I've started using a new term to describe all the places in a company where work stacks up: time piles. It's the stuff that you and your staff struggle to move past. It's what hampers your productivity and hinders your business efficiency. Basically, it's a bottleneck. But because one of the primary resources a bottleneck consumes is time, I like the term time pile.
You may find that customers have to wait too long for your service or product. Some employees may be idle while others work at a frantic, crazed pace. Your process may be unbalanced, you may feel inefficient and perhaps you're not as profitable as you could be.
You may have time piles!
But don't fear. I've learned how to identify, analyze and tidy up those time piles, and you can learn from my experience.
1. Identify what is sapping your time and productivity.
Maybe you're one of the few business owners for whom everything runs perfectly, like a well-oiled money-making machine. Or perhaps you're like the rest of us for whom productivity and efficiency are a constant struggle.
If you're elbow deep in the day-to-day work of your company, it's possible you have time piles you don't even know about. Consider taking a step back and looking for them.
2. Create flow charts outlining your company's processes.
Now don't panic: You're not going to need art skills or a nuanced understanding of process analysis. For our purposes, a flow chart is simply a tool to help you break down your company's processes into separate steps.
You may want to start with your sales funnel—looking at how leads come in, how they are handed off and how they are serviced. That's a logical place to start since it's the part of your business that generates revenue.
But don't forget that you may have time piles in other areas of your business—or even within stages of your sales funnel. You may want to look at all the work that goes on in your company and figure out how it moves from one step or person to the next.
3. Observe what goes on in your business carefully.
Meander through your office (or store or factory) and watch what goes on. Who's idle? Who's supposed to be feeding work to the idle employees? Who's overloaded? How does work come to these overloaded folks?
What you're looking for are time piles—places where work gets stuck. Identifying and fixing those can help increase productivity.
4. Identify the root cause of your time piles.
My advice? Don't assume you know what's really going on!
In one of my companies I was having trouble resolving customer complaints in a timely fashion and processing accounts receivable consistently. I had two big problems: I was getting complaints from some big customers while I was also slow in collecting payments.
So I observed the folks in the office. I was unobtrusive, looking like I was super busy, all the while watching what was going on.
I started by figuring out what happened when a customer complaint came in. I followed the process until I ended up at the desk of one of my best and longest-term employees. Surprised, I figured the real cause had to be elsewhere, so I moved on to my receivables problem.
I ended up at the same desk of the same employee. I didn't even know she was handling customer service or receivables duties since she was in my IT department.
I invited her to lunch to celebrate a slightly overdue work anniversary, and I asked her—tactfully—what was going on. She spilled. It turns out that another employee—one who split time in receivables and customer service—was missing a lot of work because of some problems at home.
I had no idea. And I didn't know because my team had been trying to pull together and accomplish more than was humanly possible.
Once we worked our way to the root cause, the fix was simple. I gave my employee with personal struggles a much-needed leave of absence. He could manage his problems at home, knowing he still had his job when he was ready to return.
Then I hired a temp to take the extra work off my staff who'd been picking up the slack.
5. Be ready to change your processes.
Time piles can not only kill your productivity; they can kill your profitability.
The solutions to bottlenecks can be anything under the sun. You may need to hire more people. You may need to buy new equipment. (No pointing fingers, but when you have a line at the copy machine, that's a sign!) You may need to reengineer your processes, create some new systems and make your company leaner and more efficient overall.
Whatever your solution, identifying and fixing time piles can help keep your employees happier, your bottom line brighter and your customers more engaged.
Learn more ways to get business done.