovation combines reality with insight, and gives better results over less time.
In that way we can benefit from the creative and the experienced to present a way forward that will maintain economy of process, quality of product and an ascending market position.
Investing in people as well as in equipment is the way forward. Equipment focus is detrimental to this process and should therefore be avoided if a business is to progress, develop and maintain its share of the market.
Many more articles in Performance Improvement in The CEO Refresher Archives