By Daniel B. McLaughlin AUGUST 30, 2020 — 2:15PM

Q: My company has had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic. What areas can I look to in order to further improve my operations?

A: Operating a company during the pandemic has been challenging, and most organizations have had to make significant changes in their operations to succeed. Managers and line employees have had to innovate rapidly, and this creative energy now can be harnessed to make operational improvements that have been overlooked in the past. Here are three operations improvement tools that have shown significant gains in many organizations.

A basic tool is measuring the demand for services or products over time with precision. Once this is done, the delivery process should be adjusted to match capacity with this demand. Demand/capacity mismatches result in shortages, excess inventory or poor use of employees’ time.

A related tool is the identification and elimination of bottlenecks in processes. Bottlenecks can be found by examination. For example, are there too many partly finished parts piled up in a manufacturing process, is there a long wait time in a call center, or are there too many e-mails in the inbox of a sales representative? Bottlenecks can be eliminated by changing the process at the bottleneck (e.g., give the call-center worker the customer information online instead of asking the customer) or adding resources to the bottleneck (e.g., staff, equipment). Once a bottleneck is fixed, others will become apparent and eliminated. A slow and inefficient process can be significantly improved by identifying and fixing bottlenecks.

A simple and time-tested way to make operations changes is to use the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. Plan your change, do the change, check to make sure it is working, then act to embed the change in the workflow. Using multiple PDCA cycles on capacity/demand and bottleneck problems will yield substantial companywide improvements. Of course, change is hard, and my St. Thomas colleagues have provided in prior columns tools for establishing healthy cultures and leadership that can support operational change. However, now is the time to support the creative energy in your organization to make lasting operational improvements.

Daniel B. McLaughlin is a senior executive fellow at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

This article originally appeared in the Star Tribune. Used by kind permission of the Star Tribune.