At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to address something that is common with businesses of all sizes, types and industries. Chasing the shiny new project, product or service is exciting. In fact, it can reinvigorate your team, and build momentum for continued progress.
Clearing the deck for progress, doesn’t just mean establishing tasks, deadlines, milestones and holding team members accountable, it should include a careful audit of all the processes, tasks, and routines that your team is doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Further, once the audit is complete, it will be very easy to update periodically to ensure peak efficiency. Many would categorize this as a LEAN Management principle, specifically the “Sort” part of the Kaizen Framework – separating what is needed and what is not needed.
The great thing is that a redundancy audit can be applied to all functions in an organization, and for transportation it can be extended to the driver’s seat. There are non-value adding tasks being done everyday, and for those that want to profit more with the same overhead – this is a crucial step.
Step 1 – Make a List
Have your staff list all the tasks that they do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Ask the team to be specific as they can to best identify any unnecessary tasks and processes are being completed. Conversely, this may be an enlightening exercise – you may not be aware of all the important functions a team member performs each day, week and month. However, be aware that the person doing the work may “hide” some tasks, intentionally or unintentionally, especially if they involve something they enjoy doing, or that have a social aspect to them. These are areas where you may run into some resistance to your change efforts. Consider the use of internal auditors, but keep in mind that people will act differently when they are being observed.
Ensure that communications about the process are kept up and ensure that the audit is not done in a bubble. Ensure that people understand why this process is happening and get them to focus on what they will gain from it instead of what they will lose. Ask the staff for input as to which of their items that they feel are redundant. Solicit feedback as to why they feel these things are good candidates to be eliminated. At the same time, get their opinion on how they could improve on the tasks on their lists as they may be aware of ways to improve performance that are currently outside of accepted procedures. Reach out to your customers and see if there are any statements, reports, etc. that you are currently providing that they no longer need or that could be provided in an alternative format. As an example, have your sales staff ask their customers if they are willing to go to automated invoices, or if they really want to get monthly statements.
Step 2 – Meet as a group to review and prioritize
Use the concept of “would a customer pay for this” as a starting point. In addition, look for duplicated efforts in various parts of the organization – perhaps both accounting and operations are performing essentially the same task without knowing it. Pay special attention to the reports people are creating as these are easily duplicated or are candidates for automation. Maybe you have an underutilized customer web access portal that could eliminate some phone calls and generate customer value by letting them gain access to their information when they want it. Be aware that some low value tasks or processes may have regulatory reasons for doing them – either for you or your customer. These are items that you must ensure are not discontinued.
Begin with items that are being duplicated in different departments. Put those to the affected departments to find a way to do the same thing in a format that all can use (such as reports). Next look for items that provide no or minimal value that will have a low cost to eliminate. Lastly, any processes that will require major re-engineering or automation will require a full ROI and cost-benefit analysis before implementation.
The last step is to go back to the stakeholders and ensure that there is agreement on what the priorities are. Be prepared to put your sales hat on, as some departments or staff members will have a harder time seeing the need to change. Effort spent at this stage will get paid back easily during the elimination or implementation phase.
Step 3 – Eliminate
Focus on the low hanging fruit first – anything that just does not need to be performed or done in a different manner. Then move forward using Cost/Benefit as your guide. Be sure to re-evaluate as you progress – did you eliminate something that a customer requires? Be prepared to back track or re-evaluate how you implement the changes based on circumstances that will arise as you implement. Somewhere in the process you are going to eliminate a report that someone really uses but did not tell you in the investigation stage. Be ready to bring something back if this happens and understand that it could stay under the radar for a few months.
Step 4 – Repeat Quarterly
Keep in mind that situations, needs and regulations change constantly. What is necessary today can become obsolete tomorrow. Ensure that you take time every quarter to go back to this process and re-evaluate not only the progress but what else can be eliminated. The team will find that in a lot of cases they didn’t eliminate enough as people will start to ask: “do I really need this, or can I get the same result from something else”? If the answer is yes, then put that task or process back under the microscope. In some cases, it may take several iterations until you get that process right.
The first time through the process will be painful. There will be a lot of “that is how we have always done things” raised. People may resent or be fearful of the process as they will focus on what they could lose. Get some easy victories first, show people the value of the process and you will see people really get onboard. As you get into making this an ongoing process it will become a habit, and that is when you will really see a shift in the organization’s performance.