A Guide to Practical and Simple Process Improvement for Small Businesses

As a small business, it can be challenging to gather your thoughts and know what issues to tackle on any given day. And while each workplace is dynamic in its own rights, almost every company could use some process improvement from time to time.

The Theory of Constraints

For those who have read The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt (which is well over 3 million people at this point), the importance of streamlining tasks, eliminating bottlenecks, and improving slow processes is apparent. The book is written like a fast-paced novel and follows Alex Rogo, a factory manager at risk of losing his underperforming plant, in pursuit of improving productivity and cutting costs.

While the book is written in a conversational form, it’s essentially a textbook on Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, which claims every process has a limiting factor that prevents it from achieving a specific goal. In order to achieve that goal – whether it’s more sales, shorter lead times, etc. – the limiting factor must be identified and systematically improved.

While each business is unique and dependent on hundreds or thousands of different variables, the principles of the Theory of Constraints hold true for nearly every business. By improving processes and reducing the impact of limiting factors, you can increase productivity and profitability.

Practical Tips for Process Improvement

Without knowing how your business is structured or what limiting factors it has, there are still some simple suggestions that work for most modern day organizations. Let’s take a look at a few of those process improvement tips and how you can apply them:

  • Allow employees to handle personal issues. This one depends heavily on the dynamic of your workplace and the maturity level of your employees. However, in most cases, granting employees the freedom to handle personal issues allows them to reduce worry and focus on work-related issues while on the job. For example, physical ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome are common among clerical workers and can greatly affect workplace productivity.
  • Invest in mobile VoIP. Standard office landlines are likely doing more harm to your business than they are good. That’s because the majority of telecommunication solutions require employees to be in a specific location (usually their office) in order to field calls. By swapping out your standard office phone system and replacing it with a mobile VoIP solution, you can make communications easier and more flexible. Two specific advantages include the ability to transcribe voice messages into text or email format and being able to make calls on a dedicated business line from places outside the office.
  • Consider a BYOD policy. It’s a touchy issue for some companies, but BYOD policies can help many organizations improve slow processes by reducing the learning curve for new devices and software. In other words, instead of wasting time training new employees on how to use company-provided laptops, phones, and devices, employees are allowed to simply install software and programs on their own personal devices – which they’re likely quite familiar with.
  • Reduce your dependence on paper. What about your dependence on paper? While it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all paper products in the workplace, you can drastically increase speed and efficiency by emphasizing digital options. This is because paperwork has a tendency to pile up, increase lead times, and get lost. In order to transition from physical paper to digital files, develop a specific plan for anything employees could encounter. For example, if an invoice comes in the mail, the secretary immediately scans it into the computer, emails a copy to accounting, saves the file in a document management system, and shreds the paper copy. All of that can be done in three minutes or less, whereas the paper version would need to be walked to the accounting department, placed in a mailbox, picked up, inputted into the computer, and so on.
  • Develop informative website content. For companies with highly-technical products or services, it’s common for the customer service department to be swamped with phone calls, emails, and other inquires. One of the best ways to cut back on repetitive customer communications is to focus on developing informative website content that addresses frequently asked questions and eliminates the need for further clarification. Quality website content has many other benefits as well, such as attracting inbound links which, in turn, help boost your page rankings in Google search results. There is an entire industry around white label link building services because it’s such a strong factor in the ranking algorithm so be sure you maximize your chances of achieving inbound links.

Identify Limiting Factors and Maximize Resources

Much like Alex Rogo in The Goal, your primary focus should be on identifying limiting factors in your business and using available resources to diminish their negative effects. While it can’t be guaranteed for every business, these five tips have proven helpful for millions of businesses around the world. Carefully consider each within the context of your organization and don’t be afraid to suggest something new.

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