Five process excellence areas to focus on in a Covid-19 world

How PEX professionals can help organizations navigate Covid-19 and ensure success in a post-pandemic world

The last few months have changed our lives with large numbers of people working from home under lockdown and many scared to go outside in countries that have opened back up.

Companies are facing huge challenges to navigate the impact of the pandemic, with CEOs and business owners concerned about an unpredictable future and muted economic recovery. There are issues ­that need to be addressed ranging from slow demand and increased competitiveness to morphed consumer behavior and labor and raw materials shortages.

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva has warned the world that a full recovery may not be possible in 2021. Clearly, many businesses worldwide will be impacted and will struggle to survive the pandemic. CEOs and business owners will have to rethink the way they have been operating and reinvent their business models. Many of them will have to take a multi-pronged approach to outmaneuver an uncertain future.

The pandemic has provided a lifetime of opportunity for process excellence professionals to directly impact their business by working with the CEO and top management to get their business up the curve of performance. There is a sense of urgency, there is a business need and there are problems to solve; rarely are there occasions when everything seems to be favoring PEX professionals as it is today.

This article explores five areas where process improvement professionals can contribute.

1. Digitization as a business imperative

Digitization has been on the agenda of many companies for the last few years. There are those who have completed their transformations, while it is still a work in progress for others. Some have yet to begin their digital journey.

Those that have been up the curve of their digital transformation journey found it easier to run their operations and deliver to customers stuck at home. For example, due to digitization, Cairn’s plant in India continued its operations despite a substantially low turnout of people during the lockdown. Clearly, whether to digitize or not is no longer a matter of choice for companies – it is a business imperative.

Digitization efforts will be underway for a myriad of objectives such as workforce efficiency; customer experience improvements; operating the value chain despite disruptions; allowing remote working; process automation; workplace simplification; contactless delivery and operations; embedding competitiveness; and operational performance improvements.

The fact that digitization will receive more attention is echoed in a survey conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs which found that three of four survey respondents planned to accelerate technological transformation at their companies by adopting technology solutions that include robotic process automation (RPA).

Irrespective of their digitization efforts, process excellence professionals will have a role to play in a Covid-19 world. They will not only define the future state of processes, but will have to revisit the existing ones to understand what needs to be changed. They will have to ensure the processes are waste-free and look at issues around data models, operating model, organizational structures and skills. Most importantly, they will also be a catalyst of change management in this journey.

2. Optimizing for efficiency

As economies try to limp back to normal, businesses are gasping for survival. For many of them, both top-line and bottom-line are majorly stressed, and PEX professionals have an opportunity to work on process improvements that directly impact the financial performance of the company.

The areas that will receive attention are supply chain optimization; improving cash flow and working capital efficiency; customer self-service; smart sourcing; process automation; spans and layers; implementation of shared services; and improving inventory management and many more.

Each of these areas will need PEX professionals to play an active role to accomplish the objectives of the business. The focus will be on projects that deliver hard savings rather than ones which deliver soft savings. Knowledge of Lean, Six Sigma and automation will come in handy here.

3. Strengthening customer service

While companies focus on costs, they also have to make sure customer experience does not suffer. During this pandemic, where everything is uncertain around the globe, customers may be more patient if a company misses on promises of delivering on time for example. What they will not forgive, however, is a lack of empathy and care.

Customers will also expect companies to tweak the way they serve the needs of the pandemic such as contactless delivery and enhanced safety. PEX professionals will have to work with their customer experience teams to redesign customer journeys and make them more relevant to the customers’ context.

4. Contributing to new business models

The pandemic may require business models to be revisited, either by tweaking an existing model, undergoing major changes to an existing model or creating a completely new business model.

Whatever the approach taken, PEX professionals will contribute to designing new business models by declaring war on processes, practices, policies and behaviors that are no longer relevant to their companies. They will be designing new processes and value propositions that matter in these Covid-19 times.

5. Embedding new ways of working

Surviving the pandemic will require companies to build new ways of working that will help navigate the pandemic, together with top management and human resources; PEX professionals will need to hardwire new ways of working that embed behaviors, and drive speed and execution. They will have to specifically work to uproot mindsets that impeded change and work with those who may lack the sense of urgency to do things differently.