Innovation Through Streamlining: Lessons Learned from a High Flyer
If you want to discover how streamlining can make your business more profitable and competitive, take a picture of the JetBlue story.
JetBlue was only three years old when it posted a 2003 profit of $17.6 million — the same year its competitors announced losses of $2 billion. Many of its competitors were on the brink of bankruptcy. JetBlue still enjoys year-over-year revenue growth, capacity growth, and stronger off-peak revenue performance.
The airline’s secret? Streamlining.
JetBlue discovered early on the power of value-focused customer collaboration and innovation. It eliminated frills and cracked down on wasteful expenses. The airline found ways to reduce food costs, create more point-to-point flights, and still lead the industry in quick aircraft turnarounds. Amid its fanatical attention to reducing costs, JetBlue managed to provide more amenities than other airlines, such as personal televisions for every flyer and comfortable leather seats.
Where did it find the money for such customer luxuries and still make a profit? From the money it saved by reducing costs through process improvements. That’s streamlining.
Point to remember: The financial resources for launching innovative products and services to delight your customers are very likely hiding in what it’s costing you to run the business.
Your Long-Term Success
More than 1,400 CIOs surveyed revealed that improving business processes was their number one concern. Like you, these are the guys who manage the information and technology of their companies. They know what streamlining does for the business — and for the business’ bottom line. The success of a solid streamlining initiative leads to the next one, and soon the process of improving processes becomes a high-value business activity. You will reap prodigious savings by finding the costs that are locked inside flabby business processes. Can that task be performed in five steps rather than ten? Can you reduce the number of support calls, or the time it takes to resolve a support problem by 25%, or both? And how many times have you discovered your staff doing unnecessary work because “we’ve always done it that way”?
If you’re like most business owners, you’re nodding your head right now. Your effectiveness at improving processes is the difference between long-term business success and failure. Many businesses never challenge themselves to go beyond small, incremental improvements. That spells opportunity for intelligent business owners who can turn proactive streamlining into a significant competitive advantage.
If you are ready to take on the streamlining challenge — if you want your business to enjoy the sort of success JetBlue created — your next mission is clear: You must identify the low- or no-value activities and out-and-out inefficiencies that are keeping your costs up and locking away profits that could otherwise fuel your innovation and growth.
The Measure of Streamlining Success
The simplest measure of streamlining success is to look at the people engaged with your business. If someone peered into your business now, would they see dissatisfied customers and high employee turnover? Or would they smile at a customer-oriented, lean, well-organized team following clearly articulated plans, policies, and procedures?
Yes, making your processes more effective is work. Yet the truth is that running a business with sloppy processes is much more work and risky too, like trying to paddle a leaky boat to shore in shark-infested waters: You could spend more time bailing than rowing, and still be on the lunch menu.
Don’t let your competitors eat your business for lunch.
Too many WISPs waste hundreds of hours a year manually invoicing, tracking, and chasing subscriber payments, managing their access, and hunting down subscribers who fell through the cracks. This is a common waste of resources that steals your profits and strangles opportunities to innovate greater value for your subscribers.
In the world of streamlining, even seemingly trivial things like wasted mouse motion, clicks, and keystrokes add up to substantial hidden costs over time. Don’t believe it? Do some time trial studies and you’ll be astonished at how much money goes down the drain every year. It’s one thing if these were impossible to avoid, but these are some of the easiest to cure with the right tools.
Another opportunity for streamlining occurs in the area of failed installs. Failed installs waste fuel, installer time, and the staff time required to support the install. What could you do to minimize the number of failed installs? Hint: Check your processes. The vast majority of installs fail due to sloppy planning and execution. That’s how JetBlue increased the number of flights per day per aircraft. The same principles apply to your business.
Then there is the long-term cost of server maintenance and replacement. How much of your most expensive staff’s time is wasted maintaining servers that depreciated before you got them installed? Servers require attention from your highest-paid people, and all hell can break loose when they fail. Server management is high-cost, low-ROI liability that robs you of opportunities to innovate new value for your number one asset: your subscribers.
Taking Your Business to the Next Level
Streamlining provides the leverage you need to take your business to the next level. It focuses you on generating sustainable profits through increased revenue and subscriber satisfaction. It is green and sustainable, getting more done with fewer resources. Beyond the efficiencies and cost savings however, lies the most important strategic advantage you’ll get through streamlining. It is the defining characteristic of a business designed to deliver excellence over the long haul at a good price.
Streamlining eliminates steps, whole processes and even entire servers and their overhead. Your staff becomes more effective as it reduces errors and rework. An effective staff is a happy staff, and happy employees are productive employees. In a well-streamlined company, processes are so effective that even a non-technical trainee can sit down and in minutes be successfully managing subscribers.
That’s what streamlining will do for your business. You will have the freedom to take control of your business and focus on growth strategies that will sustain you in the coming years.
What You Can Do Today to Start Streamlining Your Business
- Pick a process in your business that’s particularly troublesome and though it may seem self-evident, clearly articulate the objective of the process.
- Get specifically those staff involved who are knowledgeable or impacted by the process and ask the magic question, “What would a perfect process look like? What end results will our subscribers see as a result of a streamlined process?” Be rigorous and specific.
- Then identify each step of the new process and the change in your company required to implement the steps, and as you go ask, “How can this step be eliminated or improved?”
- Validate the results of your streamlined process with a few select customers.
- Document the process, and create simple one-sheet job aids that serve both as training pieces and as on-the-job checklists.
Create “impact teams” in your company for areas such as installs, billing, customer service, etc. Then devote an hour a week meeting to identify improvement opportunities. Commit to make at least one improvement each week for that impact area, and before you know it, at the end of the year, you’ve had 52 incremental, continuous improvement events for each key area of your company.