Working smarter: Process optimization

Question: What do you do when the work piles up and demands keep growing? How do the tough get going when the going gets tough?

Answer: You make things easier and think about creative ways to do things differently.

We’ve all seen this plenty since COVID hit us: we needed to do more with less time. Multiple projects, frequent (necessary) changes, juggling priorities at work and home, days that don’t seem to have enough hours to get everything under control and done.

Up to some time, we can compensate by working harder, but that only scales so far. After that, we need to think about how we can change what we do, how we can work differently. The old “work smarter, not harder” has been bastardized too often, so I’m hesitating to mention it, but fundamentally it hits the point.

Where this becomes challenging is when we are already overworked and don’t think we have time to pause and revisit how we are doing things. We have to! Only by investing in root causes and solving them will we get ourselves out of a potentially vicious cycle in the future.

Of course, it’s better to avoid that conundrum from the beginning. That’s where continuous process improvement comes in. The basic idea is that no process is perfect, and no process should remain static. Instead, we should always make it a point to observe (Identify) how we are doing things, developing hypothesis for how we could make things easier (Plan), and then try out those changes (Execute) and observe the impact (Review). This should never change – there is no perfect process. Ever. Even if we found the perfect process, circumstances would change and make it suboptimal over time.

It’s critical to review how we are doing things regularly and to search for ways to do things more simply.

Pro tip: often we are blind to inefficiencies and waste in our own processes as we are so used to them. In that case, it’s useful to either ask an outsider about their opinions (bonus points if you ask the customers of your process!) or to do a simple process mapping and ask yourself critically what the true purpose and value of every single step is. Often you will find that a step was introduced to meet a past requirement or constraint that doesn’t exist anymore.

If you want to get the best insight on where your process needs improvement – ask your customers!

When we identify such opportunities, we need to ensure to carve out the time to invest in those improvements.

Carve out the time to improve your processes. Invest in your future. Compounding interests will pay you back big time.

Btw, the official name for this is Continuous Process Improvement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continual_improvement_process).


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