The art of seeing opportunity

Observation #15

carpedia-observation-15It’s hard for most people to see opportunity for improvement. Opportunity is rarely glaringly obvious. When we bring new consultants on board, they usually don’t see opportunity when we ask them to observe a functional process. We have to teach them what to look for — and then train them how to watch the process objectively. When we work with client managers they often also struggle, at least at first, to see how a process might be improved.

Opportunity is often a subtlety, and it’s frequently hidden from view. Finding opportunity is a skill and, like any skill, it takes technique and practice to become good at it. So, gleaned from over 20 years of observing processes to try to find opportunity, here are a few trade secrets to help you:

1. Know what you’re looking for. Understand what “opportunity” actually means. In the simplest sense, it means doing something faster, cheaper, better. “Faster” could mean reducing the time it takes to do something. “Cheaper” might mean doing something at a lower cost by doing it using less expensive resources. “Better” could mean reducing the number of errors or cycle time. This is what you are trying to “see”.

2. Mentally accept that most processes have 30% to 50% opportunity. If you can’t find opportunity, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means you can’t find it. Maybe you are watching a productive period:  think about if there are less productive times (e.g., start up, shut down, changeovers, etc.)

3. Figure out how to improve the process. If you are watching a process that requires four machines, try to figure out how you could reconfigure it with three machines. In the process you will see opportunity.

4. Don’t rely on your experience. Being familiar with a process can actually make it harder to see opportunity, because familiarity often causes you to skip over the very things that you should be focusing on. It’s critically important to break down tasks into time elements. A lot of opportunity is hidden. For example, if you watch the same task performed 20 times; the time to complete each task may vary substantially. Understanding why will lead you to see the opportunity.