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:
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.
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.”