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Shoestring Process Improvement — Don't Stop Because Times Are Tough

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It's natural for anyone cutting expenses to ask, "Is this expenditure on improvement necessary?" In the short term, sometimes we do need to stop spending and let things settle down a little. But extended short-term thinking can hurt us for months and years to come.
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It's natural for anyone cutting expenses to ask, "Is this expenditure on improvement necessary?" In the short term, sometimes we do need to stop spending and let things settle down a little. But extended short-term thinking can hurt us for months and years to come.

If you have begun some improvements (such as better estimation, peer reviews or risk management), sometimes you will experience reduced productivity or increased expense (while you practice the new skill), with the anticipation of significant future savings. Let's take software inspection (peer reviews) for example. If you have started to inspect your code and docu-ments, the defects you find will save you money and reduce rework — all contributing to a healthier bottom line. But often the first common reaction during difficult times is to cut out inspections to "save time".

Learning how to get better requirements would be another example. Getting good requirements takes time, but the information gained can tell you which features to focus on and which features to eliminate.

When adversity hits, you can and should examine everything you are doing. Is there a cheaper, yet reasonably effective way to do it? Perhaps you could use fewer reviewers in the review meeting, or test the software differently. Can you do it with fewer resources? Perhaps you could have two people working on that design or get by with one less machine. Can you reduce the frequency? For example, meet once a week instead of every day. Can you combine some activities? For example, combine a periodic status review with a milestone review. Can this improvement wait a few weeks? (If it requires significant training or deployment, maybe next quarter would be a wiser time frame.)

Perhaps you can focus on only fixing the most pressing problems. Maybe you can streamline meetings by using a strong moderator and halve the time you usually take. You could also eliminate altogether the cause of some of the meetings.

Good process improvement balances the current business needs with ensuring long-term company viability. When times are tough, you need to re-evaluate how to spend your time and what needs to be improved. The last thing you want to do is cut out the very things that are going to allow your company to survive.

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