One of the most significant issues for a growing business after Sales is Scaled Workflow. It is also one of the most misunderstood.
Indeed, the idea of Sales is easy – get out there and get new customers or clients. Similarly, the idea of Production is easy – make things, and then make more of them. Most often, a growing business has already become quite good at both Sales and Production, that's what earns the reward of growth and profit.
So what's the problem? Just keep doing more Sales and Production right? How hard can it be?
After a point, quite hard. Humans are the lifeblood of any business but humans are not good at repetitive and intricate data intensive tasks. Yet this is precisely what growing operations try to keep doing – push their resource labour model in a line. But it doesn't work.
Your 10 person team is handling an inventory database of 400 skus manually between your onsite database and your ecommerce system for content, fulfillment, marketing, shipping and so on. Orders come in, product goes out, new inventory comes in and available quantities fluctuate, your staff can just about manage to keep up. Their human eyes watch, match and translate between systems and would take between 5 and 10 mins per sku to update, slightly longer to add from scratch.
Managing a modest sales and new inventory rate of 20 skus per day, that's 100 mins per day. Tolerable for a single staffer to handle. Now what happens when you do a big push on sales? You start selling 40 items instead of 20, and you need more inventory (another 40 incoming sku changes); you're now at 80 skus changes per day.
Now that's 400 mins per day. It's grown 4 times over for only twice the sales. That staffer now has a much bigger day already and likely won't be able to keep up. Add to this that human inefficiencies grow when you push these limits.
What happens when you want to expand your offering to 1,000 skus? To 10,000? How about 50,000? And how about selling the same inventory in real time through eBay, or Amazon? It can all be done. Just ask us how.
Your business is growing, you're feeling the pinch of a stressed workday and the team is unable to keep up. Things aren't being completed and mistakes are being made – that is a sign of your human staff losing focus due to fatigue.
Are you calling on your staff to work overtime repeatedly? While those hours usually cost more, the toll on stress costs even more. Extended psychological exertion and workload intensity are just two of a number of fatigue factors pushing human error.
Does your team have what they need to make decisions at their fingertips? Having the appropriate screens, dashboards and compiled Key Performance Indicators laid out for easy interpretation is crucial for quick decisions. If your team is relaying on drilling down into stored spreadsheets or legacy systems they may be burning out and making mistakes while searching where their information could be made available to them.
How does your process monitor accuracy? Does it rely on each staff member to self-validate information passing through? Are approvals, budgets, account changes, order fulfillment decisions being left to a human to decide if it's correct or not? While there is often call for a Human Reliability Assessment, such a situation also draws attention to Workflow Process Analysis. When is is reasonable to expect accurate validation assessments at high speed and detail from a human versus a system? How can a system either make a complete decision or draw attention to suspect system values or states?