Balancing Efficiency & Quality for Your Customers

Balancing Efficiency & Quality for Your Customers

how to ensure quality in professional services

It’s easy to fall in love with efficiency. It promises big savings to those with the fortitude to see efficiency-saving measures through. Process Improvement is built on small, compounding efficiencies.

As easy as it is to get carried away, we must always balance efficiency with quality. The former is your perspective, the latter is your customer’s perspective. And the customer pays your mortgage. 

Cut processes too deeply, and you’re asking for trouble. It takes too long to process files, customer service suffers, and mistakes happen. 

The solution: build quality into the front end. It’s an integral part of Process Improvement, and it helps us negotiate the balance between cutting for efficiency and maintaining a top-notch product.

 

A Culture of Quality

You can improve your processes from the corner office, but it won’t last. To create sustainable change (and save some real money) you need buy-in from every desk and cubicle. Focusing on quality is low-hanging fruit for cultural change.

Focus on “efficiencies” in meetings, and people get scared. “Efficiencies” tend to mean job cuts. Tilt the conversation toward quality, and ears perk up because:

pros of quality professional services

A culture of quality will deputize every employee to ensure that everything they do represents the best of the company. Once they’re empowered to be stewards of quality, they’ll probably be more receptive to hearing about building efficiencies into daily processes. 

Remember that your workforce cares about the services they provide.The pride is already there, all you have to do is encourage them to actualize it. 

 

Mistake-Proofing Your Processes

Once a document or email with a missed detail or mistaken number goes out to a client, the damage is done. The science is in balancing efficiency with a culture of quality to get the best of both worlds. 

Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke in Japanese) is about catching mistakes early and empowering your employees to prevent them. It builds on the culture of quality that you remind people about every morning at your stand-up meeting.

It’s tempting to give employees instructions so clear that they can shut off their minds. Empowering them, and building that culture, is about asking them to check the numbers twice and use their intuition if something doesn’t add up. 

Everytime a file passes from one worker to the next, it freezes more of your cash into it. Catching mistakes earlier will help you retrieve that cash (by getting a sale instead of a bad review) at the other end. 

mistake proofing professional services

Every employee who touches a company file should be their own quality control. Don’t wait until the end; empower your team to spot mistakes or anything missed and fix them before they cost you another dime. 

 

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”

– Aristotle

How to Ensure Quality in Construction

How to Ensure Quality in Construction

how to ensure quality in construction hlh edmonton

Efficiency is a 2-sided sword. It’s easy to get infatuated with the bottom line improvements that process cuts offer, but it’s all for naught if your building’s quality suffers. 

Cut processes too deeply, and you’re asking for trouble. Workers start to cut corners to meet Foreman demands, who in turn is reflecting Head Office expectations. That can lead to Inspectors finding defects in the build which can lead to (very) costly reworks. 

The solution: build quality into the front end. It’s an integral part of Process Improvement and helps you negotiate the balance between cutting for efficiency and maintaining a top notch product.

 

 

A Culture of Quality

You can improve your processes from the corner office, but the improvements won’t last. To be sustainable (and save some real money) you need crew buy-in, and for that, you need to define a focus.

Focus on efficiencies in meetings and people get scared. Efficiencies means job cuts. Tilt the conversation to quality and ears perk up because:

A culture of quality will deputize every worker to ensure that everything they build represents the best of the company. Once they’re empowered to be stewarts of quality, they’ll probably be more receptive to hearing about efficiencies in processes. 

Remember that your workforce cares about the projects they work on. The pride is already there, all you have to do is encourage them to actualize it. 

 

Mistake-Proofing Your Processes

Once the Inspector comes around, all your money has gone into that project. It’s frozen into the floorboards and framing. Any defects that he or she finds, are going to come straight out of your bottom line and impede your ability to thaw out that cash.

Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke in Japanese), is about both catching defects early and empowering your workers to prevent them. It builds on the culture of Quality that you’re reminding people about every morning at your stand-up meeting.

It’s temptingly easy to give workers such clear instructions that they can shut off their minds. Empowering them, and building a Lean Culture, is about asking them to measure twice and take a second look at that angle before moving on. 

A 5 degree error is easy to fix at the time. But build upon it and that error amplifies, with each step forward being another profit-eating step backward later to fix it.

Every worker who touches your product should be their own Quality-Control. Don’t wait until the end; empower your team to spot defects and improve them before they cost you another dime. 

with without mistake proofing comparison hlh edmonton

The Balance of Quality

Ironically, efficiency often trumps quality when it comes to cost savings, even though quality defines the value of your product. Your customers, and the Inspector, don’t judge you on efficiency; they judge your quality.

 

“Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. Quality cannot be inspected into a product or service; it must be build into it.”

– W. Edwards Deming

Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Efficiency

Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Efficiency

Efficiency is a 2-sided sword. It’s easy to get infatuated with the bottom-line improvements that process cuts offer, but it’s all for naught if the quality of your product suffers. 

Cut processes too deeply, and quality is the first thing to take a hit. Poor-quality products cause a dangerous ripple effect through toxic word of mouth. 

The solution: build quality into your daily processes. It’s an integral part of Process Improvement and helps you negotiate the balance between cutting for efficiency and maintaining a top-notch product.

 

 

A Culture of Quality

You can improve your processes from the corner office, but the improvements won’t last. To be sustainable (and save some real money), you need workforce buy-in, and for that, you need to define a focus.

Focus on efficiencies in meetings, and people get scared. “Efficiencies” mean job cuts. Tilt the conversation to quality and ears perk up because:

A culture of quality will deputize every worker to ensure that every product sold represents the best of the company. Once they’re empowered to be stewards of quality, they’ll probably be more receptive to hearing about efficiencies in processes. 

 

Mistake-Proofing Your Processes

“Quality control” tends to happen once all the money has already gone into a product—at the end. The farther your defective product gets on the assembly line before it’s pulled, the more expensive that defect becomes.

Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke in Japanese), is about both catching defects early and empowering your workers to prevent them. It builds on the culture of quality that you’ll be reminding people about every morning at your stand-up meeting.

It’s tempting to give workers such clear instructions that they can shut off their minds. Empowering them, and building a Lean Culture, is about asking them to examine and think about the product through every step of the manufacturing workflow. 

Every worker who touches your product should be an extension of quality control. Don’t wait until the product is moments from being shipped; empower your team to spot defects and pull the product from the workflow before it costs you another dime. 

differences-poka-yoke-jidoka

Automated Detection

Jidoka, which complements poka-yoke, is for larger manufacturers who have moved to machines for a portion of their workflows. It works on the same principle.

While poka-yoke is empowering people to think beyond assembly by continually assessing quality, jidoka is programming your machinery to do the same. Whether it’s adding an extra measurement or testing durability, the machine checks and rings the alarm when it encounters any defects.

When a defect triggers the alarm, a person takes over. That’s why jidoka is also called “automation with a human touch.”

 

The Balance of Quality

Ironically, efficiency often trumps quality when it comes to cost savings, even though quality defines the value of your product. Your customers don’t judge you on efficiency; they judge you by how well your product does what you’ve promised. 

 

Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.

Henry Ford

Lean vs. Process Improvement: What’s the Difference?

Lean vs. Process Improvement: What’s the Difference?

The terms “Lean” and “Process Improvement” aren’t interchangeable. In fact, while they both seek bottom line savings, that’s where the similarities end. 

Here are some very broad strokes of what defines these tactics in relation to each other. Bottom line: their approaches feed off each other, and you’ll get better results with an integrated approach than a focus on one or the other.

 

Lean

This is the adaptable orthodoxy that started in manufacturing and has spread across industries. Its core focus is eliminating Kaizen (waste). 

Lean is an umbrella term for approaches to both cutting waste and (especially with manufacturing) increasing productivity.

Top-Down Approach

Eliminating waste is usually uncomfortable for front line workers. As such, the decision to “go lean” usually comes down from the corner office. 

If you’re a boss contemplating Lean, proceed with caution. It’s tempting (and easy) to cut waste by reducing staffing levels. You’ll get a short-lived bump to the bottom line and, for the next month or so, everything is roses.

But a top-down only approach is fraught with danger. Overworked staff will take unsafe short-cuts, grumble, break down morale, call in sick more often, and erode that cost savings in a host of other ways. 

Before you know it, you’re losing more money than you saved, and your staff are now resistant to Lean in general.

lean vs process improvement comparison table

Process Improvement

While Lean is a methodology, Process Improvement is a tactic. 

This focuses on the countless processes that happen daily in your business. It’s a proactive approach that investigates existing processes and improves upon them, often incrementally, in order to build efficiencies. 

When a process improvement is introduced, we all start out with the best of intentions. The key isn’t to stay excited about those great ideas—it’s to own them. Even after the novelty wears off.

Grassroots

You can’t improve processes without constant dialogue with the people who understand them best. That’s why the first step to Process Improvement is to get out of the office and onto the shop floor, to the front desk, or to the sites and ask your team what’s bugging them about how they do their jobs. 

This is grassroots. It’s listening to your staff about incremental, sustainable improvements. These aren’t the big cuts that come from staff changes; they’re small and meant to accumulate over time.

The side benefits of Process Improvement, which are often as valuable (or more) than the savings, are increased staff morale and engagement, as well as what you’ll learn from becoming more active in the trenches.

But this approach, done solo, is also dangerous. If the changes are all happening in a grassroots, decentralized way, they could end up actually adding costs to the bottom line. That’s why the “Lean big brother” needs to be monitoring and making the real financial decisions.

 

Better Together

Lean is a methodology of cutting waste with decisions coming from the boardroom. Process Improvement is a tactic of learning about how to make processes more efficient by talking to front line staff.

If cost savings were the diamond in the middle, these two are looking at it from totally different angles—but the common goal means they can work together to reduce waste without sacrificing morale, and improve processes without increasing costs.

 

“If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.”

Steve Jobs

Office Bottleneck? It Might Be You.

Office Bottleneck? It Might Be You.

office bottlenecks headerRunning an office is a gauntlet of processes that happen every minute of every day. Making coffee. Approving budgets. Putting callers on hold. There are some processes you think about, but most happen on autopilot. They flow and overlap throughout the day like a current.

But what happens when one process stops the current like a rock in the stream?  Or when multiple currents converge into one, slowing all subsequent processes to a crawl?  It’s a bottleneck, and it eats at profit like crazy.

Like all Process Improvement, getting brutal with bottlenecks requires identifying them first. That’s tough, and here are some reasons why:

  • Few businesses take the time to visualize the flow of their processes.
  • The bottleneck is probably invisible, in that it’s been “baked-in” over time to how your business works.

 

Process Bottleneck

The typical example of process bottlenecks is the “jam factory” allegory. Three conveyor belts with jars ready to be boxed converge toward one poor packaging employee—and they can’t keep up. There’s an obvious solution to this bottleneck. Hire another employee; fixed.

jam factory bottleneck example

That’s the easiest kind of bottleneck to smooth out. Naturally, those bottlenecks tend to be cleared up quickly. Want to find out about the ones that don’t get cleared up? Check that stack of papers on the corner of your desk.

No matter how much we delegate, the boss or manager is still going to be integrated into many processes. Often it’s just to approve the purchase/hire/work order/etc. That’s fine—until waiting for approvals becomes a problem.

It’s common for the costliest bottleneck to happen in the corner office, where a boss with a lot on their plate doesn’t approve or review in a timely way. Worse is that people often won’t speak up because—well, you know.

 

Delegations

Ironically, bottlenecks often happen when the boss is trying to be lean by saving money. Are these thoughts familiar:

“I don’t need to train anyone for that, I can do it!“

Or, “I need to cut middle management—send it to my desk.” 

Having a lean workforce saves money until bottlenecks happen. And that’s usually because, by reducing that “middle-management” layer, things pile up on the bosses desk and money is wasted. Meanwhile, employees wait in the wings and twiddle their thumbs.

Delegating is powerful, and can be an integral part of Process Improvement even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. It’s about reducing bottlenecks (and increasing morale) via empowerment. 

And that brings me to Kanban, the best weapon we have against bottlenecks.

 

Kanban Solution

If the bottleneck is baked-in, then it has become invisible. That means tolerating its profit-sucking existence is part of your daily routine. 

If that hits home, you need to change how you see your routines. Kanban is the elegantly simple tool for that.

The Japanese word loosely translates to “card you can see.” Kanban is about visualizing process flows in simple ways in order to identify the bottlenecks.

Here’s how:

  • Lay out your Kanban on a good sized whiteboard. Identify one vertical column for each step in your process. Horizontal rows (“swimlanes”) will be for workflows moving through the process.
  • Buy a stack of pretty Post-it notes and stick on one for each new workflow that needs to move through the processes.
  • Watch for steps where the Post-its accumulate. That’s your bottleneck.

Be consistent. While it may seem childish in the beginning, Kanban will quickly uncover inefficiencies that you either didn’t think existed or had learned to ignore. 

Put the board in the center of the office where everyone sees it. And if the “Boss’s Review” column is the one always loaded with Post-its, be prepared to make the changes that you need. 

 

When unaddressed, bottlenecks have another cost: employee morale. Chances are, if there’s a bottleneck somewhere down the line, there’s a frustrated person or team trying to squeeze through. The sooner you address your bottlenecks, the sooner you’ll restore a healthy sense of flow throughout your business.

 

“In most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.”

– Peter Drucker

Where Are Your Manufacturing Bottlenecks?

Manufacturing a product, whether that’s a pick-up truck or a bar of soap, is a current of processes that happen one after the other. Ideally, the current flows like electricity.

But what happens when one step stops the current? Or when multiple currents converge into one, slowing all subsequent processes to a crawl? It’s a bottleneck, and it eats at profit like crazy.

Like all Process Improvement, getting brutal with bottlenecks requires identifying them first. That’s tough, and here are two reasons why:

  • Few businesses take the time to visualize the flow of their processes.
  • The bottleneck is probably invisible, in that it’s been “baked-in” over time to how your business works.

 

Process Bottleneck

The obvious example is the “jam factory”. Three conveyor belts with jars ready to be boxed converge toward one poor packaging employee—and they can’t keep up. Hire another employee: fixed.

jam factory bottleneck example

That’s the easy and obvious one, so those bottlenecks tend to be cleared up quickly. But, want to know about the bottlenecks that don’t get cleared up? Check that stack of papers on the corner of your desk.

No matter how much we delegate, the boss or manager is still going to be integrated into many processes. Often, it’s just to approve the purchase/hire/work order/etc. That’s fine, until waiting for approvals becomes a problem.

It’s common for the costliest bottleneck to happen in the corner office, where a boss with a lot on their plate doesn’t approve or review in a timely way. What’s worse is that people often won’t speak up because—well, you know…

 

Resource Bottleneck

Manufacturing is about assembling or manipulating raw materials into a saleable product. You need a smooth inward flow, and that’s harder than it sounds.

You have suppliers who must provide on time. You need freight logistics, whether that’s Canada Post or train cars, to get materials to you. And you’ll have to stop work if supplies run out, warehouse if materials overflow, and there are deadly wastes associated with both.

To pinpoint resource bottlenecks, map each step and shipment and see how long the journey is from supplier to finished product. Even 5% of raw materials tucked into a warehouse corner somewhere will devour your bottom line.

And that brings me to Kanban, the best weapon we have against bottlenecks.

 

Kanban Solution

If the bottleneck is baked-in, then it has become invisible. That means tolerating its profit-sucking existence is your daily routine.

If that hits home, you need to change how you see your routines. Enter Kanban: the elegantly simple tool for that.

The Japanese word loosely translates to “card you can see.” Kanban is about visualizing process flows in simple ways to identify the bottlenecks.

kanban board

Here’s how:

  • Lay out your Kanban on a good sized white board. Identify one vertical column for each step in your process. Horizontal rows (“swimlanes”) will be for workflows moving through the process.
  • Buy a stack of pretty Post-it notes and stick on one for each new workflow that needs to move through the processes.
  • Watch for steps where the Post-its accumulate. That’s your bottleneck.

Be consistent. What may feel childish to start will quickly disclose inefficiencies that you either didn’t think existed or had learned to ignore. 

Put the board in the center of the office where everyone sees it. And if the “Boss’s Review” column is the one always loaded with Post-its, be prepared to make the changes that you need. 

 

When unaddressed, bottlenecks have another cost: employee morale. Chances are, if there’s a bottleneck somewhere down the line, there’s a frustrated person or team trying to squeeze through. The sooner you address your bottlenecks, the sooner you’ll restore a healthy sense of flow within your business.

 

“In most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.”

– Peter Drucker