Small is Beautiful in the World of Business Process Improvement

Apple’s success over the years with the iPod and iPhone, and recent introduction of the iPad has inspired many organizations to chase big innovations as the only path to growth and prosperity. While we agree that a successful, splashy innovation can dramatically spur a company’s growth, and possibly change how we behave in society, small innovations can be valuable, too. I just finished reading a blog article from the Harvard Business Review site, How to Encourage Small Innovations, which makes the case that many firms are so taken with the idea of developing breakthrough innovative products and services, that they ignore the smaller opportunities, which could potentially help them even more.

Business process automation is an ideal platform to practice the mantra of “small innovations”. Take the “as-is” process, tweak it and look for those smaller innovations to shorten cycle time, reduce error, or target other key goals.  Deploying the new, revised process can improve the bottom line.

The act of working through a process to improve it brings teams together to problem solve creatively, and with the right coaching, can spur on those smaller innovations. It could be streamlining a product ordering process to get the final product to a customer more quickly, or improving the receipt and payment process for an insurance customer’s accident report. The key is to find where it can provide significantly more value.

Over time, organizations perform a process a certain way because “we’ve always done it that way”. And that process, which may have been worthwhile when it was initiated, may have stopped providing any significant value for the organization’s customers. Now’s the time to dust off these processes and consider whether small innovations would pay off. Where there’s a risk of financial penalties for not completing something within a given time period, or a risk of loss of revenue for the same reason, a revised process can become extremely valuable, especially if there are hundreds or thousands of iterations throughout the business year.

 And from an employee perspective, these types of projects can encourage a culture of continuous improvement, and an atmosphere of inclusiveness where front line employees can see the value of their contribution to the organization. It can build morale and the bottom line at the same time. Who says small can’t be beautiful?

Which way do you fall on the Game Changing Innovation vs. Small, Incremental Innovations? I’d love to hear.

-Rachel Wentink