How do I know if I have inefficient business operations?

“Business as usual” typically means things are running smoothly and there’s nothing new or exciting to report.  But what is considered “business as usual” to one organization or person may be considered a complete wreck to someone else.  I encourage you to take a step back and consider the following points:

  • Do you find that the quality of your organization’s output is poor (things have to be re-worked, re-done, or scrapped more often than you expect)?
  • Are you constantly having to expedite orders for reasons other than special customer requests?
  • Is there always another emergency or fire to tend to, preventing you from focusing on work that will benefit the organization in the long-term?
  • Are you sitting on dead inventory?
  • Are you or your star players overwhelmed?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then there is likely some inefficiency in the operations of your organization.  Notice that each of these questions only reflects a symptom of inefficient operations; fixing the symptom will not necessarily get the organization back on track – the problem will manifest itself in some other way.  Digging further into the root cause of these symptoms and removing those underlying obstacles is the best (and most difficult) way to achieving operational efficiency.

One technique to understanding and getting to the root cause of an issue is to act like a three-year-old.  Ask “why?” to everything.  Here’s an oversimplified example of how such a dialog might play out:

Process Owner: I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks that are on my plate.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: Everyone always needs an answer right away and I cannot even do my regular job.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: I’m the only person who can do this one thing, and all the inquiries always lead back to me.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: We used to have two people who could do this job, but she recently left and I’ve been stuck with all the work.

Colleague: Why?

Process Owner: We haven’t had time to train anyone new.

Colleague: Why?

You get the idea.  The Process Owner is overwhelmed because he is the bottleneck – the point in the system where all things must flow and the system can only move as quickly as its slowest component.  One possible fix for a bottleneck, and perhaps the most applicable in this scenario, is to hire and train an additional resource who can alleviate the work load.

This is just one illustration of an inefficient operation and how to go about resolving the problem.  If you’re interested to understand more or would like some help exploring such issues in your own organization, contact us at