Copyright 1995 AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc.
Team members often wonder where they will find the time to meet, get
training, cross-train one another, etc. One way is to reengineer your work
process. For being a high-performance team implies that you find ways of
working smarter, not harder.
You don’t necessarily have to invest in expensive technologies to reengineer
your workplace. Here are the principles which should guide you to improve
quality, customer satisfaction, and productivity. Teams should seek to eliminate
or reduce these things. . .
When you bake cookies, it’s most efficient to prepare a whole batch before
you put them in the oven. There are two problems with such a batch process.
First, I must wait until a batch is ready, and second, I may not need a
whole batch. If you run a Mrs. Fields Cookies outlet, the ideal would be
to serve the customer the exact cookie he wanted, fresh out of the oven.
The ideal batch size is oneexactly what the customer wants when she
Batch processes show up in many places other than manufacturing. A clerk
may process a batch of applications until his in-basket is full. We teach
children in batches called classes. In small towns, the MRI machine may
only be available at a hospital on Tuesdays.
Find a way to reduce the batch size to one. If that is not possible,
try to reduce the size of the batches and complete them more frequently.
Mini-steel mills are an example, where they are able to produce steel in
much smaller batches in far smaller plants at far higher profits.
Hand-offs are passing the customer (or paper or product) from one person
to another. In Why TQM Fails and What to Do About It, we described how Northwest
Natural Gas improved their work process. When they analyzed how they handled
customer requests for new service, they discovered that the order passed
through three departments and eight pairs of hands. This wasted time and
increased opportunities for mistakes. They redesigned their work around
a single self-directed team, pulling individuals from the different departments.
Errors have been reduced by 70% and the average time to hook up a customer
dropped from three days to six hours.
A value-added step is something your customer cares about; a non value-added
step is one they don’t. List all the steps in a process on Post-It Notes
and then place them on a page with a line drawn down the middle, value-added
tasks on one side and non value-added on the other. If you’re typical, you’ll
find at least half your steps are non value-added. You may not be able to
eliminate all of them due to regulations and internal communications, but
if you’re really creative, you should be able to eliminate many of them.
For example, organizations used to think that invoicing was a necessary
step. However, with computers, that’s not necessarily so. Instead, you can
enter an order into a database. When the material arrives on the dock, that
information is also entered. If what was ordered matches the delivery, the
computer can automatically generate the check.
Rework is doing over what should have been done right the first time.
This goes beyond fixing such errors as retooling a product, correcting an
invoice, or retyping a letter. Many functions within a traditional organization
represent rework. Do you have a department which repairs your products,
makes collection calls, or answers customer questions and complaints? Do
you have managers signing off on other people’s signatures? These are also
forms of rework. The true cost of rework may be enormous when viewed from
One of our clients determined that lack of trust was causing rework.
They estimated that 25% of professionals’ time was spent redoing another’s
work because they did not trust it had been done correctly. Twenty-five
percent multiplied by the annual salary of their professional employees
represented millions of dollars. Who says trust is a “soft” issue?
In many businesses, speed is the biggest competitive advantage. Can you
bring your product to market faster than a competitor? Can I get a doctor’s
appointment today, not a week from now? Can you get me a job faster than
other agencies? In cases such as rebuilding the LA freeways, speed can mean
millions to the bottom line.
Inventories are one obvious form of waiting. Do you have a year’s supply
of paper in your store room? Do you print up 1500 sales brochures when just-in-time
printing techniques could provide just what you need? Not only are inventories
expensive, in today’s fast paced world, they are far more likely to become
outdated. Instead, establish just-in-time delivery contracts with your biggest
vendors. This will free up floor space as well.
Making your customers wait is the most damaging. One of my clients is
a non-profit agency which moves ex-offenders and other hard-to-place adults
into meaningful employment. Their work process, which includes assessing
their clients’ abilities, securing job-related training, and helping them
find work, was taking so long that the drop out rate was tremendous. Clients
had to wait to be assessed, wait to get into training, and wait to get enrolled
in the interviewing workshop. By reengineering their work process, we have
already cut the front-end steps (those they have control over) by two-thirds.
They will be able to handle more clients and their retention rate is already
Transportation is often another source of waste. Do you transport materials
from one part of your building to another? Is it a long walk to the copier?
Or worse, do you have to fill up a truck or bin before it can be transported
(a batch process on top of transportation)? Do you spend hours on planes
traveling to meetings when a teleconference would do? Why is the purchasing
department in a different building from the manufacturing floor, where most
of the orders emanate?
Don’t underestimate the impact of physical layout on productivity. Take
a schematic of your work area and draw a typical flow of work. If it looks
like a plate of spaghetti, untangle the mess. Put interdependent people
close together, preferably so they can see one another. And provide convenient
spaces for people to engage in serendipitous learning. A division of 3-M
has even placed white boards, coffee pots, and sofas near the rest rooms
to encourage such chance encounters.