I usually see manufacturers focus on reducing the cycle time of the manufacturing process to improve production output. Reducing the cycle time of a business process can have tremendous value as well. For example, onboarding a new supplier can improve the bottom line and responding to a customer complaint can improve customer relationships. Eliminating waste in either of these examples is a good thing. Did you know that software applications can help speed up business process that are transactional in nature, in the same way that lean methodology does for production?
Here are some software features that help remove waste in a process:
1) Notifications: Implement notifications to communicate who owns the next action. Notifications can occur via email or some applications will allow text messaging. I tend to check my email hourly, where as a text message will trigger a response from me right away. Talk about time saved!
2) My Open Workflows: Many software applications are based on workflow or a digital version of a process. For workflow based software applications, look for a "My Open Workflows" feature. While email is great for notification that action is needed, it isn't always the most opportunistic time. With a "My Open Workflow" feature, reviewing your todo list becomes easy.
3) Aging reports: prevent stalled work by monitoring the aging of projects by person. Be careful not to compromise quality work for cycle time. I find that most of the time people tend to be distracted by fires and just need a friendly nudge to move the work forward.
4) Commenting: It's amazing how much time is spent researching conversations in email. I find myself doing this constantly. For those people who have a system to organize email, this may not be as helpful. I am not one of those people. With in-record commenting, the conversation can be driven to a single source of truth. Rather than saving an important conversation about a project in email, use the application. It makes it much faster to refer back to and everyone stays aligned.
5) Action items: for standard work, there are workflows. For risk mitigation and unexpected events, there are actions. Action items in an application provide a mechanism to document any unexpected things to do and hold people accountable to complete them. An action item feature must at minimum, have an owner, an action description and a due date.
6) Reminders and escalations: Some processes, such as new product development, take a long time. A person may not have an action due for a while and is not in the software application regularly. For these cases, reminder notifications of an upcoming due date is effective. Escalations are a similar form of reminder, but also copy the individual's manager. These can be effective, as long as the escalation is an exception event. Overburdening managers with open actions will likely result no action to improving cycle time.
7) Export to Excel: many operations people are metric oriented and the fastest way to speed up a process is to measure it. A quick approach to a new metric is to build it in a spreadsheet. Having the ability to dump data into Excel to create metrics is a great feature to look for in a software application.
At Leverage4Data, we build our applications with these features in mind, understanding first hand the need to eliminate waste in business processes.