Workflow Optimization

Is it time to take a look at your processes?  

Who doesn’t like routine?  Routine is comfortable. It can often become automatic, which means less brain power needed.  Familiar is friendly. Same is soothing. However, sometimes stepping back and studying a “tried and true” process can uncover gains in productivity.  I recently worked with a client and we did just this. The result was a gain of 110 minutes. Who couldn’t use an extra 110 minutes? What could you do with nearly two new found hours each month?

My client, an established player in the oil industry, sells equipment that requires short, but critical, annual maintenance.  A fairly large percentage of his customers, when the maintenance comes due, opt to upgrade to new, more advanced equipment. So this customer touchpoint, at the time maintenance is due, most often results in an incremental purchase. The communication is a critical piece of his business.  

My client had a process that looked something like this:  

The Salesperson makes the sale >

Salesperson enters the customer information, products sold and sale date on a spreadsheet >

Warehouse employee packages up the product and ships it out >

One year later, an executive runs a monthly report of the products sold a year ago and creates a list of the products requiring maintenance >

The executive drafts letters to be mailed out to the customer, reminding them of their need for maintenance on each product (by serial number).

How we streamlined the workflow:

After a few interviews and a study of his routine, I worked with the client to develop an optimized workflow.  It included the use of a very inexpensive and easily accessible software program, MailChimp.  I tell my clients, “Don’t be afraid of trying new technology.”  So much of what is out there today is made for the masses and is designed to be very user-friendly.  Chances are if you’ve thought, “There should be an app for that,” there is! The time I spent searching for the solution and working with their super friendly support team has totally paid off for this company.  

Now the customer runs a monthly report extracting the data from their accounting software. The report is exported to Excel and uploaded to MailChimp to serve as the distribution list for an email.  Using the serial number data, also included in the spreadsheet, my client is able to customize each email with a product serial number corresponding to the purchase made a year ago. In his communication, he reminds the customer of the needed annual maintenance.  With the new process in place, my client’s workflow went from 2 hours each month down to 10 minutes.

There were other important benefits, beyond the time savings, associated with this optimized workflow.  For example, the opportunity for error went down specifically in the documenting of the serial number. No inadvertent number transposing.  It was now automatically pulled into the letter, via MailChimp, from a spreadsheet populated from the accounting software. Additionally, fewer people in the company have to touch the spreadsheet.  The process is streamlined and human resources are freed up for other tasks.

Don’t fall into the, “We’ve always done it this way” trap!  

Today I’m encouraging you to take a look at your processes. As you look at each process, ask yourself a few questions.  Is their an easier way to get the job done?  Can an application or software tool to make this faster?  Are you open to and acting upon those short-term time investments that will offer larger returns going forward?  Pick up the magnifying glass of workflow optimization regularly and discover your own time savings. Work the workflow. Tap into the technology.

Sara Genrich is an Organization and Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.