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

It is a concept that I think should be applied to business operations.

When many managers review operational performance, their focus is generally on efficiency rather than effectiveness under pressure. As a result their operations are designed for average, not peak levels of demand, and they struggle to cope with busier periods.

Last year, for example, I helped a US hotel chain improve its valet parking service. Their approach worked fine in normal conditions but fell apart as demand peaked.  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.

While the solutions were relatively straightforward to develop and implement, the critical issue was to give the situation sufficient management attention. Whether you run an internal team or are directly responsible for customer service delivery, there are three key factors for you to consider, each of which you can leverage to increase the breaking point of your operations.

  1. What are your performance standards?

    High performance standards will usually lead to improvements in operational breaking points, by bringing greater management focus to the process. For example, while The Post Office, appears satisfied to operate with long queues at its counters, Tesco has a policy of opening a new till whenever there is more than one customer in a queue. This higher performance standard has driven Tesco’s managers to find new ways to increase the numbers of customers they can efficiently get through the checkouts at peak times. How well do your performance standards meet the needs of your customers and how do they compare to those of your competitors’?

  2. What’s your physical capacity?

    The size and number of operating units determine your physical capacity. Using the previous example, the physical capacity is driven by the number of till points and the staff available. At a call centre, it is the number of agents. The greater the capacity, the higher the breaking point. To what extent do you have sufficient physical capacity to cope with peak demand?

  3. How quick are you?

    Organisations with faster operations have a higher breaking point than similar, but slower businesses. Domino’s Pizza has built its business on a promise to deliver pizzas within 30-minutes, even at peak business times. To what extent are your processes faster than your competitors, and how are you leveraging them?

Where are your operations most under pressure? And which of these three perspectives – performance standards, capacity and speed – could help you to increase the breaking point of your business?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.