“The validity of a well-planned process improvement project is identified through value-added process mapping, problem isolation, root cause analysis and problem solution. Ultimately, the key to refining processes is to concentrate on the process from the customer’s point of view and identify and eliminate non-value added activities.”
Whenever there is a new product or service being offered to customers, there is a new process and value stream. Value Streams include both non-value-added and value-added activities and are the actions required to create a product or service from raw material until it reaches the customer. Value Stream Maps are more detailed than process maps as they include details, such as, cycle time, changeover time, uptime, process activities, operator self-inspection notes and customer specifications.
To successfully integrate value stream mapping into product development you must first accurately gather, understand, and specify the value desired by the customer. Collect real time data of the actual pathways of material and information flow. You may have to conduct several walkthroughs, first to assess the entire value stream and then to gather more detailed information. The best course of action is to work backwards as this reduces the probability of missing an activity because it takes place more slowly, without jumps to conclusions of assuming you know what happens next.
It is wise to utilize a pencil, paper and stopwatch when creating a process map. Once you have completed the map, remove the waste. Let the requirements of the customer guide you in making value flow from the beginning to the end of the process. The three most critical KPIs in a value stream map are: cycle time, value creation time, and lead time.
Cycle time refers to the time it takes to complete the overall process. Value creation time is rarely equal to cycle time. It is the time it takes to complete those work activities that actually transform the product into what the customer wants. Lead time is the time it takes to move one piece, part, product or service all the way through the process. All this information should be captured on the value stream map. When the value stream is complete, it will help you identify wasteful activities and realize opportunities for improvement. After you have identified the areas that need improvement, create an improvement plan that clearly states what needs to be done and when, has clear and visual measurable goals and objectives, complete with checkpoints, deadlines, and clear responsibilities.
When planning a process improvement project the most important question you have to ask is, “What problem are we trying to solve?” This question relates directly to the first step in DMAIC ( a Lean Six Sigma problem solving tool), which is to define the problem. After you answer this question you are ready to outline the criteria for an effective process improvement plan. Projects are usually one time occurrences created to fulfill specific goals for the organization.
Essentially, Lean Six Sigma projects must have the following 3 critical characteristics to be effective: performance, cost and time. The performance criteria allows us to understand what the project seeks to accomplish. Project expectations and goals should be written clearly, be realistic, made available to all project team members, and team members should also be held accountable for achieving them.
The second criteria, cost, provides insights into the resources needed to complete a project. Usually, money belts which are financial auditors provide an objective independent evaluation of the potential financial benefits of a project as well as the actual results achieved by the Lean Six Sigma project.
Finally, the third criteria, time, assures that team members are aware of the time-frame for the starting and ending of the project. Gantt Charts are excellent tools for monitoring all the activities associated with a project coupled with checkpoints which are smaller points throughout a project that are used to judge how far the project is toward completion.
It is imperative that all team members in a process improvement project understand the top 3 inter-related objectives of the project which are meeting the budget, finishing on schedule and meeting the performance specifications.
FMEA (Failure Modes & Effects Analysis) is a Lean Six Sigma technique for identifying both the ways that a product, part, process or service can fail and the effects of those failures.Once these failure modes are identified, they are rated by the severity of their effects and failure probability. This is critical to the design of any system, process, service or product.
There are 3 types of FMEA’s; system, process and design. However in this post I will only touch upon the Process FMEA. Process FMEA’s identify the different ways that a process could fail and the effects of those failures. They are often used to identify and rank process improvement opportunities. For the lower risk failure modes preventative plans are put in place to ensure minimal impact to productivity, costs, and delivery.
For example, say a Health Tech Startup, creates an app for patient on-boarding with a plethora of functionalities that they consider to be in the “cool factor”. However, this overload of features could overwhelm the user and miss the value curve completely. With an FMEA analysis they would be able to identify the most critical features, risks, and problems with the product before they take it to market, in turn, significantly reducing rework, product, and process costs.
Contact us now to learn more about how to minimize rework costs and identify problems in processes, systems or products before they are used or put into production.
“Effective Lean organizations study their processes from their customer’s point of view and align their processes to meet their customers’ needs the first time and every time.” – Donna Summers
“To run an efficient accounting department opt for a chart of accounts with less than 180 accounts for improved productivity and financial planning.”
Purchase order approval audit trails and visual bill entry controls can be an effective way to reduce the time it takes to resolve Accounts Payable errors and keep your vendors happy.
Visual management allows for standardized visual controls that are visible to all Accounts Payable (and also accounting team) on how approvals should be obtained for a purchase order, how to document these approvals, and how to enter bills into the accounting software. Visual controls are effective because the accounting team will see them everyday and there should be a constant review of them and essentially they should all be processing Accounts Payable the same way.
Visual controls are like visual checklists for your Accounts Payable team. These controls should be placed in high traffic areas where your accounts payable team will see them. A copy should be placed by each members desk as well and update them of course accordingly to business changes.
For recurring fixed bills, automation is a given. For example, lets say company HBN gets billed from Microsoft $17.95 for a productivity application every month a recurring transaction can be created in Quickbooks that will automatically create the bill every month. This significantly reduces manual entries and overall cycle time.
To reduce manual entries of non-fixed expenses you can create templates in Quickbooks (or other accounting software) in which they can be duplicated and make the changes needed per your company’s data entry controls and new bill specifications (purchase order, invoice #, et cetera).
Critical KPI metrics that your company should be tracking and analyzing in regards to Accounts Payable are the following:
- Total Cost of an AP invoice
- Overall time to complete the AP process
- Overall time to resolve an AP error
- Percentage of manually entered invoices
- Number of full-time employees that perform the AP process, per 1 million (billion) in revenue
- Percentage cost to perform the AP process as a percentage of total process cost
You should periodically compare these metrics with industry and competitor data to see where you stand and where you need to improve.
In conclusion, standardized visual controls for Accounts Payable is a great way to ensure the AP process is done the same way by all AP personnel.
Departmental collaboration is greatly important in the Collections/Billing department. This team must have access to project /product status, project/product delivery and results; this will allow the Lead person handling the over-due account to develop an understanding of the situation, survey the client to ensure requirements were met and if they were not met deliver this information to the production team. In other words, the Collections Team can be an extension to the sales, marketing, production teams by acquiring additional Voice of the Customer data.
For example, it may be that the Project Manager is not effectively translation the client’s requirements into product/service specifications. This will prompt the need to test and implement process controls that ensure product/service specifications meet client requirements.
By utilizing payment plans, longer payment terms (Net 30-90), broader payment options (checks, credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, et cetera), engaging in daily communication and understanding of the client’s needs and situation can ensure an enduring relationship and stronger cash flow.
Employees don’t want to be handed books of paper about the benefits available to them through your company. They need guidance on which medical, dental, and retirement plan to choose. Therefore, to increase overall employee satisfaction and improve your benefits administration process I suggest the following:
1. Utilize the Voice of Your Employee by conducting surveys, such as, how often they want benefits related information to be provided to them, what communication channels do they prefer to receive the information (videos, PPT, mobile, intranet, email, et cetera).
2. Create personalized material to fit critical variables based on survey data and employee goals.
3. When you identify how often employees are willing to see benefits information make sure to create a calendar of when this information will be distributed and actively survey employees on what topics they want to learn more about (make sure the content is not too long, gets to the point, and is easy to understand but also fun too)
4. Utilize or create a single platform that offers all benefits information because this reduces the need for multiple passwords/websites.
5. Set time every quarter to discuss benefits and explain to employees why premiums increase every year. Also have your broker be part of the meeting so they can offer advice to employees on which plan is best for them or answer any questions they may have.
6. Comparison shop every year to see if you are able to find a more cost-effective plan by using the total-cost method (e.g taking into consideration the overall cost of the plan includes broker fees/commission, admin fees, et cetera) See this entrepreneur article for more information.
7. Continue to survey employees every Quarter because many things can change in their lives in just 3 months. You have to stay abreast to those changes so that relative guidance, content and information can be readily available to them so they can make smart decisions.
Automation of general accounting functions is not only for large corporations, small businesses can reap in the benefits as well. One of the most important costs you should be aware of is the cost of an invoice. Are you or your accounting personnel spending too much time creating and inputting bills and/or invoices into your accounting software? There are many tools that can assist in helping you reduce these general accounting costs but today I will be discussing a feature in Quickbooks Online that aids in the automation of Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable activities.
Let’s take a look at Quickbooks Online. How much time are you allotting for entering and processing bills and invoices when that time can be used to better serve your customers and increase sales? Did you know that Quickbooks Online has a feature named, “Recurring transactions”, that allows you to automate your fixed bills and invoices. The time saved by using this feature will allow small business owners to optimize their customer satisfaction ratings.
The “Recurring Transactions” feature, allows you to schedule bills and invoices. You can set when you want the invoice to be created and how often it should be distributed (e.g., weekly, monthly, yearly, et cetera ). Great care should be taken of course when creating the template. It is highly advised to only use this feature for fixed bills and invoices.
The benefit for small business owners who use this feature is tremendous. It means less manual entries, which in turn, allows for more time to do more of what they love.
Next time we will discuss the importance of continually assessing your insurance policies to ensure your are properly covered for current and potential business risks.