Knowing Where to Tap

We’ve all heard the old fable about the consultant who charges $1000 to tap the machine. $1 for the tap of the hammer and $999 for knowing where to tap. I submit that most of us – not only the consultants – know where to tap. The conditions for knowing where to tap include taking the time to inventory the various sources of information that might be reasonable indicators of just what it is that needs tapping.

This week for me included a couple of days at a conference dedicated to expanding the use of automation and electronic records in the mental healthcare field. If anyone ought to know about conducting an inventory of conditions to discover the point of greatest leverage for change, you would think it would be the mental health experts. Sadly, they are so busy treating people and have so few resources – particularly where public mental health is concerned – that managing how they deliver care is not their highest priority or area of greatest domain expertise. What I observed (and have observed consistently for nearly twenty years) is a field of well-meaning professionals struggling to know where to tap.

The same can be said for nearly every field and the legions of business owners and managers who don’t have the time, resources, background or expertise to know where to tap. However, knowing where to tap can be be about more than time, education, expert experience or dedicated resources. I want to argue that knowing where to tap begins with adopting the right perspective.

Metric Perspective

You don’t need to know everything about your current state. You don’t have to have well-articulated workflow and business process models and diagrams. You don’t have to start with an inventory of business rules. Gaining the right perspective concerning your current state of business operations begins with looking at the data you have in-hand. Even the most rudimentary business has a few sources of meaningful data:

  • a business plan
  • business goals
  • profit and loss statement
  • sales figures
  • market data
  • customer satisfaction
  • employee satisfaction
  • number of complaints
  • number of defective products
  • data related to time (delivery, production, receipts, etc.)
  • employee turn-over/retention
  • customer retention
  • any mandatory reporting
  • audit results
  • industry standards and benchmarks

Metric-Drive Process Improvement

Even a quick look through the data you have at your disposal will reveal the processes and workflow in greatest need of improvement. Since 85% of what your customers experience is process-driven, you will undoubtedly discover what your high-priority changes are. This doesn’t require a specialist and sophisticated training. It requires business discipline. Ignoring these facts and conducting business as usual starts to look a lot like benign neglect of the facts and your bottom-line.

Start Now

Have the courage and the discipline to gather this and other basic business data and dedicate the time and human resources to manage your own improvement. Workflow and business process improvement are not luxuries. They are practices you cannot afford not to indulge in.


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