Friday, 23 May 2014

Working with Print and Design Solutions to improve the invoicing process

Print and Design Solutions produces a range of printed products for internal and external trade, sells the varsity gifts as well as a range of promotional items. Income has been steadily increasing over the past few years. We were approached by Print and Design Solutions to help them improve their invoicing process. Their main problems were:
  • Reconciliation between two computer systems was time consuming and different data was contained in each system
  • Problems with error on work tickets
  • The finance staff were spending a lot of time chasing unpaid invoices

There are about five or six different processes for different customers make a purchase from the service. Each of these processes were treated as stand alone processes, and resulted in different information being held in the two computer systems, some of which were updated instantly, others daily and others weekly. Equally problematic was the invoicing process that was delayed because work tickets had missing information, jobs were created without purchase orders and good receipting of jobs was often delayed.

Outputs from the project included the decision to do all financial reporting from one system which removed the need for the reconciliation process (which took 7-10 days a month); ensuring that work tickets were raised with all of the necessary information (and raising understanding throughout the service about the importance of collecting all of the information at the beginning of the order process) and reducing the amount of management information produced on a weekly and monthly basis (we focused on what was necessary rather than what was nice to have).  Some additional work will be undertaken in the short to medium term to improve the reports that can be run from the finance system to provide all financial information at top level (removing the need to interrogate records), set up default codes that can be used for charging orders to - if a purchase order is not raised in a timely manner and goods receipting on behalf of departments who do not goods receipt within two months.

The team were also able to make some additional improvements to the experience for customers - this included improvements to the online service for overseas customers (who previously had to phone up to make a payment for postage), guidance about what information to supply when making an order and freeing up some time to continue the roll out of the MyPrint Service which offers an online service to customers. Some of the reduction in process time for the print estimators will free up their time; this will mean that they can deal with customer enquiries more efficiently.

It was a small team (just four people); they worked incredibly hard focusing on delivering a good customer experience as well as creating efficiencies. We were impressed with the quantity and quality of the data that they were able produce/ gathers to help us understand and quantify problems. We were also impressed with the hard work and conscientious approach of the team during the event and immediately afterwards.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Improving the Staff Expenses Process

We’ve just run a five day process improvement event working with a team looking at the staff expenses process. At the university we’ve had the ability to process staff expenses online since 2007 however, due to other commitments and priorities this facility has been restricted to a small pilot group. As other departments grow, the percentage of online claims has decreased from 22% in 2010 to 18% in 2013. The purpose of the project was to review the current paper and online processes and get 80% of staff expenses claims online.

The project team was made up of staff from Finance Department, Human Resources, Corporate Information and Computing Services, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Chemistry Department. The team were incredibly focused on making things better for the university as a whole, and demonstrated the ability to think about opportunities beyond their own area of interest.

We mapped the current paper and online processes. The main problems identified with the paper process were: information on the form not matching the receipts provided; figures not adding up; many forms associated with the paper process (mileage, hospitality etc); problems calculating overseas currency exchange rates, and reading handwritten forms can be difficult. The online process also had problems, firstly that it was not entirely paperless: part of the process required a print out and it still needs the paper receipts to be passed along the process. Also, there were some user issues: a "dummy code" set against the claim which was often not being updated; claimants were required to work out whether their claim was taxable and often made errors; the workflow was set up, but not all claimants/approvers and checkers were set up correctly, so claims were not passed on appropriately; and also some of the fields and screens were not very user friendly.

We calculated that the paper process was £17 more expensive than the online process (per expense claim), and that its only benefit over the online system was that it allowed for some non-standardisation of the process. However, during the event we spent a lot of time looking at the system (and found some unused functionality to forward claims), making system changes (mainly visual), identified further opportunities and prioritised them (making it clear that claim should not be submitted with the dummy code, and ensuring that when checkers amend the VAT status this does not need to be returned to the claimant, were the top two).

The team agreed the next set of departments to pilot the new process, set up a task force to support rollout and training, and created a detailed set of actions to assist implementation. Over the next month or so, further system developments will be investigated and the training material will be created. The team worked incredibly hard, and there is still work to do, but the fruits of their labour will be implementing a more efficient, user friendly process to staff which should ensure that there are fewer errors which require correction and rework, speeding up staff claims, particularly around the monthly expenses deadline. The team will also work with departments which have nonstandard processes to understand how they work and how the online system can best support their requirements.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Lean Practitioner Training

Practitioner Training
We've just completed the second tranche of our eight module practitioner training. The training is aimed at people who want to start to work on their own improvement projects.
We've purposely kept the participant numbers low so as to encourage attendance and make scheduling of the training convenient for people. We've managed to get a good mix of staff from across departments and faculties in the University. Two hour modules seem to fit fairly well into people's schedules, and we try to schedule modules two weeks apart to give people time to reflect.

The programme for the training is:
1.     What is lean – concept of lean, lean history, 5 principles
2.     Voc – Kano, Customer service cycle, sampling, interviews and surveys
3.     Process mapping
4.     Waste and value
5.     Problem solving tools (fishbone, affinity map, control charts, thinking hats, 5 whys)
6.     Workplace organisation – 5s, visual management, error proofing
7.     Workflow – runners, repeaters, strangers, standard operations, Theory of Constraints
8.     PDCA, A3 reports, scoping/prioritising improvements, measuring improvement

Feedback shows that people have particularly enjoyed learning to process map, visual management and the concept of runners, repeaters and strangers. There was also interest in A3 reporting and the Kano model.

What are we going to improve? Well, we like people to complete a very small improvement project in their own area as part of the training. This has had varying success, so although we think it's a good idea, we need to give it some thought (how and when we introduce the project, what support do we give?). We've also decided to increase the group size, as although the small groups are good for scheduling the meeting, they are not ideal for stimulating discussion, and it's the discussion and the practical application of the concepts that seem to add value to the training. Finally, participation has been by invitation: next time we'll advertise on the University Learning Management System to encourage participation.