Tag Archives: continuous improvement

Lean & Delayed Passports – Can your Law firm learn from it?

Delayed Passports – Can your Law firm learn from it?

Apologies if any one reading this have been hit by the “recent” (Summer 2014) delays in the processing of passports in the UK.
I’m hoping this post points you to things you and your firm can learn from it and how Lean Management can help your legal business.

Before we go on, let’s consider the current situation at the Passport service (as best as we can tell anyway);

  • They promise that a normal passport will be turned around in 3 weeks. Fast Track Service (1 week turnaround) or 1 day Premium turnaround service, both for at increased costs. They also tell us it takes 4 hours to process a passport from the moment you (the customer) supply all the paperwork, correctly filled in.
  • There is at least of a backlog of between 50,000 and 500,000 passports  – depending whose figures you believe
  • There are now regular stories of delays of 6,8,12 weeks – backed up by a picture of the distraught family members who missed their holiday

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What can we learn from this?

Firstly that the Passport Office is running normally at a process efficiency of 3.33%.

How do we know this? Easily, it takes 3 weeks to complete 4 hours work, they tell us this from their own webpages.

3 weeks is 120 hours (based on a 40 hour week).

4 divided by 120 = 0.333.  0.333*100% = 3.33%

Before you think that is poor, we tend to see less than 1% in organisations yet to try any Lean or Continuous Improvement work.

Secondly the Passport Office has discovered there is a Premium for Speed.

Go faster and you can charge more, not less as many would believe. A Fast Track Service (1 week turnaround) costs 42% more than the normal and the Premium (Same day turnaround) costs 76% more and for these two, YOU, the customer have attend their offices, thereby incurring more of your own time, yet you pay more.

The two questions here for your firms are

  • Do you know the process efficiency of your different legal services? try and work it out (it is simply hours recorded to a matter divided by the hours between the start date and the final invoice date; don’t forget to times by 100% at the end)
  • You might be surprised at how similar the figures are, across the same types of service.
  • Do you know the Premium for Speed you can charge clients? Is there one or will a faster service get you more of the business? so the premium here is being used for business winning.

Note: it probably doesn’t cost the Passport Office that much more to deliver the faster service – how can it? do they do better/different checks, use smarter people, faster computers, different paper?

Why has there been a backlog?
The cause appears to either be

A larger than normal application level for passports AND/OR a processing team with too few numbers to cope with the level of demand.

These might seem the same but how they manifest themselves and are dealt with can be different.

Take the rise in demand first;

Did it suddenly happen? in one day all these extra applications dropped onto the doormat of the passport office. I’d like to think that it took a little longer, maybe 2-3 weeks or even 6-8 weeks during which time every day the number of applications tended to be above what was normally expected. (in fact we are told it was an “unprecedented” demand)

Lets say it started to build at the middle of April and by the end of May the performance was considerably off target.

If they had been tracking daily, the new applications and completions they may have spotted the backlog rising much quicker and dealt with it sooner.

We can assume that the Passport Office either don’t record or don’t act upon information about the number of new applications they receive daily. (my betting? it’s the latter, data is nearly always recorded, rarely converted to true information AND used)

My questions are

  • how often do you track new and completed activity?
  • At the end of the month, in a quarterly review?
  • Do you review operational figures such as demand, completion or do financial figures take centre stage? noting that they are only ever a function of activity levels
  • or do you review new activity and completed activity daily/weekly?

In the case of the Passport Office I believe they could have done it even sooner e.g. by tracking web stats, how many visits to website where there each day? did that show an upturn even before the increased numbers of applications came through? probably.

What about the printed forms in the Post Offices, why have they not run out of them? Did they see a rise in demand?

These early, lead, indicators often exist but are ignored – Does your firm have any early, lead indicators it looks too?

The next area to tackle is this; even if they had been tracking new applications and spotted the increase they seemed not to know how many applications they could cope with in a set period.

The Passport Office seems to proves that if you have a set capacity e.g. number of staff, number of PCs, working a set number of hours – if you ask them to do more items of the same type, then queues will rise.

Do you know what the capacity is for work in your business and how queues arise? This could be for a particular type of legal file or back office support such as the disbursement processing or invoice production.

If you don’t know what work you have on the books or how long it will take to complete it, you could end up in similar state of affairs.

The only difference here is the Passport Office are paid up front for delivery, therefore there is a limited effect on cash flow.

If the work of a law firm takes longer, then WIP rises and the date payment is received gets pushed out and they need more cash on hand to survive.

The power of 1!
In spite of this backlog, in a normal year there is a chance that something will go wrong with passport processing and it will fail, no system is ever 100% when it comes to performance.

Now we hear and read stories of “local hero” MPs intervening and sorting out the issues – they haven’t. They’ve just caused another passport application to be pushed further back, whilst their constituents is expedited.

They are the equivalent of the client ringing up to demand you process their matter just as you have finished reading through another matter, ready to start that.

Instead of producing figures of how many passports have been processed in the correct time and the % success rate, the Passport Office appear to have been hung out to dry by the media ready to produce the sorrowful family, who played by the rules but have now missed out on that once in a lifetime trip.

Does this happen in your firm? one thing goes wrong, one person shouts up and all of a sudden a one time event becomes a large problem and the performance as demonstrated by the problem becomes the accepted reality.

Instead of looking at all the times something goes right we focus on the one time it fails. Things will always fail, what we need to know is the rate of failure an issue or just one of those events we can’t control.

The media and people love the Power of 1, the one event, the one time, the one person who bucked the system or for whom the system failed.

What are you trying to fix? Who are you focussing your resources on? the Power of 1? or on the things you are trying to get right every day in your organisation?

Lean Thinking has a host of Daily Management and Visual Management tools & techniques that can help you avoid the issues above, they are for another post though.
If you want to find out more about Lean management and Improvement in Law Firms then you can by clicking on this Lean Guide for Legal Practices & Departments you’ll be taken to our page which has a number of free articles and a guide on how to start a conversation in your business about finding the hidden wastes in your legal practice or department.

About the Author

Mark Greenhouse has been working on the application of Lean management and process improvement in Legal and design led Manufacturing companies for the past 5 years. His own Lean journey started back in 1988 when he started study of Production Engineering and Operations Management. He’s applied lean in many organisation types, finance, call centres, banking, FMCG etc. Mark also provides lectures on operational management at Leeds University Business School.

 

How much waste is there in the Service Industry?

Over the weekend a question was posed to me via Twitter (@theleanmanager if you’d like to follow) about the amount of waste (wasted time) in the back office of banks/service/insurance operations. Now I took this to mean the call centres, data processing centres, mail rooms, customer response teams etc.

The guys asking the questions @wisemonkeyash and @channingwalton  wanted to know could it be as high as 90%? (Update: we do know that in some legal firms the time to process matters is being improved by 50%, by using lean thinking, indicating that wasted time could considerable in the professional services sector.)

I decided I should expand upon my 140 character replies, which were based on my experience.

Variation of demand is the first factor to consider i.e. what does the busiest day (for demand, not completed work) look like and what does a quiet day look like and what are the patterns the peaks and troughs for the demand.

What causes this demand, the peaks and troughs? Our experience? it’s normally another part of the business which generates and stokes the demand and therefore changes here can reduce the peaks.

This could be letters with incorrect details, mass direct marketing mailing, customers chasing progress etc

This variation often causes capacity (people) to be 50% more than required to achieve the current results.

The implications here are that you can deliver improvement by changing something outside of the back offices, without changing what many individuals do – making continuous improvement more readily accepted.

Remember that so far we haven’t looked at the waste in the activities undertaken in these departments. Now as a lean person we look for the 7 hidden wastes, yes I know others have 8 or even 9 but we stick to the 7.

To give you just one example, have you rung a call centre, in the last 6 months,  to be told ” I’m sorry the system is a bit slow today”?

Sometimes that is genuine, the system is slow, it may be that the networking is slow or the server needs upgrading or the PC workstation is old. So say you have 50 agents handling 20 calls an hour? how much time are you wasting because the technology isn’t up to speed?

The more common reason for ” I’m sorry the system is a bit slow today”, that we see is that staff have two screens in front of them and they maybe running 4 different programmes at once. As the programmes can’t transfer information directly to one another, the staff take info from one system, send to their own e-mail, cut and paste it into another programme and then have to delete the e-mail.

This is just one example and adding up the rest we often find that 50% of the activity time is wasted.

What does this mean  overall?

If we start with 100% and 50% is waste due to Variation demand, this leaves 50%.

Of the remaining 50%, we reckon 50% is wasted time, so we get to the figure of 25% (50% *50%), or 75% of the work can be classified as waste.

Remember this is based on what we have seen, so not as high as the 90% the guys originally asked.

Within an hour I spotted this article all Aviva shakes up it’s Customer Service  from the FT, which shows the global serving UK based insurance firm Aviva put the waste figure in call centres as 60%.

It’s also worth noting that Aviva thought it was completing work in 5 days, in reality it was taking 39.

How can this happen? well sometime companies split activities into discrete chunks and add up the time each chunk takes, assuming this equals the processing time. They forget the handoffs and delays that each happen between each activity. We’ve definitely seen office work with activities of an hour take over 10 days to complete in reality.

Okay there is a variation in the figures but should we split hairs on whether waste in offices is 50% as in the professional services firms or 60% – 75% for the back offices and call centres, the reality is that the waste appears to be relatively large, though maybe not as large as the 90% that started the question.

Do you have any views on what the waste could be?

About the Author;

Mark Greenhouse has been working on the application of Lean management in Legal and design led Manufacturing companies for the past 5 years. His own Lean journey started back in 1988 when he started study of Production Engineering. He’s applied lean in many organisation types, finance, call centres, banking, FMCG etc. Mark also provides lectures on operational management at Leeds University Business School.

Lean Office & Management Training

The training referred to below is currently being revised and upgraded. Please visit our new website www.Levantar.co.uk or go directly to Lean Office Management Services page on the website.

 

Despite the inflationary pressures and ups and downs of the wider UK economy, UK manufacturing has continued to grow both in terms of outputs and productivity. Indeed in recent observations the most resilient manufacturing firms will be those exporting. This in a sector often more linked with exporting jobs not products!

Can service organisations and office departments learn from the manufacturing firms and departments? learn the continuous improvement techniques that have made these firms more efficient, more productive and more resilient?

learn how to

  • increase the capacity of their departments,
  • get through work faster,
  • reduce errors and
  • positively impact cash flow!

Can service organisations learn how to get more out of their current resources? How can non-manufacturing departments support the shop floor improvement initiatives?

Lean thinking techniques which have been prevalent in UK manufacturing for many years have been translated and applied in offices, distribution and retail environments by many companies including Tesco, Zara, HMRC, Starbucks etc so these continuous improvement techniques can be applied outside of manufacturing to departments such as marketing, sales, accounting, hr and they deliver results in the form of Lean Office and Lean Management.

It gets better in the UK if you’re in Yorkshire or Humberside, not only can you learn the techniques but you can get 50% towards the investment in training. There are no restrictions on sectors, business size or turnover, you must be privately funded though. (Public sector organisations and those outside the Yorkshire & Humber region can complete the course and get the qualifications but the funding is NOT available to them)

The training runs to a total of 24 hours of training (3 days or 6 half days) + a work based project and leads to a qualification for the attendees and the course is overseen by Leeds University Business School and MAS Yorkshire & Humberside.

The article Lean Office, Lean Management Training – Yorkshire and Humberside details the specific offer and how to get the training course (3 days, 6 half days etc) for an investment of just £750 per attendee.

Courses can be tailored to the specific needs of a company if it wishes to put a number of staff through a course.

The Lean Office course is one of  9 continuous improvement courses that follow a similar framework, 3 days of training, work based project and qualification via Leeds University Business School and Manufacturing Advisory Service through their Manufacturing Masters programme and they can all be funded.

Venetian Warships, Faster Horses and Legal Firms.

When a US law firm wanted to find a way of becoming more efficient and deliver legal matters more effectively they turned to a set of techniques that have their roots back when the Venetians built ships at the Arsenale, techniques continued by Henry Ford, once he’d noticed his clients wanted faster horses.

Today that law firm is lauded as being “5 years ahead of every other AmLaw 200  firm” and now claims to deliver legal matters some 15 -50% faster than before. Not surprisingly this has driven down costs, driven up satisfaction and helped to secure new customers.

On the 6th April 2011 Mark Greenhouse of ResQ will be presenting to the Yorkshire Law Society on the techniques that can be used to improve the speed of delivery whilst reducing costs and how this will affect firm profitability and pave the way for true Fixed and Alternative billing to take place.

For details visit Yorkshire Law Society Continuous Improvement in Law.

If you’re not in Yorkshire and would like to find out more then drop us your contact details on info@resqmr.co.uk  and we’ll get back to you.

Thanks,  Mark

Lean Management & Continuous Improvement – Is your Law Firm ahead of this Organisation?

** You can get a FREE copy of our latest 2013 Lean Management for Law Firms  handbook by clicking on download** The original article continues below

Click here to download FREE Lean Legal pdf guide

The Association of Corporate Counsel has noted that the company in the article below is “five years ahead of every other AmLaw 200 firm” because of its Lean & Continuous Improvement programmme. The programme based on management principles already proven in many other sectors and departments to deliver;

  • lower costs, (increases margin)
  • faster responses, (improves cashflow)
  • better quality,
  • and improved customer satisfaction.

Get the article here; Continuous Improvement in Law Firms – LeanThinking in Legal Services (the article was first published in September 2010 in the Law Business Review).

Alternatively visit our new website at levantar.co.uk.

If they are five years ahead of US firms, what about the UK, do we have any organisations looking at this, who could claim to be five years into a lean thinking implementation within the legal sector?

We are presenting to the Yorkshire Law Society, on this subject in April this year.

Do you think that Lean Management programs will work in the UK legal sector be it, law firms or general counsel?

About the Author;

Mark Greenhouse has been working on the application of Lean management in Legal and design led Manufacturing companies for the past 5 years. His own Lean journey started back in 1988 when he started study of Production Engineering. He’s applied lean in many organisation types, finance, call centres, banking, FMCG etc. Mark also provides lectures on operational management at Leeds University Business School.

Free Lean Management Training Course

From time to time, we offer free training via other organisations.  One such organisation we work with is Leeds, York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

On the 25th March 2011, in Leeds, we’re offering a free 2 hour insight into Lean Management techniques. This is about how Lean can be applied across all departments in any organisation, so it isn’t limited to just manufacturing or profit facing bsuinesses.

So

  • if you work in IT, Finance, NHS, Public Sector, Service, Marketing or Manufacturing companies or
  • if your career means you are responsible for continuous improvement, process improvement, or training or
  • if you are faced with getting more out with the same or fewer resources

then this course will give you something to take away to use in improvement.

You can find all the details here LEAN MANAGEMENT TRAINING  COURSE

This session will show you how you can improve your business efficiency, by using tools and techniques developed in manufacturing and now proven within organisations, ranging from Tesco, Toyota, Zara, GE, NHS, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Seyfarth Shaw (Law firm) through to Starbucks.

Lean manufacturing businesses found that more than 70% of their improvement projects lay not on the shop floor but in the offices and service based departments and so it has spread to these sectors. It will help to improve your business speed, capacity, cost control and quality whatever your sector or department.

If you’ve got any questions on this training then drop us a line.

Thanks

ResQ

Where is the Value?

In recent months I’ve met several managers, running departments (operations, marketing, HR, IT), all working for different companies (Sectors include: retail, banking, manufacturing, IT) who at some point have all said a very similar thing;

“one of my problems is, my department isn’t seen as adding value, we’re seen as a cost centre”

So my questions are

  • where is the value created in organisations these days?
  • does it matter that the departments believe they are seen as cost centres?
  • If you subsitute the word profit for value does this help?
  • Should it matter that we understand where value is created? is knowing costs enough?

Any views or examples (positive or negative) on this greatly appreciated in the comments below.

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