By Jason McQuillen, Founder and Head of Managed Legal Services at Radiant Law
Process optimisation is one of the most discussed and theorised business topics of the last century. Its ubiquity is testament to the impact that even seemingly small process changes can make to the bottom line of any business. Improved process leads to fewer defaults and delays, better use of resources, higher employee satisfaction and happier customers.
If you have the time and budget, a full Lean Six Sigma “Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control” programme is perhaps best for accurately diagnosing process issues and achieving sustainable improvements. On the other hand, if you just want to bank some quick wins, you can do so by cherry picking ideas from the main theories like Lean Six Sigma and, in many cases, deploying readily available (and affordable) technology to help you implement them.
Here are my top five tips for quick process wins:
1. Map the process
It’s an obvious one, but having a visual depiction of a process from end to end is very powerful in understanding how work actually gets done and identifying the handoffs and dependencies. There are various online mapping tools which allow you to easily create and collaborate on process maps. It’s also worth your while familiarising yourself with conventional symbols (for example, a diamond indicates a decision point).
2. Find the waste
You probably already have a pretty good idea of where your process is sub-optimal. Some of the tell-tale signs are excessive WIP (work-in-progress) or bottlenecks, frustrated employees or customers, and significant resourcing or cost challenges. I still find it useful to walk through the Lean Six Sigma waste categories and make sure I’m not missing any. In the context of creating or reviewing a document, these might include:
• Transport: excessive movement of the document (including by email)• Inventory: completing document parts ahead of time• Motion: searching for information to go in the document• Waiting: waiting for inputs and approvals• Over-production: too much volume and detail• Over-processing: too much double-checking and rework• Defects: using the wrong base document or unclear wording• Skills: using wrong level resource
3. Disaggregate and Eliminate
Analyse each task and consider whether it could be split into smaller pieces. For each piece, consider:
• Does this need to be done at all?• If so, can this be automated?• If not, could this be done by a more cost-effective resource?
As Drucker says: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
4. Control the Communication
For many professionals, email is the bane of their existence. As well as being a time thief, email (or perhaps more accurately, the way email is commonly used) is often to blame for information taking too long to retrieve or being lost altogether. There are a number of better collaborative messaging services which facilitate more efficient “one to many” conversations and allow discussions and information to be ordered in a more logical and accessible way than your individual email filing system (no offence!).
5. Feedback Loops
Things change quickly. Waiting for the periodic process audit or for something to go wrong means you are missing improvement opportunities. Implement a short feedback loop to allow you to course correct and update processes earlier in the piece. There are many employee and customer engagement survey tools available online to enable you to get quick, pointed feedback with little effort or cost.
One final thought is to be careful not to become the waste you are trying to eliminate. Per Drucker: “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” Put in place a system to continuously improve your processes and get out of the way!