Does Your Efficiency Program Slow Down Corporate Innovation?
One of the tasks when deploying quality and efficiency programs, is to show employees the culture of “finding the best way of doing something” and then “standardizing it for everyone” in their team. Doing this, we are often questioned whether this “standardization mind-set” can freeze our creativity, which will then reduce our ability to innovate.
In this article we will share with you the reason why the above perception is valid or not.
It is tempting to fall into thinking that standardizing something will mean that it is going to be that way for ever. In reality, a standard can be held either for a very long time, like the standardization of the signs on the roads, to the standardization of a working procedure for a period of 1 month. You can even have a standard that will only be valid for a week, a day or even an hour.
Standards should not be seen as a way of doing things for the rest of our lives, unless it is a really good standard which has proven to be unchallenged over time. Living in a world of „Continuous Improvement“, which also happens to
be part of an efficiency program, one is expected to continuously challenge the status quo. By challenging daily the current standards, we are pushed to find better ways on how to perform our work.
In order to clarify what is meant with the word “standardization,” we at SCG categorize these into 3 groups called “PSP standards“:
> Product Standards
> Service Standards &
> Process standards
Product Standards: Every year companies come out with new product ideas to be sold on the market. As soon as a new and good product has been identified, then it is important that this product can be standardized for the customer. For example, car manufacturers noticed many years ago that in order to satisfy their customer needs, they would need to place airbags in their cars (which is their product). Therefore, in order to comply with customer demand, it was crucial that a new product standard are put in place.
Think of a world without having this product feature standardized. It would be fatal for the life span of a car brand. By standardizing this product, the car manufacturer ensures that all customers receive the same product, which in this case are the airbags.
Every year there are further demanding customer expectations towards all products in the market. Therefore, in order to survive , it is recommended to continuously adapt new standards to our products.
Thanks to innovation, your efficiency & quality program can have the possibility to set standards which will enable your organization to satisfy customer needs.
Service Standards: Whether we like it or not, we are all customers from multiple companies. If we travel by air, then we are the airline’s customer. Once we check into a hotel, we are the hotel’s customer. When we go for dinner, then we are the restaurant’s customer. When we open a bank account, we are the bank’s customer... and the list goes on. It is actually surprising to notice how many times we end up to be someone else’s customer.
When this happens, we consciously (or unconsciously) have our own expectations towards the service provided by all these companies. From the Airline, we expect them to depart and land punctually. In a hotel we expect to have a clean room waiting for us and friendly personnel. When having dinner, we expect to have again good and friendly service and tasty food in a timely manner. When opening a bank account, we expect to be able to use the new account immediately after signing the account opening form. As you probably noticed, for all of the above, you only see 1-2 examples of services from each service provider. In reality, each of us have at least a dozen expectations for each service provider. Therefore, these service standards should also be standardized. If they are not, then you will have unhappy customers.
The second though to this is: what happens if we do not have innovative service standards?
For the sake of “standardization” we will illustrate 3 examples using the above topics:
Airline: Frequent travelers receive their checked-in luggage first at the destination airport (which is actually a common service standard today).
Hotel: When you check-in, you notice that your hotel has a standardized service of providing their guests with Tablet-PC’s, iPads, Notebooks, Smart Phones or androids for free during the stay.
Restaurant: It can be an innovative service standard to offer restaurant guests the possibility to make table reservations through a smart phone, android phone or notebook. The reservations are user-friendly because you will be able to see the layout of the restaurant-map and choose the available tables graphically. This way you will know exactly where you will be seated at the restaurant. This standard makes life more comfortable for the restaurant manager and the customers.
These examples show us how important it is to have innovative service standards. These can only come to life if we have a good innovation program capturing all the ideas given by the employees and then putting the best ideas into action. If the idea turns out to be good, then it will be passed over to the efficiency & quality program for standardization. It can also be an option to have these service standards controlled by using Key Performance Indicators on dashboards. This way we can ensure that our customer received the expected treatment.
Process Standards: In order to create a product and deliver a service, many employees need to complete various tasks. Some do them one way and others do the same service the other way. Some accomplish their task by doing 25 steps and other accomplish the task by performing only 15steps. This is where Process standards come into action. We want to identify the BEST and shortest (leanest) way to generate the required output.
Once the ideal process has been identified, then it is crucial to standardize it for the whole team. This will ensure that everyone is working efficiently with minimal risk of deviations. As an example, during one of our KAIZEN workshops, we created a value stream map (VSM) together with a team in order to illustrate what they do everyday. We had 12 participants and they belonged to two sub-teams. During the workshop, team “A” explained how they managed the process using a soft-fax software, which enabled them to send a fax automatically from their computer. Team “B” was surprised to hear this, because they were sending fax the “old way”, which meant, printing the document, walk to the printer to pick up the document, walk to the fax machine, manually type-in the fax number, wait for the fax confirmation and if not received, return to the fax machine later again to check for the printed confirmation sheet, which is then filed. Team “B” were not aware that an internal solution already existed in their organization.
At this pint of time they noticed that there were different ways of doing the same process and they had immediate consensus to use the soft-fax software
in order to have a standardized and efficient process.
As team “A” was already “living” the new process , they received the task to invest 1 hour to train team “B” on how to use the soft-fax-software from their workstations. This simple improvement increased team “B” productivity by 21%.
Therefore, this is another proof that innovation helps build better process standards.
As a summary, we confirm that using standardization techniques in your efficiency and quality program will not interfere or slow down your organizations‘ creativity and ability to innovate. On the contrary, both programs work most effectively when they are working together in a partnership. This way you can ensure that your innovative culture is passed over to your customer.
Juan Eduardo Steigerwald
Founder WAVE – Business Excellence Footprint S.L.