Process Optimization Tips From a 5-Year-Old

By Carla Gregory, Senior Principal

Living and traveling with a process person is not easy. From airports and hotel lobbies to restaurants and doctors’ offices, process people constantly critique and mutter about how much better we could make things.

“If that person shuffling papers over there started helping customers, this line would move faster…”

“If they pre-filled the forms with the information I gave them over the phone, I wouldn’t have to provide all the same information again…”

“Everyone get their coffee/water/tea now, because once we hit the road, we aren’t stopping until we get there…”

If any of these sentences sound familiar, you either are a process person or you live with one. Either way, I feel your pain. Not only am I a process person, my daughter is as well. On her first day of kindergarten, she marched off the bus and proceeded to tell me what a better, more efficient drop off procedure would be and how it would save her 10 minutes of time on the way home. At 10 years old, when it came time to load the dishwasher, she argued that the chore wasn’t in her critical path for homework and suggested someone else should do it.

She did load the dishwasher, though, because the goal of learning personal responsibility and time management ranked right up there with getting homework done. Sometimes, efficiency isn’t the most important process design principle. The best process is the one that enables your strategy and achieves your goals.

When we redesign processes for our clients, we start by defining their guiding principles. Guiding principles should reflect the client’s competitive advantages. Are they the carrier with the most innovative investment products? The best customer service? The fastest commissions? The lowest error rate?

As an example, consider the New Business process to accept and process new annuity applications. You would design that process very differently depending on how your company prioritized its target competitive advantage(s). A process that delivers high-touch customer service will have a few additional steps or may take a little longer. A process that controls for quality will look very different from a process that is built for speed. You will deploy automation and organize your teams differently, as well.

The person shuffling the papers may be resolving an issue for a high-value, repeat, customer, not the first-time visitors in the queue. When I fill out a form with “redundant” information, I am probably completing a quality check step to ensure the phone agent got my address right. Driving without stopping for refreshments reduces cycle time and gets us where we are going more quickly (although it makes the drive less enjoyable).

Before you jump into process redesign, determine how best to achieve your business strategy and goals through design principles. Figure out what your business objectives and indicators are. Align your processes and determine which processes move which needles. Define your 3-5 guiding principles and then design your processes to meet them.

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