Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

For many of us, it’s back to work in a new year. Catching up, answering emails, checking with the boss, revisiting pending deadlines.

It’s typically a time when fewer things are urgent, a time for resolutions and reviews, a time to reflect on what worked well during the past year and what could improve. Remember those process deficiencies you wanted to fix but couldn’t because daily urgencies consumed you? Now is the time to make those process improvements more urgent.

Improving a process generates tangible benefits that improve your and your team’s productivity, enabling better management of the pending urgencies that lie ahead. Once those urgencies ramp back up, when there’s little time to do anything but react, you’ll again rely on the methods you’ve always used because it’s easier to do so in the moment. 

Those trusted methods are like habits, just like those that were the focus of your New Year resolutions. And like those resolutions, it will take time, commitment, practice and perseverance to replace the old ways with the new. Temporary remedies won’t work; the objective is to decisively improve inefficient methods. 

With your team, review the list of processes you wanted to improve. Then, prioritize these by first identifying which ones will render quantifiable productivity improvements, time savings or reduced waste. Seek to accelerate workflow by eliminating bottlenecks where work-in-process inventory grows. Think cross-functionally by looking upstream and downstream; your constraints may be the result of how work arrives in your department, or perhaps in how your team is expected to send completed work onward.

Next, detect the primary obstacles that could inhibit your improvement progress and then estimate how soon the expected benefits from your effort could be realized. Your top priority improvement opportunity will emerge from this assessment. 

This exercise might be the single most effective, rewarding and urgent work done by you and your team all year. 

What’s your most urgent process improvement opportunity?