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23rd June 2020
While efficiency is getting the same from less, productivity is about getting more from the same. It’s about growth at least as much as voiding waste.
The biggest challenge post COVID-19 is that we don’t know how the world is going to be. What we know for sure is that there will be a protracted change period before things finally settle to the new normal.
These are our top tips for project managers looking to boost productivity in an uncertain world:
Go for growth – While the economy is set to be challenging for the foreseeable future, wherever there is change, there is opportunity. The best way to improve productivity is to increase output and sell more.
The 1980’s were economically challenging yet saw the launch and establishment of the personal computers that we could not conceive operating without now, and to the establishment of silicone valley. And the 80’s produced more Fortune 500 companies than any other decade. Whichever sector you operate in, it is likely that there has been a change in customer behaviour that creates an opportunity for you and/or your clients.
Project management goes beyond managing the plan and ticking off the stage gates, it’s also about scanning the environment for changes that create risks and opportunities for plan delivery. Now is a time for looking up and spot the opportunities happening because of COVID-19.
Think the unthinkable – The virus and its consequences have prompted businesses to change how they do things. For example, many industries are looking at new supply chain solutions, fulfilment options and routes to market. Businesses have made changes that would have been unthinkable in previous moments and have done so in record breaking times.
What radical changes can you bring to enhance your business?
COVID-19 has triggered a wave of innovation in provoking a need for some of the most creative problem solving of a generation. We will reach a point where the virus becomes less significant, and the organisations that bounce back most strongly will be the ones who keep hold of the innovative thinking that necessity created.
Identify and eliminate waste – the other part of productivity is the ruthless elimination of waste from processes, whether they are long established ways of working or brand-new activities because of a project implementation.
Time and motion workstudy can be seen as an old fashioned and cumbersome tool to apply to your operation. However, modern workstudy uses a mix of techniques to create insights that identify and quantify opportunities to increase efficiency in a way that enables prioritisation and resource trade off.
Measuring before and after processes to both confirm the business case upside and quantify possible tweaks and improvement are key for boosting productivity. For example, one UK coffee shop chain wanted to change their counter layout, and measurement of time taken to prep their coffee and food at three different counter mock-ups helped them make a roll out decision from a robust evidence base.
Systems implementations can find that introducing new technology does not always produce the expected benefits. For example, we’ve seen a different coffee shop chain introduce an automatic coffee bean grinder.
Workstudy showed that instead of using the freed up time to get ahead with the rest of the production process, colleagues were standing and watching the grinder. Not surprisingly, the anticipated time saving wasn’t achieved until new ways of working were adopted; highlighting the importance of managing the behavioural change required for implementation.
And in many studies, we find significant variance in time to complete a process between sites because of poor process compliance. In one operation we studied, despite the existence of clearly defined operating procedures, we observed incoming goods put to storage being handled completed differently at each site and a significant amount of double handling and extra time needed in the least efficient.
A workstudy deep dive into your processes helps you understand the impact of the project, how consistently it has been adopted and to identify opportunities for further improvement.
For example, in one goods out area we observed workstations with everything needed to hand alongside ones where the colleagues had to walk to select and retrieve the size of box they needed. No prizes for guessing which process took longer and shaving seconds of repetitive processes makes a big difference to throughput capacity and resources deployed.
Speed it up – the gold standard for project management is delivering on time to the required specification. Delays are often the cause of increased costs as well a slipped delivery date. If your project will add value, identifying how you can deliver the benefits more quickly will drive much needed extra benefit in challenging times.
How can you deliver earlier?
Given that most of the benefit will come from getting 80% of the way there and the final 20% is often the costliest and time consuming, can you phase implementation to access earlier value creation? Use your creativity to create shortcuts that deliver the same quality earlier than planned.
In an environment where there is significant and ongoing change, it can be difficult to know the impact and value of long-term projects. In the short to medium term, flexibility will be the watch word for project managers and those who deliver extra value in a shorter time frame will be the productivity champions of their organisation.
As published in PM today..