Best Practice PictureI was reading an article by Martha Heller in CIO Magazine the other day, in which Carlos Cardoso, CEO of Kennametal, was talking about their successful implementation of an ERP system. What was interesting to me was his attitude toward his ERP project. Instead of making the project an IT effort, he first made sure that the team focused on better rationalizing their business and workflow processes.

Taking stock of how you currently operate is a major philosophical mindset when looking to implement and configure new technology solutions. At Kennametal, they found more than 6,000 active processes and after rationalizing them, came up with a core library of just 600 processes. This is a staggering difference and I think more common than many would expect.  So many processes were put in place years ago and today are followed because “that’s the way we do things”. Unfortunately, many of these processes are not optimized for today’s business and are robbing you of potential operating efficiencies.  

By using Lean and Six Sigma approaches, you will be able to streamline processes and reduce operating inefficiencies. When Vocollect engages with a new customer about the potential utilization of voice technology, we start with this approach. At Kennametal, they mapped their processes against the standard processes available from their ERP supplier and found that 92% of their processes could be supported by adapting the standard “best in class” processes.  Mr. Cardoso stated, ”With thousands of companies using the ERP product already, our processes should not be so unique that we can’t leverage standard software processes.” When prospects review the potential adoption of Vocollect Voice, they also find our best practice workflow processes map very closely to their desired future state.

Solutions today that support best practice workflow processes help to better streamline operating environments and enable the reduction of overall project support costs. It surprises me when I hear of a project that starts with a white boarding of ideas. If a solution has been successfully implemented with thousands of customers and more than a million users, why would anyone discuss a detailed workflow process without starting with best practices? I understand the question of “what would you like to do”, however, this question should be more around what business issues are you trying to address. But, I still hear stories where the review of workflow processes begins with a whiteboard. What could possibly be the business justification for using this approach today? What executive would justify the funding of this type of technology investment? This “custom” mindset sounds great to the line of business owner, but does not consider the future solution, nor does it consider the opportunities lost through the potential leveraging of new features and capabilities made available from their solution provider. As Kennametal learned, if you start with best practices and map your updated processes to them, you will be surprised how close your processes may actually align to industry best processes.

When you think about improving your operational processes, I recommend you take the opportunity to review what you do, how you do it and why you do it. Question whether individual steps in a process are really needed. Challenge the business value that certain steps in a process provide the business and your workers. Take the opportunity to map your processes in detail. When you undertake this effort, you will find that “emotional owners” will begin to “defend” processes. In order to remove as much emotion as possible, I’d recommend that you video tape certain processes. This will enable the team to talk through the reality vs. the emotion. Lean processes are emotionless. You do what’s best for the business and your workers. And it’s important that you quantify the value of various process enhancements, since so many of these processes are repeated thousands of times each year by many workers. Having gained a better understanding of your processes you will then be able to better map your processes against industry best practice workflows.

When you start with best practices, you focus the team on what enhancements are required to support the business. You will find the team will have a mindset that challenges the business to change vs. a mindset of “that’s the way we do it”. Supporting unique business processes is vital and important, however, as Mr. Cardoso observed, “The IT solution comes last”.