26 Aug Operations Column: August 2018
“A process can work only as fast as its slowest element.” O. Burkeman
Except, from an operations standpoint, it’s possible for EVERY part of the process to appear to be the ‘slowest element’. How do we go about figuring out where to start improving the work flow when it feels like the work flow has ground to an unimpressive stop?
First, set aside our egos. We need to acknowledge that what worked as recently as one year ago may no longer sync with new technology or with the company’s current business model. As we analyze the elements of each process, we should do it with a little distance, a little pride, and a lot of willingness to embrace change.
Next, draw a picture. This isn’t necessarily a full operational flow chart. It’s more about identifying where we begin and where we want to end up. If we still conceptualize the process through the original scope of work, this picture will not reflect what we need to do and could instead become convoluted and a little frustrating to look at.
Then, begin gathering resources. We must be willing to consider new avenues of assistance. Maybe it’s time to develop those interdepartmental relationships or spend some quality time with the subject matter experts sitting right outside our door. Everyone views the process through their own filters and functions. We need to take the time to find out what they see.
Now, after we gain a clear perspective and create a picture of what we need; after we gather our resources and listen to new experts; we can start identifying the best way to solve our “slowest element” problems.
We no longer work in a business environment that can routinely remove obstructions with added manpower and 60-hour work weeks. However, using just 4 steps, it is possible to find a better way to handle these bottlenecks. And all while we advance our company, educate and promote our teams and keep our residents happy.
Oliver Burkeman writes that “A process can work only as fast as its slowest element.” I think the slowest element is the opportunity to advance the process. It takes the right people, the right focus and a simple idea that every bottleneck is a process demanding to grow.