This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia magazine.
Businesses are continuously challenged to deliver products or services faster, at higher quality, and to bring new items or issues to the forefront. Finding the time to address all of the issues businesses face daily is often a challenge in today’s fast-paced environment.
However, planning for continuous improvement is critical, says Robert S. Olszewski, a director in the Audit & Accounting group at Kreischer Miller, located in Horsham, Pa.
"Nothing can be achieved without hard work," says Olszewski. "However, a successful company has the ability to balance between managing today’s challenges and planning for the future. A structured business improvement process, discipline and accountability lead to the development of systems and strategies that leverage the future and foster the true value of a business. Improvement involves assessing the now, where and how."
Smart Business spoke with Olszewski about the business improvement process.
Are there stages in the business improvement process?
Most people are aware the first step in a business improvement process is to get the structure right. The right structure means the right customers, products, cost to manufacture and people. They don’t realize that once the structure is mostly in place, they should move to the next stage, which is to get the waste out of the structure.
There are seven primary areas of waste: defects, waiting, motion, storage, overproduction, transportation and processing. The identification of waste can be achieved by interviewing personnel, utilizing intellect and flow-charting a process. Identification of waste is the easy part. Businesses must implement a strategy to reduce waste and continuously monitor results.
The time frame for addressing structure and waste is normally a two-year period. However, the final stage of the business improvement process — changing the belief system of people — can span over a time period of up to five years. One of the significant factors limiting the attainment of change is the degree to which people believe that they are in control of their own destiny.
What is the most difficult part of the business improvement process?
Most companies can respond quickly when asked where they currently stand in the business environment. The difficulty is revealed when a business is asked where it wants to be and how it plans to get there.
The key to addressing the where and the how is defining your sustainable competitive advantage (SCA). The clear definition of SCA is the baseline for developing specific strategies in marketing, operations, innovation, human resources and finance that will generate results in the business improvement process.
What issues do you see in making improvements and implementing change?
One of the greatest obstacles is the acceptance of the status quo or the historical norm. However, being successful in the past is not a sound indicator for predicting future success.
Most successful process improvements involve a vision, a plan and surprisingly, dissatisfaction. Providing insight into the positive elements of change will create dissatisfaction with the status quo and motivate others to adopt the change. Companies that can clearly demonstrate why and how the change will have a positive impact, leading to dissatisfaction, have a higher probability of effective change.
How can you tell if changes are actually improvements?
Key performance indicators must be established from the inception of the business improvement process. Although some things are difficult to measure, specific items need to be quantified and supported by data. Keep it simple, visible and meaningful to everyone involved in the change process. Sharing the goals and making the results readily available to those involved is often a key element to success. Visibility of the common goal and success to date will enhance the efforts of the team.●