Intelligent design or evolution?

How good are your business processes and operations? I'm willing to guess that there's room -- a lot of room -- for improvement. Organizations are not the product of intelligent design. There was no master plan from the outset, when your company was just two engineers and a dog in your parent's basement, for how to structure the product development or the credit approval process. Those processes evolved naturally over time, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in a lurching, Frankensteinian mode. ("Quick, we need to hire an HR person to handle benefits and write a hiring policy!")

Regardless, I'd bet that if you could start from scratch, you wouldn't buy the same database software, or set up the purchasing department, in quite the same way that it exists now. The current structures and processes are simply artifacts, rather than perfectly designed tools for your company.

Take a look at your processes and ask some of these questions:

  • How many handoffs are there within each process?
  • How visible are the key performance indicators -- cost, quality, delivery, and safety -- to each person working in the department?
  • Does each process have a clear owner?
  • How much and how often do people have to rework the information that they receive from their upstream colleagues?
  • How often and how long do people (or customers) have to wait for information?
  • How many different ways are there of doing a job (i.e., do you have standard work for each function)?

This is not a comprehensive list of questions by any means, but they will get you started in assessing how well your company is running. You'll get a better idea whether you're succeeding because of yourself, or in spite of yourself.