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#538: The Dark Side of Process Efficiency

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Process improvement consultants were all the rage for nearly a decade, up until the economy went sideways. Now it seems to be all about marketing and top line growth. Is this just the natural cycle consultants (and their clients) face?

Not to over generalize, but . . . there is a time and place for every improvement strategy. When a company is in a stable growth mode, a manager's thoughts turn to improved efficiency to squeeze cost, resources and schedule as much as possible. This is inherently appropriate, unless you need to develop new products or your environment is evolving. When you need agility to face a volatile market, new technologies or an economic restructuring, streamlining is exactly the worst strategy to follow.

You will see this same phenomenon in the natural world, where organisms with highly efficient but inflexible systems and processes become extinct when formerly stable conditions change. This is insidious for many managers who take their cues from their current customers. When you make someone's company more efficient in a stable environment, they are highly satisfied and things look great for them (and they tell you how awesome a consultant you are). The problem comes when you try to innovate and adapt, either proactively or in response to a disruption, when all your strategies are about efficiency.

Tip: Consultants successful over the long term see which improvement strategies are needed and how to structure an organization to be able to implement them. You may well have a preference for helping your clients be efficient or being agile, but don't count on only needing one set of services. And certainly hold the victory lap until you have taken your client through a few stable growth periods, new product cycles and disruptive environments

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  customer understanding  innovation  management theory  your consulting practice 

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