Promoting Innovations Through Operational Process Optimization

by Melissa Burns

Promoting Innovations Through Operational Process OptimizationStriving to make your business the best is a natural desire for all of us. As a young woman entrepreneur, I believe that constant progress is the key to success, but practice shows that actually making room for innovation isn’t easy.

Challenges of Promoting Innovation Within a Business

The problem I’ve faced was the creation of a routine that ran smoothly but exhausted all available resources. Therefore, there actually was no opportunity to focus on innovation. Of course, I couldn’t demand creative ideas and plans from my employees, seeing how they had every minute of the day dedicated to doing their jobs.

Something had to give, and an overall operational optimization seemed like the best idea. I’ll warn you right away that it’s a massive project with lots of complications, and it can backfire if you aren’t careful. From personal experience, I can say that a gradual approach works best. A complete overhaul may sound inviting, but it’s virtually impossible for a small business with limited resources.

Analysis as the First Step to Operational Process Optimization

My company started the journey to organizational optimization from a thorough analysis. I can’t tell you how to do this right as it’s different for every business. In our case, I and my trusted team went over every step of the business process from the search of suppliers to delivering the products to customers.

I advise you being honest and practical in your assessments of how exactly your business runs as you can’t improve efficiency without understanding where your actions aren’t the best. I had the analyzing team taken out from the general business rotation, which was a mistake. The reason for this was that my people didn’t have the time to do a thorough job otherwise. This resulted in a few issues caused by understaffing.

If you want to avoid problems like this, you might consider inviting third-party experts to audit your organizational performance. I did talk to some outside professionals and admit that their insight was valuable.

Application Integration: Best Mode of Optimization

With the analysis complete, I realized that one of the biggest problems that held back the company was the inefficiency of communications. We had three systems operating completely separately. It seemed to work well enough as ours is a small business, but I figured that this would be the best start for optimization. Therefore, application integration was the first thing we did.

This step alone made a huge difference for the company and it gave me almost everything I wanted to further innovation in a single go. The first immediate benefit of complete integration came in large time savings. I admit that none of our staff has actually realized just how much time was wasted on switching between systems and databases to trade information between different specialists.

With a single system, everyone has access to everything and all the information is updated in real time. As a result, the individual efficiency of every employee has increased, which boosted the overall business performance. This also helps us resolve any issues much faster, which improves the levels of customer satisfaction and reduces the stress of the job for employees.

This was exactly the type of improvement I needed to create the room for implementing more innovative practices and plans. Of course, this didn’t happen right away, and I advise any entrepreneur in the same situation to be very clear about the new expectations towards their employees.

Additional Challenges of Inviting Innovation and How to Deal with Them

In my case, people were happy that their work became easier but they didn’t take the necessary initiative to develop innovative approaches in their fields. I resolved this problem through a series of meetings and revamping their professional instructions. In simple terms, you must explain to your employees what exactly you want from them and encourage sharing their ideas.

Note that there would be mistakes and some plans would be utterly impossible. However, every initiative requires acknowledgment. Never discard the plans offered to you without comment or with some scathing remarks. To support the employees’ desire for coming up with innovative ideas, you need to show them that they would be respected and valued, even if you cannot implement them at the moment. Personally, I believe that this new approach to meetings and tete-a-tetes with my team was another important step in the overall organizational optimization process.

It definitely was this that led us to the second change, which was a complete logistics revamp. We went from redesigning the warehouse to a change in transportation companies. Strategic inventory positioning allowed for more efficient movement, which really made a difference when organizing orders during the holiday season. A change in transporters was a long-term project that is still going as I’m still unsatisfied with the overall price-to-value ratio in the matters of inbound logistics.

However, the optimization steps taken so far have already resulted in freeing up resources that we can now use to acquire better deals on transportation. The plans now are to relocate to a strategically beneficial position, and I’m sure that the innovative ideas of my team would help us find a way to achieve this goal.

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Melissa Burns is an education blogger, and a new teacher. She was studying in Columbia and those years inspired her to dedicate her life to teaching. She graduated from Iowa State University and is passionately interested in informatics, writing, and educational activism. She has already visited 38 countries and is planning to travel around the globe. Follow her @melissaburns and contact her at burns.melissaa@gmail.com

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