I have encountered multiple scenarios in my career where upper management was under the impression that putting in fancy new systems and technology would dramatically boost productivity and the quickness in which a new system is implemented is critical to an organization’s success. As such, they put pressure on subordinates to get the new system in place in a very short timeframe.
While it’s true that an outdated system can hold productivity back, it is most critical to verify that the process is optimized first. To clarify, the process followed to complete operations will dictate how a system (series of tools, procedures, flow of information) will facilitate the process. A good system will not improve a bad process, but a good process doesn’t necessarily require a good system.
We can look at this prioritization of process versus system in many ways, but here are a couple I’ll highlight. First, take the two distinct entities (the process and the system) and independently bolster one at a time. What results?
Bolster the process (streamline activities and reduce waste activities) while keeping the system, and you will get significant productivity improvements. If the system breaks down, you still have a strong process (but maybe some more manual work is required until the system is back up).
Bolster the system (upgrade to greater capabilities, make the value-adding activities even faster) while ignoring the process and you will likely see marginal productivity improvements. If the system breaks down, you’re still stuck with a shoddy process.
It’s kinda like taking the steel hammer from the carpenter and giving him a gold-plated hammer. It’s more expensive, but are you more productive and hammering more nails?
And second, yet another metaphor. Improving the fancy system while ignoring the process is like having a 12-year-old behind the wheel of a Subaru and then moving him behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. He has no idea how to drive either one, and all those advanced capabilities in the Lamborghini won’t make a lick of difference.
So when it comes time to implement improvements, focus on the process first. This will show you what capabilities the process would require the system to have in place.