Chasing process improvement perfection, that elusive balance of efficiency and speed is the goal of any operations manager and department head. Is it a worthy goal or a snipe hunt?
We constantly seek to improve our processes, minimize labor and maximize the effectiveness of our teams. But is pursuit of a perfect system realistic? Here are a few reasons why chasing the best practices is superior to chasing perfection.
Perfection isn’t going to mean the same thing to everyone.
Working in a finance department, the perfect system for Accounts Receivable might be to get accurate billing almost instantly, but the perfect Accounts Payable system might be a shorter review process. If either come into conflict, then two perfect systems might collide…to make one perfect mess.
It's as important to have a system that works efficiently with other systems, not just for its own sake, and no vital system in an operation should work best independently of the others. Keep in mind other considerations, such as checks and balances, information retrieval, accessibility, and ease of use. Don't let your perfection get in everyone else's way.
Rapidly changing laws, standards or technologies makes perfect irrelevant.
The perfect process of managing resources to complete a task or meet a deadline isn't just going to be meaningless in a few years. With few exceptions, they’re going to be laughably meaningless.
With familiar technologies like Word and Excel that add new features, as well as the apps at our fingertips, our processes look nothing like they did a few years ago. Yesterday's perfect solution using the most reliable technology just isn't good enough now, and your current processes won't be good enough in the future—no matter how perfect they look today. And if you strive to maintain perfection, new, better technologies may pass you by.
Expectations will always move the goalpost forward.
Regardless of how many minutes, hours, or days you shave off a process, there is always room for improvement. If your most recent process improvements were to make your system work more quickly, then the next improvement might be to manage efficiency. If efficiency has been improved, then start working towards interdepartmental communication. Once that’s been addressed, you should start looking for whatever part of your system is most antiquated.
Always look to strengthen the weakest link; upgrade technology, train your team, build cross-departmental bridges, and sometimes, when necessary, start over again from scratch. That's far more important than achieving perfection.
Constant perfection means constant system stress.
If you take any engine, team, or person and run them at full throttle constantly, you’re going to destroy the engine, team, or person's efficiency. While your process may be working on some level of efficiency, you’re going to burn out the men and women trained to make the best use of it. This is going to solidify your reputation as a planner or efficiency expert. But with poor morale and frequent turnover, you won't be building anything capable of lasting. Including your reputation as a leader.
Whatever your process and improvements, they should be designed to get the best out of the people. But with best practices, you can make course corrections, rest your resources and associates, and spend time planning ahead. That beats perfection every time.
Perfection in moderation is a worthy target. However, best practices let you adjust toward tomorrow and prepare you and a team for the current processes own obsolesce. Watching trends in technology and teaching your team to understand and develop their own best practices for managing their day-to-day work can provide you with the finer tools you need to find the next, new, and not necessarily "perfect" solution for your process.