Process Optimization: Get More From Your Processes With These 6 Methods
It might be a reasonable assumption to make that humans are seized of the need to make efforts to improve their lot. And that it is an ongoing exercise. While you may choose to not pursue the same actively from a certain point onwards, perhaps you will never reach a point where you could say that it cannot be done any better.
We are referring to individual, isolated processes here, and not life as a whole. The reason is that there are many adherents to Newton’s third law of motion, which is “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” who argue that taken together, life is a zero-sum game. Even if you gain in one place you will lose in another.
Whether a believer in this law or not, what is not up for debate is that an individual process or a set of processes could be improved. This is the motivation behind human effort. If one were to take the view that by improving something you will cause a deterioration in something else, all human endeavor will come to a standstill.
The same is applicable in its entirety to organizations, since they are managed and guided by human beings and their philosophies.
Organizations are constantly trying to optimize their processes so that they can deliver on their eventual goal of maximizing returns to owners or shareholders through the means of offering products and services in their defined niche. And there is no finish line. It always wants more.
A solo entrepreneur may want to increase his profits from $50K last year to $60K this year.
A global giant like Apple may be trying to enhance their net income from $57B (yes, that is 57 billion US dollars) to $67B in 2021.
Whoever you are, you will no doubt be working on several ideas that will enable you to do so. These ideas are an effort at getting more from the business and its process with the help of process optimization methods.
At the generic level, the effort is to try to increase revenues and control or reduce costs, both actions leading to an increase in profits or net income. As it is not always possible to translate any improvement into its bottomline impact, especially in larger organizations, many other variables are targeted that become quasi or representative variables of the end goal.
What could some of these look like?
- Improving customer satisfaction index
- Reducing the headcount for the process
- Increasing the output from the process
- Releasing output to the customer faster
- Lower level of people attrition
Whatever be the area that is chosen for improvement, there are certain essential principles that might be common to all initiatives, that will be described in the ensuing paragraphs.
Measurement is the backbone of all process optimization methods
Shooting in the dark is not reported to be a particularly beneficial activity. Of course, one could get a lucky hit occasionally but are likely to draw a blank on most occasions. Besides, the occasional lucky shot does not enable us to separate the grain from the chaff. A bad shooter could get a lucky hit just as much as a crack shot.
When you are working in an organization and using its resources to achieve the goals you have been assigned, you have a responsibility to make the best use of them. Whether resources have been used gainfully or otherwise can only be known if there is a measurement around it. Even the setting up a company, its business model, are based on ‘cases.’ The ‘case’ establishes the gain (or loss) to the company on account of proceeding with the suggested course.
You can ask the organization to provide resources if you have a case based on which you return to the organization more than what you have used. Ideally the measurement is in objective and numeric terms, often financial. On occasion, and this may need to be decided by the highest authorities, the case could also be based on less objective measures like ‘flying business class instead of economy as it will give me three uninterrupted hours with the client which could lead to…”
Unless you know the present level of the process that you are trying to improve, you will never know if, as a result of your process optimization methods, there has been an improvement or not.
Of course, a solo entrepreneur might be tempted to take initiatives without establishing the baseline to measure against. While not recommended, we must not forget that he is measured on the most critical parameter of all, the profitability of the company, for which she alone is responsible. Hence, in a way, there is a measurement system in place.
Management guru Peter Drucker is credited with the phrase, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
oWorkers has consistently delivered over 99% accuracy level, across a variety of client projects using many different measurement systems. This has been possible to establish only as the result of a rigorous process for measurement of performance in each area of work.
Process redesign and reengineering
The systems and processes that got the business up to this point, may not be able to take it from this point onwards. Central Asian tribes were conquering large territories with their sturdy horses and swords around the end of the first millennia, but by the third quarter of the second millennia they were ceding ground to Europeans with their technologically advanced weaponry that now included gunpowder. Eating out was known to be a slow process. You get to a diner, select what you want, place the order, fiddle with your napkins or make idle conversation for the next twenty minutes and then the food got served. Fast food restaurants turned the idea on its head by keeping food that was ready, a limited choice of menu options, and delivery of food as soon as you order. With dramatic results.
Success is not guaranteed to anyone. The biggest corporations fall by the wayside if they fail to keep pace with changing times and requirements. One has to be aware of the goings-on in the world around us as well as conscious of the linkages our internal processes have with the outside world. There are many variables that keep changing.
When only a few cheques were drawn, it might have made sense to send them directly to the drawee bank for payment. But when volumes grew, it made sense to change the process and introduce a clearing house through which all cheques could be settled.
Most process optimization methods would include an element of business process redesign or reengineering. Not for the sake of doing it, but because there is a better model in the new world, knowing fully well that it might need to be tweaked all over again in a few years.
oWorkers is GDPR compliant and ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified. While it has established processes it constantly looks for opportunities of process redesign and process reengineering in a controlled manner, ensuring that the resultant process is better than the one used earlier. Our three geographical locations, delivering services in over 22 languages, are guided by a continuous improvement team that is housed under our Quality team.
Process optimization methods love automation
Human beings are no doubt the smartest beings on this planet, with the ability to capture the most insignificant, subliminal nuance in a situation, but they have limitations. They cannot, for example, take in huge amounts of data simultaneously. A human judge on the finish line of a sprint may be able to pick out the winner, but not the second and third place runners at the same time. Humans find it difficult to keep personal bias and prejudice out of their decisions, making their objectivity suspect. We might believe that people who look different from us are more prone to crime than people who look like us. Human beings have moods. They have good days and bad days. They can make mistakes. Above all, they need constant maintenance, pampering as well as money.
If a machine or software program could do the work instead of humans, many of the issues highlighted above could be solved. Once taught, machines will continue to do the same thing again and again. They do not need pampering. Power it on and it is ready to go. And, perhaps most significantly for a business, they may need an initial investment, but don’t need to be paid a monthly salary, don’t negotiate for better working conditions, don’t ask for raises and days off. Hence, automation has been the dream solution for businesses.
The automation efforts driven by software have now progressed to the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business processes. Machines have been created to understand formatted language, known as software code, for many decades. Now machines are being taught how to interpret and understand and act on unformatted cues. Like an image. Or a text conversation between two people. The next phase of automation seems likely to be driven by AI.
Two thirds of its clients being technology companies, with unicorn marketplaces being a part of the list, oWorkers needs to be at the cutting edge of technology. It has forged deep relationships with technology providers that allows it to use the latest technologies for the work it does for clients. We are supporting clients as they build and test AI models with a wide variety of applications.
Ever since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant shift to virtual work. Of course, where it could be done, like software development, or designing. One still cannot put bricks in a building virtually, or deliver food virtually. But work where it was possible to operate virtually has been quick to adopt this method.
In the present context, a discussion on process optimization methods will be incomplete if virtual work options are not considered.
A sudden spurt of natural optimization has emerged from the enforced virtualization. A lot of people are saving both time and money on commuting between home and office. Staying at home means one can also cook and eat food at home, instead of relying on food outlets near the office, leading to a salutary impact on employee health. Companies can save money on expensive downtown real estate.
It goes without saying each of these benefits would have a flipside impact too. Food outlets in commercial areas would be losing business. Real estate owners would have seen an ebbing away of demand for their products. Each company needs to evaluate the situation from its own perspective and insulate itself against possible downside risks while taking advantage of the upside that each new situation presents.
oWorkers has been quick to adapt its technologies and processes to the needs of virtual work. We have ensured our client business stays unimpacted, to the extent influenced by our work, and we offer each employee the option of working from home or office, in all the three locations we operate from.
Control – nothing else should change
If you remember the whac-a-mole arcade game, you will probably remember that as soon as you whack one down, another one pops up. The process keeps repeating and you have to keep whacking them down.
The basic theory in process optimization methods, regardless of which specific one you use, is that once whacked, a mole should stay down and no other should pop up in its place.
Why is that?
The point being made is that the gains on delivering improvement in one aspect should not be lost by a matching slippage in another one. What you gain on the swings should not be frittered away on the roundabouts.
If tasked to enhance the output of a certain process, one can, without breaking a sweat, either hire more resources if the process is manual, or buy more equipment if it is system-driven. Easy, isn’t it? But anyone can do that. It does not need a genius to implement. What the company has gained on higher production it has lost on additional manpower cost or equipment cost. So, it can hardly be called an improvement.
What would be an improvement, though, is if the same thing can be done, production enhanced, without either hiring additional resources or buying more equipment. That is the kind of result that should come out of implementation of an improvement initiative.
If tasked to reduce cost, one could simply stop hiring people, assuming it is a largely manual process. However, that would eventually starve the business of resources, reducing output, impacting on revenue and finally the profit. Such reduction in cost is not what the business asked for. It wanted cost reduction while ensuring that the output and revenue do not fall, which will lead to greater profits as the cost would have reduced.
Hence, the control of ‘everything else remaining the same is essential, which is what oWorkers abides by. Its Quality team carefully establishes the parameters at the start enabling a comparison with the same parameters once the project has been implemented.
Process optimization methods include outsourcing
In the modern world, outsourcing has emerged as the savior of many a business process from being the lame duck that dragged its business to failure.
Specializing in a particular area of work, say finance, or assembling auto components, stitching garments, businesses often struggle to keep up with the demands of the many support processes that they need to do in order that their product or service is fully ready. They neither have the skills for some of these processes nor interest in doing them. Outsourcing spares them this agony and enables them to focus on their core business, while getting a better yield from the outsourced non-core process.
Outsourcing a process gets the attention of another set of hands and eyes, of the partner, enhancing the possibility of creating a winning, improved process.
With the scalable outsourcing solutions offered by oWorkers, companies have reported savings of upto 80% over their pre outsourcing costs, without any compromise on quality. As a pure-play data BPO player, oWorkers has been identified as one of the top three data services providers in the world.
We provide a stable operating environment with the help of employed staff, not freelancers, led by a team with over 20 years of hands-on experience in the industry.