Two departments in a finance company decided to improve the workflow for onboarding a new client. The handoff between the two groups hinged on an Excel file which listed the tasks to be done and their statuses. The Excel file served as a checklist and a communication tool. After spending hours to gather feedback, revisions were made. To everyone’s surprise, the improvement amounted to a miniscule 5-minute savings in the workflow. Despite the good intent for improvement, the result was disappointing.
There are 3 problems:
1. Narrow focus. The pain associated with creating and updating the Excel file was the focus of the discussions for improvement opportunities. Subsequently, the enhancements led to a more concise layout of the tasks with color codes and some intelligence in capturing the required information. The tool, the Excel file, is better but there isn’t any change to how the work is done.
2. Lack of a broad perspective. Although the staff know their work well, they lack the broad perspective on the strategic significance of the work. They didn’t take into consideration the upstream and downstream work.
3. Unclear expectations. The staff is given full autonomy to make improvements as they see fit. Past efforts in making improvements effected minor enhancements to the workflow. The managers seldom challenge the recommendations. Improvements are not quantified. Effort and effect are not reviewed.
When good effort is spent on delivering insignificant results, the responsibility rests with the manager. The manager is accountable for ensuring that the result is commensurate with effort. This is important for resource deployment. It is applicable for work prioritization and to the broader selection of investment initiatives.
In order to turn good intentions into concrete results, follow these steps:
1. Specify the problem. A well-defined problem drives the focus for the work. It is easy to identify a generic problem. The shortfall with that is a solution that loosely solve the problem. The impact could be insignificant.
2. Establish clear target result. Clear goal setting challenges the team to better assess each probable solution. Without it, a solution with little impact could be adopted.
3. Form a balanced team. It is important to include people who have a broad perspective on the subject as well as specialized expertise. It is essential to have a broad view of the issues on hand. Otherwise, the solution could seem adequate but comes with a cost to other areas.
4. Provide guidance. Ongoing monitoring and support are important to keep the team on course. Proactive guidance steer the team in the right direction. It is beneficial to uncover issues early and make the appropriate adjustments along the way.
As resources are scarce, avoid the costly mistake of spending an inordinate amount of effort to deliver meagre result. There is no guarantee for concrete results when good intentions are misguided.