At a time when surveying practices are stretched to their limits with the sheer volume of work and a resourcing deficiency, we need to focus our attention on ways to improve our efficiency & embrace the idea of ‘working smarter not harder’.
Interestingly, when we float the idea of undertaking various process improvement initiatives during these peak times, we find the overwhelming sentiment becomes “I’m way to busy to think about that now”, with projects of this nature earmarked to be revisited during quieter times.
The reality of the (dare I say) quieter times, is that people take the time to recharge their vastly depleted batteries, chase new work opportunities and have no capacity or desire to contemplate overhauling internal systems, so the often antiquated manual processes continue, to the detriment of business efficiency & profitability.
I would argue that process improvement strategies should not be held over until some such supposed ‘quieter time’ but rather embraced with both urgency & gusto as the outcomes are significant. Not the least of which being the offer of additional ‘time’ to our over stretched teams. Time for family, friends, social activities, sport and the like is a key element that is very difficult to manage in our current climate and in an era whereby ‘Gen Y’ place more value on work life balance & flexibility than job security, which historically was a key motivator. In terms of retention strategies for quality staff, a lack of personal time certainly presents business risk.
Undoubtedly the challenge lies in the ability to deliver any such process improvement strategies while managing client deliverables and the day to day operation of the business. How on earth can you possibly manage this ?
The truth is you probably can’t and nor should you, not only due to time constraints but more importantly because it requires an entirely different skill set.
At LTS, through what has been an overwhelmingly busy period, we have undertaken a complete transformation of our internal administrative processes, which has been a resounding success. This transformation included:-
- Changing the management structure of the administrative team
- Acknowledging the value of personal space
- Implementing a Document Management System
- Refining the architecture of our existing software
- Automating workflows & approval processes
Changing the Management Structure of the Administrative Team
The continued growth & development of our administrative team saw them all working at a highly competent level and we identified that the existing hierarchical management structure was creating both a bottleneck in the workflow and now inhibiting individual growth. By flattening our structure we enabled & empowered all team members to ‘own their own space’ and manage in their respective styles. The outcomes have been quite remarkable, with significant productivity enhancements, renewed enthusiasm throughout the team which comes from personal accountability & ownership and the regaining of valuable time which is now spent on high end projects that will further refine the way we work. Interestingly, the flattening of our management structure also proved to be a significant driver of business growth when applied to our survey management team, in a subsequent period.
Acknowledging the Value of Personal Space
As part of the restructure in admin we also physically relocated key personnel. This took them from a confined communal office configuration, with much distraction to a unique private setting, allowing them to ‘own their own space’. This has been a particularly positive move. Interestingly, it does contradict the current trends in office design, which appears to favour more open plan, inclusive work area’s with very limited personal space.
Refining the Architecture of our Existing Software
After an extensive review of available practice management software a decision was made to keep our existing program but make considerable refinements to its setup. The refinements to the system allowed us to utilize more of the programs available functionality and offered considerable time savings with job setup and management.
Automating Workflows & Approval Processes
The refinements to our software allowed us to utilize online approval processes for client correspondence, saving time, allowing a mobile work solution, negating the need for a manual flow of paper throughout the office and the time wasting that comes with waiting for someone to ‘clear the in tray’ and then resubmit documents for corrections. The reduction in paper use also helps to meet our environmental objectives.
Implementing a Document Management System
One of the key issues identified with our former job management system was the disparity in approach to file & email storage. We needed to implement a system, whereby all client & job correspondence was transparent. The implementation of a document management system not only rectified these issues but offered significantly greater functionality, thus changing our approach to the preparation & management of all client correspondence moving forward, again allowing considerable time savings in our administrative function.
The key to the success of this project can largely be attributed to what I consider one of the fundamental business principles – attracting & retaining quality staff. At LTS we invest heavily not just in our surveying capability but also in our support teams. We’ve built a team of fabulous, dynamic administrative staff, who are incredibly competent and more than capable of managing the implementation of new systems, allowing all concerned to ‘play to their strengths’. Coupled with our team, was a well orchestrated system design and implementation strategy, which acknowledged and accommodated all key project stakeholders.
The challenge of course lies in the ‘onboarding’ of all staff and not everyone will be an ‘early adopter’ of new systems and technologies. Some may say that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, although I would argue the contrary. If the benefits of change are clear and sufficient time is invested to understand the reasons for the resistance to change & the personalities of those concerned, then you most certainly can.
To summarise for the mathematically inclined, 1 + 1 = 2 and so does (((20 x 3) + 4) – 34) ÷ 15. So which is the more efficient pathway ? Those who embrace new technology & systems and trust in the capability of the teams they build will most certainly enjoy the benefit of regained ‘time’. The value in that cannot be understated.