Continuous Improvement -10 tips for maximising your business’ or enterprise’s efficiency

continuous-improvement-10-tips-maximising-business-enterprises-efficiency

“How can we be more efficient?” is surely the most common question coming from decision-makers today. It was the reason we created Ghostlab, a browser testing app that reduces workloads by enabling seamless testing across all devices simultaneously.

Below are 10 other ways to maximise the working hours both you and your team spend. From reshaping the overall setup of your company to maximise stability and promote innovation, to making minor everyday changes such as the way email is used, you can manage your business to boost overall efficiency – saving time and money.

“Innovative” doesn’t have to mean “inefficient”.

Whether you’re a business executive or a startup entrepreneur, the realities of the past few years’ financial climate mean that efficiency and profitability are sure to be high on your priorities list.

At the same time, a tidal wave of new technologies and digital opportunities continues to change the face of how almost every company works around the world. To stand the best chance of moving upstream, it’s critical for businesses to drive innovation at every turn, developing and making the most of breakthrough technologies to sustain growth.

Striking a balance between these two objectives – maintaining efficiency and core revenue, while also striving to push new innovation – can be a delicate operation, but it’s precisely this which is key to managing any healthy business. With the correct focus on oversight, preparation and discipline, as shown below, “innovative” doesn’t have to mean “inefficient”.

Manage your company as a portfolio.

One way to allow your business the freedom to innovate, while also protecting its more mature areas – those which account for the bulk of your revenue, and which your clients know best – is to group sections of your company as if it were a business portfolio.

Allocating separate teams, resources, budgets (and appropriate targets) to different areas of a company may sound obvious. However, it takes a rigorous approach to be effective. Done properly, it can bring huge rewards in terms of productivity, time-saving and proper use of talent, actually increasing efficiency across your entire business.

Map out the company into three focus areas: core business; emerging business; and new opportunities. Needless to say, defending the first area will be the natural instinct – which is why separation can be so effective. By treating the second and third areas as separate entities, allowing for customised levels of investment and manpower, while setting individualised goals, all three can be relied on to grow side by side.

One of the major benefits of controlling your company in this way is that it allows vastly more effective coordination of resources. If each area knows precisely what is expected of them, and on what terms, negative competition between the three is eliminated – resulting in more valuable work.

However, it should not be forgotten that while this model can reap big rewards for your business, it is essentially an internal concept for you and your employees’ benefit. Remember to always present the company to outsiders as a unified whole, to avoid confusion.

Continuous Improvement. Big changes are often made incrementally.

As anyone in control of a rapidly expanding company knows, it can be tempting to concentrate all your attention on the big decisions. But there are often opportunities to increase efficiency that go overlooked – and many take just a small change to be effective.

Benefits can be made even in simple cultural changes in habit, on a day-to-day basis. Cutting regular meetings down by 10 or 15 minutes, for example, can rack up hours of extra work that would otherwise go wasted, every week.

In many work environments, productive hours can be increased simply by introducing more flexibility into the workplace. If people seem to work better on their own terms, try implementing a new system for two weeks and measure your results afterwards. Similarly, if you notice an improvement when staff work unsupervised, rearrange the workplace setup accordingly.

Making small changes might seem arbitrary today, but they can go a long way towards shifting the atmosphere and working culture within a company. Encouraging set times for small meetings, for example, can allow staff to better manage tasks that demand complete focus, without unnecessary distractions.

Experimentation is key … but track everything.

The opportunities for making changes are all around you, so it often bears fruit to keep an open mind. While a way of working might make sense to you and your staff, at another company things may be completely different – and more effective. Look at others’ performances and statistics, and compare your company’s level of efficiency with theirs. If you identify an area where you can improve, it might be time to experiment with something different.

The key here is to track everything. Making changes without measuring the degree of their success would be as ineffective as it is confusing. Before you trial-run a change in your workplace setup, measure your present efficiency using something concrete (i.e. average time staff spend replying to emails).

Once that is done, compare the change after a given time. Results can be assessed and, crucially, reviewed with feedback from your colleagues. Efficiency might have reached heretofore unknown levels – or it may be that efficiency stayed the same, but that team members enjoyed working this way.

Whatever the results, whether you determine to make a permanent change or not, remember there’s only one sure way to increase the overall efficiency of your company – to keep making changes and improving.

Schedule, schedule, schedule.

It can seem that once the Monday morning meeting is done, the rest of the week often involves performing every task within your company at once. Emails, phone calls, teams questions, unplanned meetings, it’s tempting to think nothing can wait – especially when they involve new clients. But while this way of working might reflect your passion, it is often a major drawback in a company’s everyday efficiency.

That’s why scheduling is paramount. Anything that comes your way which is not absolutely critical can wait, until the task at hand is either complete or ready to be passed on. This applies both to you and your workers, so it’s essential everybody understands and is onboard.

Email notifications can burn into billable hours unlike anything else. While technology is your friend, it must be controlled and used to its advantage within your company – without encroaching on team members’ time and concentration. A simple change in habits, such as scheduling email times to erase constant distraction, has been shown to reap huge benefits in terms of productivity.

When allotting your own time and attention to different areas of the business, make sure you do so in advance – that way you won’t be skewing your focus, or leaving teams feeling neglected. Similarly, expect for your own time to be respected in the same way. If today you’re focusing on a task in one area, make sure other areas of the business understand their questions should be saved for their scheduled time.

Dare to say “no”.

With meetings scheduled ahead and email notifications switched off, it’s time to prioritise between the tasks that need to be done now, and those at a later date. Being rigid here is important: before starting work on a task, go through a short mental checklist to decide whether it really is critical, or if it can wait for a later date.

Once you do begin working, keep those later tasks out of sight and out of mind. File projects scheduled for a later date away, in order to give yourself the best chance of using time efficiently. This goes for you and your team members – whether they prefer to prioritise their tasks themselves, or under your guidance. An extra efficiency boost can be achieved by mixing up the distribution of concentration-heavy projects with lighter tasks, to lessen the load and give tired minds a chance to recoup energy.

Quit multitasking.

This goes to the heart of what makes a business efficient or not. The term “multitasking” is a word that should be avoided at all costs, because “costs” is what it really boils down to. There is no such thing as doing two tasks at once; only switching between tasks and allowing interruptions, breaking concentration and lowering the overall quality of work.

Skipping between tasks wastes energy, and the more times you skip the greater the unnecessary mental load. This has the effect of actually extending the time it takes to complete each task, causing an overall loss in productivity and efficiency drop.

Emails, chat programs and other new technologies can be used to schedule more effectively, promote better communication, and quicken the decision-making process. But they can quickly become a prime cause of distractions, errors in work, and confusion.

All it takes is for one message to snowball into an impromptu meeting – before you know it the morning’s schedule is forgotten, your original task pushed forward to another day, or more likely the late hours tonight.

While it might seem preferable to be open and accessible for quick questions and drop-in meetings, in fact it damages your own quality of work – not to mention raising stress levels. Allowing it to happen also sets a bad example for other members of the team, who will feel encouraged to drop everything and do the same.

Get ready.

Any gap in your workplace schedule can be utilised for higher efficiency – so make sure both you and your team members are suitably prepared. A quick run-through of potential spaces in the schedule before each day will allow you to maximise those hours.

Whether it’s a ten minute meeting or a two hour brainstorm, time can be saved by looking ahead, and asking what resources are necessary in advance. This simple procedure allows teams to access everything they need without disruption, and ensure their time is spent in a worthwhile way.

Set mini goals … and give mini rewards.

Achieving goals on an incremental basis can boost productivity enormously – not to mention morale. The satisfaction of seeing small targets met every hour and every day helps focus the team in terms of urgency and allows you to better measure its progress.

Not only that, it can also streamline projects by giving the oversight needed to prioritise tasks more effectively. Making checklists of mini goals is complemented by giving mini rewards. If things are running smoothly and targets are being met, be sure to let your team know.

Trust your team.

Any business leader will tell you the same: when it comes to the crunch in an important project, it’s tempting to take on the entire load yourself. The harsh reality is that making poor use of time is detrimental to overall efficiency, and costs the company money – this applies both to you and your team members.

Nobody is capable of steering the ship alone, which is why it’s critical if your time is already scheduled for an important task, you must delegate responsibility for separate projects to others, or schedule your time for a later date. It may seem impossible to say no, but learning to will allow you to make the best possible use of the hours you have available. Not only that, but it fosters a culture throughout the team that no task should be left unfinished.

Be disciplined.

None of the above is possible without a certain level of discipline, and belief in your own system. If an employee asks for your help on a task that seems imperative, take a minute to weigh its importance against other projects on your schedule. If team members aren’t sticking to a trial change in workflow, don’t be afraid to say “no”.

Far from a magic potion, efficiency is a team-wide process of marginal gains – and is only possible with patience, proper analysis, and most importantly teamwork. By encouraging small shifts in your own work habits, you can do the same throughout your entire company, and see a continuous improvement in your business.

As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and below, and hear your stories about how efficiency and Ghostlab have affected you.

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By Andi Dysart