Don't Confuse Busy With Productive
Entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle with finding enough time to get everything done in a day. As the business launches and grows, the few people working in it are stretched thin performing every task to acquire and serve customers, build and deliver products and services and manage operations and production. As the list of new customers grows, the mad scramble to keep up with demand becomes increasingly challenging. Any method is acceptable to get the job done and to avoid losing a customer.
Sales orders are being entered into a spreadsheet on a personal computer, then printed out and re-entered manually into the accounting system. Customers are faxing in orders on hand-written notes which must be interpreted by an employee and then entered into a computer system. Then, the order is printed and faxed or emailed back to the customer to confirm the items and the pricing on the order before it is committed and sent into production or service. Service technicians carry handheld tablets so they can track the time and materials used on each job. They also have the ability to capture new orders on the tablets, which are not networked to the system at the office so manual re-entry is required at the end of each day. All this manual entry and calculation of pricing results in a high error rate, which requires someone to recheck the arithmetic on every order processed each day.
Many short term methods and processes, such as these, which were used to keep the business afloat in the early stages become entrenched in the operations of the business even as it grows and becomes successfully established and profitable. The pressure to continue operating and serving customers continues, despite the mounds of bailing wire holding the business together. The only way to manage a system in this state is to add more people. Unfortunately, shoving more transactions and more people into this mess only increases the number of errors, amount of rework required and the immense time wasted on menial, inefficient processes.
Ironically, suggesting changes and improvements is often met with “I’m too busy”, or “We don’t have time to train people on the new system or procedure you’re talking about.” Of course you don’t. You’re so busy wasting time on activities that are distracting you from getting the job done that you can’t see beyond the pile of paper on your desk. At some point, this level of inefficiency is going to cause the business to break down, like when a critical person is absent from the office, or a series of errors falls through the cracks, or the workload overtaxes your people who are already disgruntled at having to spend so much time on manual paperwork.
Take a step back and look at each one of your core processes, one at a time, from customer engagement to production, service delivery and billing. Make small changes to upgrade processes that require duplicated effort and manual manipulation of information that could be automated. Small sacrifices to take steps to automate simple processes, one module at a time, will result in huge productivity gains almost immediately. You will also build a productive and motivated team capable of sustaining your continued growth into the future.