UPS has saved 10 million gallons of gas, emits 22,000 tons less carbon dioxide, and delivers 350,000 more packages every year — simply by avoiding left turns. Sounds simple, right? The concept was introduced by George Dantzig in 1959, and since then, only 10% of turns made by drivers are left turns, resulting in fewer miles traveled, less time idling and fewer accidents from waiting for a gap in traffic.
Dantzig was able to find a point of friction in his business — left turns — and apply a new approach that saves time, money and valuable gas. Here’s how you can find those points of friction in your business and eliminate them with creative thinking and strategic problem solving.
1. Approach the search with an open mind
Finding areas of waste, whether that’s gas, like UPS, or time, like it might be in your business, isn’t the easiest thing to hear. You want to believe you’re doing everything right already. Checking ego at the door is a helpful step in making this process effective (and being able to acknowledge where some sections might be underperforming, even if it’s not the most welcome information).
Look at the areas of your business that you struggle with most. Maybe it’s parts fulfillment, maybe it’s scheduling, maybe it’s hiring. Can you break that down and approach it in a different way? Then, invite new minds into the conversation. Hootsuite appointed a “director of getting shit done” with the goal of eliminating painful processes (like streamlining the process for sending a promotional t-shirt — before, once everyone on the org chart had approved the purchase, that shirt was costing the company over $200 in time and effort).
Medical device and service company Elekta is a great example of this. The company spotted a few areas of potential improvement around the service of its equipment — and using field service management, Elekta has been able to predict outages and address them proactively. In many cases, repairs on equipment could be made prior to equipment failure, which reduced downtime and addressed patients’ needs for quicker, more efficient service. Saving UPS-scale resources over time requires making some unexpected decisions.
2. Listen to your customers
Break out those NPS scores — customers are good at telling you what they do and don’t like. Maybe they aren’t getting responses fast enough. Maybe the on-site service is lacking. Maybe they hate that it takes forever to get an invoice. See which of those problems you can solve on a tactical level. Think about the one thing your customers complain about that you feel like you can’t fix. For example, maybe your techs are always late — you can’t solve that, you aren’t in the car with them. But maybe they’re late because they have to fill out a long series of pre-repair forms before walking in to look at a machine. Follow the customer’s nose to the problem — that’s the best place to apply “what would UPS do?” thinking.
But don’t ignore the positives. If there’s something customers love, like your knowledgeable account managers, try applying that to other lacking areas of the business through education or training resources.
3. Look to the data
The study of analytics has changed from old-school business intelligence firms to a more democratized view of numbers. Now, every business has data on themselves — it’s your duty to use it. Start with your improvements over time. What new factors (new hires, new tech, new systems) affected the rate of change? Which ones didn’t work out as planned? Anecdotes on these unexpected data points can lead to new kinds of thinking and improve processes.
Another good place to start looking at your data might be the extremes — look at the activities of your best tech and your worst tech, your best site and your worst site. Where are the numbers farthest apart? That’s where there are areas for improvement. If one tech takes two minutes to file a report and one takes 20, consider that an outlier. If one takes two and one takes six, they’re both closer to the baseline. Dramatic differences are the best place to look for new processes and solutions.
And don’t be afraid to look to emerging technology like AI and predictive analytics to learn about and optimize your business. These new technologies can add layers of productivity that can eliminate wasted time or resources. For example, AI allows for companies to invest in remote training, rather than flying people around the country, saving thousands of dollars in flight costs and productivity loss.
The truth is, every business has areas it can improve on. But finding them is a matter of knowing how — and where — to look. Be reflective and unbiased in the scrutiny of your business, and take note of the positives too. Finally, understanding data can be a huge business insight. The internet of things means everyone has access, not just business intelligence firms, so make sure you leverage it properly. You might have to quit making left turns soon — but it will be worth it.
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