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Take the Time for a Spring Systems Check

Industrial engineers (IEs) evaluate and improve processes, systems and organizations. They look at time and cost and seek value in every activity. This field was the perfect fi t for me. Many of my colleagues joke that I get way too excited about saving a few seconds on a daily process. I’m weird, and love it! Oddly enough, I only spent a year as an IE before moving into product management.

Though not every entrepreneur has an industrial engineering degree, just about every entrepreneur I’ve met has an IE mindset. I like to think of it as a buried switch that entrepreneurs can turn on at any moment to uncover new effi ciencies allowing the business to go faster. Springtime is the perfect time to turn that switch on. 

Before I run a spring systems check, I first take the time to evaluate and document. IEs document every process and use advanced tools like IDEF0 modeling to describe manufacturing functions. Entrepreneurs and business teams create pipeline fl ows, or engineering product development processes. 

I like to start with a blank whiteboard and resketch our processes for business and engineering activities, and then compare it with our documents from the previous year. It helps to identify activities or decisions that may not have been documented. Starting from scratch also allows my management team to chime in, and the conversation is sometimes more valuable than the documented results.

Once our system is up on the whiteboard, we look for:  

  1. Repetitive processes: This is the easiest to improve. Look for the things that you do all the time. Find better systems to lower the cost. Find time to handle the increase in volume. This includes everything from creating templates for your reports to switching to a printer that produces more pages per minute. You’d be surprised to find out how much standing by a printer costs the company over the course of a few years. 

  2. Redundant systems: It’s amazing that even in a small company, redundancy exists. Be open to asking the question, “Hypothetically, what would happen if we stopped doing this process or action?” It may feel very uncomfortable, so look for objective cost/risk ratios for deleting processes. At my company, we removed all email for one-to-one communication. We switched over to Slack for internal communications and haven’t looked back.  

  3. Work that doesn’t add value: Start with your recurring meetings. Don’t set them in perpetuity. Only schedule them for six or 12 months. Make sure to rename the last meeting as a reminder that it’s the last one scheduled. It’s really easy to fill up a workday with meetings that made sense earlier in a project, or before you hired a person to help with a specific task. That was then, this is now. Go through every recurring meeting or process and ask the stakeholders what the output is and why it’s valuable.

Spending too much time on business processes can kill morale and threaten any team in a small company. It’s a switch. It should either be on or off . Whether it’s an hour or a week, set a timer on your spring systems check. Make the changes quickly, and then get back to growing your business. 

Jake Sigal