I was getting ready to go on a weeklong vacation. My bags were packed, hotel and airline reservations ready, and I cleaned out the refrigerator. No fresh fruit, veggies, or milk was left to spoil while I would be gone. It was completely empty – no yogurt, no orange juice, and no eggs.
But, then I realized that with an early morning flight the next day, I just might want to have a little snack before driving to the airport. At the supermarket, I picked up one yogurt, one apple, and one – just one – banana.
At the checkout, the clerk scanned the yogurt and put it into a bag. She typed the code for the apple, weighed it, and put it into the bag. Then came the banana. Again, the clerk typed in the appropriate code and weighted my fruit. Uh-oh! An alarm went off on the register. The banana cost only 19 cents. An override was required for any price less than 20 cents. The purchase of a single banana resulted in a deviation of business processes and a manual override that slowed the normal flow of activities at the supermarket as well as my hurried shopping trip.
We establish business processes for many different reasons. For example, quality standards often require the implementation of repeatable business processes to maintain acceptable levels of customer satisfaction. Other business processes ensure operations and manufacturing are cost efficient, while some other business processes provide checklists so that critical (but infrequent) activities are not overlooked. Thus, most business processes serve to aid productivity and efficiency of the organization.
On the other hand, some organizations use business processes as a crutch. They substitute data analysis and decision-making with filling in forms. These firms tend to suffer a lack of creativity in problem-solving and reduced levels of employee morale. Staff are discouraged form acting upon information, even to the point of leaving customers with unwieldy functions or clunky products.
New Product Development Processes
In my experience, some companies enforce business policies that fail to add value yet are so afraid of risk that they are paralyzed and cannot improve performance. I have encountered firms that use a staged and gated new product development (NPD) process in such a way that the system actually reduces innovation and creative problem-solving. Most common are large corporations that are highly risk averse. They introduce an artificial sense of security by abusing these business processes. Decisions are deferred and information that is normally required for late stage development is forced into earlier, screening phases of work. By pushing more accurate estimates into ideation stages, creativity is hindered and new, exciting innovations are traded for incremental developments.
Effective Business Processes
Effective business processes are utilized by teams to accomplish project work without unduly hindering the team’s activities. Procedures that aid productivity serve as reminders and checklists to ensure critical activities are not omitted when necessary. In product development, for instance, a staged and gated process will verify that customer test data has been collected and analyzed before a project moves to the next, more expensive, phase of work. Likewise, intellectual property protection will be assessed prior to releasing the product for sale in the open market.
A hallmark of effective business processes is that they originate from best practices and the positive outcomes of successfully completed projects. Note that the alternate approach places roadblocks out of a sense of fear or aversion to risk. Business processes that add value are those that enable products to be developed quicker and enable teams to work tougher more productively. Scrum and Agile methods, for example, integrate the voice of customer into an iterative development process that rapidly delivers workable solutions.
Back to the Banana
As I left the supermarket, I had to ask myself what value were they adding by setting a 20 cent floor price on any item? Was the store trying to protect against fraud or theft? And don’t people, every day, buy just enough food for one, quick meal, including a single banana?
My conclusion is that a 19 cent banana is not atypical nor an unusual purchase. I don’t believe the supermarket added any internal value by requiring an override for a purchase of less than 20 cents. Further, because my “one banana” purchase took longer than expected, the store detracted from their normally excellent customer service.
Effective business processes are designed to institute best practices, ensure project work is not overlooked or omitted, and to add customer value. Continuous review through lessons learned should improve existing business processes and eliminate those that do not aid in work teams’ efficiency or productivity. I encourage you to take a look at your business practices to search for – and eliminate – the “19 cent bananas”.
In the meantime, please join us for a workshop on NPD best practices. Contact me at email@example.com with the subject “19 cent bananas” for a special discount code to save 20% on our next face-to-face NPD course. At Simple-PDH, we want to make it simple to study, learn, and earn your professional certifications.
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