There is a belief that process improvement is reserved only for large manufacturing companies. This is because large companies often have big problems, and solving them can be critical.
However, the benefits that this type of project can bring to small and medium-sized companies are numerous:
Low costs: Improving processes in their incubation stage is much cheaper than doing it once the company has already scaled.
Simpler processes: When processes are in the development stage, they usually go through fewer internal bureaucracies and standardized steps. While this can be messy, it’s a good time to question ways of doing things and rethink what the best process is.
Greater involvement: One of the biggest challenges in transformation and improvement projects is to achieve people’s adherence to the project. In small and medium-sized companies it is easier to get people on board since everyone –or almost everyone– knows each other and, moreover, the management is more visible and accessible.
In this article, we will share the case of an improvement project for a real estate agency in Uruguay that managed to increase its turnover by 70% compared to the previous year in just two months.
In 2021, the real estate agency in question called us with a very clear objective. They needed to grow. But something – they didn’t quite know what – was holding back their growth.
The management team of the company had two extremely positive qualities that would help the project:
strong customer orientation
But the desired growth had come across current difficulties, and furthermore, presented many potential and future challenges. And much of these challenges had to do with their processes.
Through a quick diagnosis, we identified that the evolution of some of those processes, such as Acquisition, Real Estate Sales, and Incentives – especially with regard to registration, communication, training, and control – could facilitate growth with lesser risk.
In order to focus the project, and with an eye on achieving quick wins – small improvements with great impact – we proposed to improve one critical process: customer acquisition.
Keys for success
Our work proposal was based on four key elements, which we considered critical to the success of the project:
Management support: There is no possible change if managers are not convinced of the need for change. In this case, we must highlight the strong commitment of management, the humility to listen and adopt suggestions, and the great corporate leadership at all stages.
Change Management: Involving people, understanding resistance, and identifying the agents of change, enabled and accelerated the transformation.
Visual systems: The implementation of visual systems helped track the progress toward the goals and allowed us to make corrections along the way.
Agile cycles: Working in cycles allowed us to implement small improvements in a short time and to learn and improve processes with agility.
In order to outline the project and make it more manageable, we divided it into the five stages below.
Stage 1: Evaluation
The kick-off of the project occurred in a meeting in which the Directors and main referents participated. In this highly productive working session, we proposed to carry out an evaluation and reflect on the current state of maturity of the company in relation to processes.
Additionally, we established agreements regarding the priorities to be addressed and went over the basic issues of the processes.
Stage 2: Work plan
The planning stage focused on designing a work plan that would minimize all kinds of resistance.
In our second work session with managers and referents, we addressed the following points:
searched for the root causes of problems
developed an agile improvement plan aligned with the strategic objectives, agility criteria, and best practices.
Stage 3: Execution
After analyzing the needs of the different stakeholders, we defined a work team who would be responsible for the execution of the project.
This team would carry out the following steps:
collect process performance data
work on process mapping and identify opportunities for improvement and standardization
validate the solution with data
Stage 4: Learning
A lot of projects fail because developers forget to learn along the way. At Molteni Consulting we are convinced that understanding what worked and what we need to fix before deployment is a critical step in any project.
At this point we questioned the following:
Did we achieve the objectives?
What worked as planned and why?
What didn’t work as planned and why?
What should we change for the deployment of the methodology?
Stage 5: Deployment
The last stage of the project consisted in planning the subsequent deployment in order to extend the standardization and improvement methodology to other processes.
Standardizing the improvements and making them part of the day-to-day of the organization is essential to achieve the sustainability of the results.
Results of the project
As part of the project, the team prepared an agent´s handbook – a guide on how all the company’s agents should work. The objective of this documentation was to standardize the service and the ways of working.
The handbook included the step by step of processes and answered questions such as:
When should I contact a client once I receive his or her details?
When should I propose a visit to a property? How do I prepare for it?
When should I submit an appraisal?
What documentation should I have the client sign? When?
How often do I have to submit reports?
If I don’t have favorable results, when should I review the price?
What to do when I receive an offer? What are the deadlines for submitting the offer, responding, and contacting the notary public?
How is the after-sales process?
In addition, we defined standard documents that all agents were requested to prepare, such as a pre-recruitment file. To simplify the creation of these documents, the team developed models for appraisal and weekly reports.
The adoption of a standardized customer acquisition process showed visible results in less than two months.
Among the most outstanding, we could see:
80% improvement in immediate contact
70% pre-capture in 48 hours
90% less time to submit appraisals
As a result, the business benefited from a 70% increase in turnover compared to the previous year.
Addressing improvement projects at the process development stage – just before scaling – can be highly beneficial for SMEs. In addition to having lower costs and being simpler, it is easier to involve and mobilize people at this point.
The first key to succeed in this kind of project is having a fully-committed directory, and making this team part of the problem definition and the search for solutions. People at the top need to be the ones who drive the change and share their vision of the transformation with everyone.
Secondly, it is essential to approach the project in stages. Working in agile improvement cycles (or sprints) will allow us to see quick results – quick wins that will show that change is possible and worthwhile.
Author: Carlos Lucena