Transactional Office Lean Process Improvement
Transactional processes are an integral part of every business – manufacturing, sales, service, medical. They are everywhere around us. So why would they not be a major part of any Continuous Improvement program?
By definition, a process is a collection of activities with an output of value to a customer, whether internal or external. In the manufacturing world, it’s easy to see process flow. We start out with a raw part and then shape it by removing and adding material, finally assembling and packaging it into a finished product that has a purpose. Read more to understand more about Office Lean processes.
Understanding Office Lean processes
However, a transactional process is what many people think of as a service-type process. We define transactional processes as ANY non-manufacturing process. Typically they aren’t used in making things; they are used in processing information that someone else needs. We tend to call the idea of transactional process improvement as “Office Lean”.
Some common Office Lean processes include lead generation, service or warranty processing, sales processes, shipping/receiving, product development, equipment repair, budgeting and approvals (i.e. capital expenditure), and generating and placing purchase orders.
Here is a table of common processes typically seen in different industries
|Any company including warehouse and logistics
|Checking creditListing a propertyRunning adsHost open house
|Ordering ReturnsStaff schedulingMaking the deposit
|SchedulingBillingOrdering supplies Processing labs
All processes have common steps. First, a trigger to initiate action, then a series of steps, ending in an outcome or result. Some examples of a trigger include when a patient calls and requests an appointment, when a customer requests a quote, or when a buyer contacts a real estate agent. The outcome or result is called an output. Some successful outputs include an appointment scheduled, a quote delivered to a customer on time, or compiling a list of suitable properties for a buyer.
Everything else that occurs between the trigger and the output is considered the process. Each process step can be broken down into sub-steps until we eventually get to the keystroke level.
The diagram below illustrates this for setting an appointment.
Each process step can be drilled down to finally get to the decision and keystroke level.
Why Things Change
When you look at processes this way, a manufacturing process is no different than a scheduling process. They both have a defined procedure and various inputs that go into a process to complete it successfully and achieve the desired output.
Or, there should be a defined procedure. And, everyone involved should understand the process and their role in it. In reality, processes are fluid and people don't always keep up with the process.. Processes are always changing, based on different factors such as business need (new approval levels), government regulations (new disclosure statements), and the skill level of the people who work in the process.
Processes change for many reasons. However, when a process changes, usually to resolve an immediate issue, without any thorough examination of it as a whole, a new step is added or taken away. In reaction, something else may change. For instance, in one instance, documents were being scanned to a local network. A change was made to scan and save in cloud storage for easier access. A result of that simple change was that a whole lot of document links in a variety of systems had to be changed.
Many process changes require some other adjustment for the process to flow smoothly. Over long periods of time, the result is what I call a “Franken-Process”; a cumbersome collection of steps that no longer make sense when viewed as a whole.
Case Study in Order Entry
In one office I visited I watched someone enter a sales order. She printed out a hard copy on the printer. Then she went to the copier and proceeded to copy that order onto a piece of blue paper, green paper, pink paper, and a piece of canary yellow paper. She then took each one of those copies and put them into people’s mailboxes. Blue for sales, green for shipping, pink for QC, and yellow for the general manager. Finally, she filed the original paper in a filing cabinet.
The process diagram looked like this:
I timed her and it took around 4 minutes to do all of that. I asked her why she was doing those steps. She replied, “That is the way the previous office manager trained me.” Obviously the colors were from the days when multi-part forms were in common use. After talking to everyone involved, we agreed that the colored paper wasn’t necessary and that filing a hard copy of the original was a waste since nobody ever checked the paper file; they would just search the system if any questions arose.
The redesigned process looked like this:
This change saved her about 2.5 minutes per order entered. She did not have to go to the copier at all so the changing of paper colors was eliminated. It doesn’t sound like much of a change or much of a savings until you realize that she entered about 25 orders per day. The time savings from the new process came to over an hour a day! Plus the savings in paper and copying costs was substantial as well.
After this change was implemented, we asked the recipients of the copies if they really needed the paper copies. Everyone responded that they “…like seeing what orders are coming through”. After more discussion they agreed that the same information could be obtained from reviewing a daily order summary. As it turns out, by viewing a daily summary they were able to see trends in orders they couldn’t see by viewing each order individually!
In eliminating the printing and distributing of all the individual order copies, and replacing them with one order summary per person, per day, we saved another 30 minutes per day. The next improvement will be for people to run their own order summaries in the system so no paper needs to be printed or distributed unless absolutely necessary; yet another savings to look forward to.
Of course, this type of process improvement change requires the input of everyone involved. When I asked the woman why she had continued to follow an obviously inefficient process, she said “I knew it was a waste of my time but I couldn’t just change things around on my own.” This is really common. Many times people know what should change but feel they can’t change the way other people seem to want things.
Everyone who touches a process needs to recognize that there are improvement opportunities and then make minor changes (like giving up colored paper) to reap the benefits. The way to get the benefits is to gather the process players together and examine what they need and why. Then you’re halfway toward making substantial improvements in the process.
The example above seems fairly simple. However, every office I have seen has their own unique issues. Many times changes do seem obvious once pointed out, however we tend to focus on the things that aren’t working, not the things that do work, even if people in the process are struggling to keep things moving. The path to improvement has a lot of common sense along the way - but there is a process to understanding and implementing changes that make work.
The case study above is pretty typical. We can sometimes see huge savings from examining and revising transactional processes - we call them home runs. But, any baseball fan will tell you that base hits win ballgames. Look at your organization’s transactional processes with new eyes. You will no doubt find opportunities which when addressed will score runs for your team!
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