Magazine Article | December 9, 2013

How To Improve Business Opportunities With Limited Resources

Source: Life Science Leader

Gaurav Gupta, principal and Corey Pappel, consultant; Stroud Consulting

Opportunities exist in every business that are not being realized; in fact, you can probably name 10 valuable initiatives not being persued in your business before you’ve had your morning coffee. The problem is that even short lists of goals often generate long lists of opportunities, all competing for the same limited resources. As many have found through experience, sometimes less is indeed more.  When resources are constrained, as they almost always are, you’re forced to make tradeoffs to decide what priorities to focus on, and these tradeoffs can leave good opportunities on the table.

But what if you could increase the effectiveness of your existing resources? What if your resources could realize an opportunity in a matter of weeks instead of months, with increased certainty that they would meet or exceed their targets for each opportunity?

Here are four potential opportunities to help limited resources achieve more than previously believed possible.

1. Take a relentlessly rigorous approach to problem solving.
Many methods exist for solving problems, from guess-and-check solutions to brainstorming to thorough, fact-based analysis. Approaching every problem with a rigorous problem-solving approach, though seemingly time-intensive, will dramatically increase the likelihood of solving a problem the first time. This will ultimately free up precious resources to tackle the next big challenge.

2. Train less — implement as-needed training.
With more and more training programs available to businesses and with the perceived scalability of these programs, many organizations have taken the approach of wide-scale training, believing that 10,000 black belts are better than 1,000. However, training that is not directly applied is most often wasted — people only retain a fraction of what they learn if they don’t use it immediately. Establishing a training program that is targeted and just-in-time frees up resources to execute top-priority opportunities.

3. Improve resource allocation.
Resource allocation can be tricky, and by closely examining roles and responsibilities and looking for ways to create leverage, you may be surprised at how much opportunity you find in improving  your organization’s effectiveness. For example, ask yourself the following questions:

Have you engaged the broader organization in improvement activities?
Everyone from the shop floor to company leadership can have a role in improvement. Finding ways to leverage specific skills in your organization can help increase bandwidth of other resources and increase engagement across the organization. Finding ways to simplify or segment tasks might allow you to better utilize shop-floor operators in data collection, problem identification, and testing.

Is your accountability structure set up to minimize non-value-added work?
Ensure that the person accountable for delivering an improvement is positioned to make the necessary change. Too often the improvement resources are tasked with driving a change but lack clear stakeholder support. Excess time and energy is then spent either resetting expectations or gaining alignment. This non-value-added work could be prevented with the right expectation and accountability of all involved business functions.

Do individuals have too many prioirities?
Just as organizations lose effectiveness when addressing too many opportunities at once, so do individuals. Advancing multiple opportunities at once can provide an illusion of urgency and progress; however, it is often a false sense of urgency with more activity than progress. Working on fewer parallel tasks allows your team to focus on delivering specific results quickly, creating a continuous sense of accomplishment and freeing them up to tackle the next big challenge. The path to greater individual effectiveness is to accelerate the rate of completion, not expand the number of priorities.

4. Reevaluate whether you are truly working on the most important problems.
This sounds obvious, and most people believe they are already doing so. But, while most organizations have a system for prioritizing opportunities, there is hidden opportunity in challenging the perception of the value of specific opportunities and the complexity of realizing them. Taking a data-driven, rigorous approach to understanding the value and complexity may present priorities that you did not initially expect — you may find that the opportunities that have been deemed to be  hard are not so.

Gaurav Gupta (right), principal and Corey Pappel, consultant; Stroud Consulting