When Boeing and other aeroplane manufacturers are developing new aircraft they test them literally to destruction. This ensures that the planes will still operate effectively in the most extreme situations.

It is a concept that I think should be applied to business operations. Too often the service to customers is designed for average, not peak levels of demand. Consequently, as demand increases from a steady breeze to a Force 8 or 9, never mind a full-blown hurricane, these businesses become unable to cope.

Last year, for example, I did some work with the valet parking service of a US hotel chain. Their approach worked fine in normal conditions but fell apart during their peak trade hours.

Between 12 and 2pm, cars started backing up down the driveway, guests were left waiting in line for their cars to be returned, and both customers and the valet team alike felt frustrated, rushed and hassled.

A few simple process and accountability changes quickly overcame the worst of these problems, but I am currently on holiday in Greece and am seeing similar symptoms.

One of the resort’s key selling points is the availability of dinghies and windsurf boards for use by the guests. The trouble is that, because of “unusually” high demand, too few of them are available when required.

The hotel is geared up for ‘average’ not ‘peak’ demand. But in ‘peak’ season people pay ‘peak’ prices and expect ‘peak’ service. So, unsurprisingly, similar feelings of frustration and general hassle are everywhere.

As the upturn continues to gather pace over the coming months it Is likely that your operations, which may currently enjoy some spare capacity, will be put under increasing pressure.

Take a tip from Boeing. Now is the time to test your operations to breaking point and to find new ways to help your teams and your systems work more effectively and efficiently in high-demand conditions.

© Stuart Cross 2009. All rights reserved.