You’ve heard this phrase before? Everyone has, repeatedly. This story will explain one of many examples of how process reviews have eliminated this statement. This is a tale of an organization which has been around for decades, operating before computerized systems, with staff who worked in the same role since everything was done on paper. Growth over the years was dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and once things were moving there was little or no review over time. After computers were introduced, long-term staff began retiring and the new staff started asking questions. New processes were developed, and people became more comfortable asking why things were done the way they were. A new report was requested leading to the question, why? After reviewing the request, it was identified that years ago, the manager of a division handed the vendors their checks, tracking and maintaining a spreadsheet with all the bills, vendors, payments, due dates, contacts etc… Basically, a second accounting process, duplicate work, lack of visibility, and little or no reporting. This is where a partner from outside the organization may add significant value. An outside “set of eyes” that will challenge the status quo and ask “why?” can be valuable in challenging the “We’ve always done it that way” processes forcing the team to review the reason behind the current method.
How did we get here? Karen. Yep, a real live Karen. Not the modern definition and social media “Karen” though there were some similarities, but a well-meaning controller. (In title and practice!) Karen maintained control through solid inflexible processes. Every new employee learned the way that the person before them had done the tasks. Many of the employees wanted to change things but were not allowed. Every transaction was printed and stored in a yearly binder. All accounts were reconciled on a separate spreadsheet. The divisions of the organization were being accounted for separately, not just by account or subaccount number, but their own bank accounts. They processed separate check runs, separate receipts, bank deposits etc. based on the division/program. After more than 20 years, and several rotations of staff, a very organized and structured set of processes was still being used but no one understood why. Computers had been purchased and software had been installed, but spreadsheets and binders were still being filled out, basically causing duplicate work.
Once TD Carpenter and Associates Inc. (CAI) were brought in to review best practices and help clean up processes, these aging techniques were identified. For nearly every question of “why are you doing it this way”? The answer was “We’ve always done it that way”. The team reviewed the benefits and challenges associated with all the different accounts. Immediately we identified that many of the businesses could be combined in one accounting system. One or two programs needed to be validated and check on reporting requirements and legal details before we could merge it with the main accounting system. Over and over as items were identified to have faster, better, more accurate methods to do the transaction the same phrase kept creeping in… “We weren’t allowed to do it that way”. As we corrected or improved the “low hanging fruit”, additional topics of where documents came from, how they were entered, and who was tracking the steps to be sure the loop was closed on all money coming in and going out were explored.
One program stood out in all this discussion, a program that provided a service to the community. The team would meet at an offsite facility, be handed a route by an office admin, execute their route, and turn in the “sheet” to the office admin at the end of the day. Each of the customers who were getting the service received a bill when the crew completed the work. The bill was labeled to have money sent to the accounting office. When checks arrived in the mail, the receivables clerk knew they were from this service program because of the amounts. The checks were received, deposited, and applied to the correct accounts for the program to see its revenue. As more information was discussed, questions popped up. How does the office admin know who’s been paid? How does the receiving clerk know what was billed? Would the service team know if a customer had not paid the previous months bill? Could there be customers getting the services, every month without paying?
Collectively it was identified that at some point several admins and clerks ago, that someone used to have a spreadsheet where this information was passed back and forth. That spreadsheet was long gone with the tribal knowledge of those employees. Even though they had always done it that way… something got missed. Some tasks were not trained exactly and steps were missing, processes were not complete. From then forward, every visit, every change, every redesign of a process, the team gets together and reviews the whole end to end and makes sure there is a clear path of how the work gets done. Owners for each step have been identified, reports to admins offsite are understood, paperwork goes through the accounting office. The workload has actually gone down, much less frantic searching for some questionable item or figuring out how to back out a transaction that was entered to the wrong program, and much happier employees. This method of reviewing the process end to end is something that CAI can use to help nearly any client. It sounds simple, and in a way it is, however there are techniques on how to analyze the steps you take. Using “Lean” methods CAI is able to help partners eliminate unnecessary steps, streamline processes, close loops and assure that the loose ends are accounted for. Additionally, documenting processes and making them systemic supports training and duplicability decreasing training costs, and improving onboarding. Regardless of the ERP the partner has implemented CAI is able to work with the processes and business methods. Contact us to discuss how you can get away from “we’ve always done it this way” processes!