Monday, September 27, 2010

Fast Does Not Mean Cutting Corners

I believe that, to be successful today and in the foreseeable future, companies will need to continually increase speed and flexibility.  Changes are occurring faster than ever, and those companies that are able to adapt to - and drive - changes quickly will be much more competitive than those that are not.

Whenever I  mention the subject of improving speed and flexibility, however, I inevitably receive comments about the dangers of making decisions and acting too quickly.  The comments often include examples where efforts to increase speed have resulted in major quality or safety problems.

In my view, however, "fast" does not mean cutting corners or operating out of control - since dealing with quality or safety issues does little to improve speed or the ability to adapt to changes int he environment.  Being faster and more flexible actually requires improving focus and perfecting processes on a continual basis.

Successfully streamlining processes and systems requires understanding and continually improving the activities that add value to customers while reducing or eliminating any activities that do not.  And when the focus is on customer value, cutting corners on safety or quality is not an option.

Speed Requires Stability

When driving, the more stable the car, the safer it is to drive at high speed.  In business, the more stable the organization - in terms of purpose, values, leadership styles, employee turnover, and focus - the safer it is to increase speed.

The loss of control, along with the increased variability in processes and results caused by impatience and short-term thinking can quickly throw an organization off-course.  These are the behaviors that drive people to think that being faster means cutting corners instead of strengthening and improving processes.

Focusing on value for the customer can speed up decision-making and processes while prventing the haphazard cost-cutting measures that too often lead to financial trouble, industrial accidents, encvironmental disasters, and deaths.

Keep the Focus Clear

Speeding up an operation requires constant vigilance for anything that interferes with processes operating perfectly every time.  Interference in processes can result from design, handoffs between people, or a variety of other technical, organizational, or cultural issues.  Because of this, it is important for a company to develop the ability to honestly and objectively assess itself for those things that slow it down.

When leaders maintain stability in the organization's basics, and focus attention on improving speed and flexibility, remarkable things can happen.  The improvements in agility will be accompanied by reduced costs, increased customer satisfaction, and a safer operation.

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