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Jana Adkins: Using process management to increase efficiency

Posted: August 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

When building operation units at companies, a technique called “process management” is often employed.

Process management “scrutinizes the processes that a company goes through to perform certain tasks. The intention is to create a more efficient way of working, thereby saving time and money;” as defined by Webster’s New World Finance and Investment Dictionary.

I call it common sense, or logic.

A thorough review and systematic approach to creating a more efficient workplace is really not that hard. One simply needs to be observant and willing to question the effectiveness of steps and practices along the way.

Sometimes all that is required is a fresh set of eyes.

Some companies retain consultants, others hire only Six Sigma-certified employees to conduct reviews of their businesses workflows and create sophisticated standard operating procedures, or SOPs.

Patchwork quilts
A vice president of sales once asked me to review a multimillion-dollar inside sales unit because he was convinced there was additional revenue-generating opportunities to leverage.

After a review, which included sitting with and observing everyone in the department, as well an examination of all data, systems and procedures, I was able to identify more than 100 areas that would assist the sales team to increase revenue.

Some items were small and easy to fix, others were large and would require the intervention of the technology department.
But the most dramatic fact I uncovered when reviewing the sales operation, however, was that the inside sales team only spent 11 percent of its time actually on the phone generating sales.

While the performance of each sales member varied, for the most part, the majority of the salespeople were working. And they were working far harder than necessary to be productive because there were so many obstacles in the way of doing their jobs.

What did this mean? It translated to the fact that the business unit could have maintained the same amount of revenue with less overhead — fewer people; or better yet, has the opportunity to generate even greater revenues.

But processes had been built over several years with one procedure added to another like a patchwork quilt.

Ultimately, the general process required to create sales orders became counterintuitive to generating revenue.

Penny-wise, pound-foolish
Recently, I needed standard lab tests conducted for my annual physical.

The process in a place at a major lab clinic surprised me for its inefficiency and loss of potential revenue.

I checked in for my appointment with a very polite person at the front desk.

Nearly 20 minutes later, I was called into a lab room by the same person from the front desk.

Once I was seated, that front desk person then proceeded to set up a patient file. Lacking a diagnostic code from my doctor, the employee patiently called my doctor’s office for instructions.

I then expected the employee would leave and a lab technician would enter the room.

That didn’t happen.

The same person who checked me in at the reception desk and the same person who set up my patient file and called my doctor, was the same person who then drew my blood.

I asked the employee if the clinic was short of staff that day, or if the employees routinely multitasked. It turned out multitasking was the standard operating process.

Phlebotomists are trained to draw blood samples. They can spend several months to a year in school studying anatomy, legal aspects of blood collection, standard precautions and more in addition to learning blood collection techniques.
In all likelihood, a trained blood collector is paid more than a receptionist.

And in the amount of time required for the phlebotomist to check me in, set up my patient files, call my doctor and finally, actually take a blood sample — three to four patients could have been churned through the clinic.

And, more importantly for me, it would have saved me time. What should have been a five-to-10-minute appointment turned into a 40-minute visit.

I couldn’t help but think that the clinic could save payroll money by hiring entry-level employees at the reception desk, utilize the higher-paid technicians to see more patients and move more patients through the lab clinic each day.

Process management would improve the ability of this clinic to operate more efficiently, see more patients and generate more revenue.

But then, what seems obvious to me is often overlooked by others.


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