Jan. 3 2007 10:54 AM

It makes good sense to step back once a year and question why you do things the way you do. Use the genius who designed the upside-down ketchup bottle as a role model. Do not accept things as they are, but ask how can you do it better.


The biggest challenge you will have is making the time to perform the audit and being objective during the evaluation. Depending upon the size of your operation, it could require anywhere from one day to a week. If you have a large operation, you will need assistance from your team leaders. Here are just a few areas you should be evaluating on an ongoing basis. Hopefully, they will inspire you to review all aspects of your operation.


1. Functions

You need to examine each function and document each step in the process. I would suggest that you begin with the first function of the day and end with the last function performed. As you go through this process, ask your staff if they have suggestions on how to streamline the process and provide increased efficiency. It's like the old adage, if you want to know how hot the fire is, ask the folks who are closest to it. Don't overlook the knowledge from the most valuable asset in your operation.


During the documentation process, it is also important to evaluate where quality control audits are required for some of the functions and if they are included. The end result of the documentation process should provide standardization of processes, process improvement and an up-to-date standard operating procedures manual. I like to recommend that the documentation be written concisely and in brief sentences. Number each step in the process, and this manual can be a most effective marketing and training tool. Be sure to include performance standards where applicable.


2. Workflow

Unfortunately, we have seen few sites where mail services and receiving have gotten full consideration in the assignment of space and location relative to their functions. Architects frequently implement "Dilbert thinking" when designing both mail and distribution centers. They take the function and enclose it in a cubicle. These enclosed task areas contribute to departmentalized thinking and interrupt the continuous workflow that takes place from one function to another.


In most cases, the workflow is best designed to flow in a clockwise direction. Generally speaking, this will provide an optimum workflow since most of the mailing equipment operates from left to right. Make sure functions do not interfere with each other and provide adequate staging. If you have limited space, consider combining two functions at a workstation. An example for consideration would be incoming accountable mail that is processed in the morning with outgoing shipping that is processed in the afternoon.


Do you have adequate storage space to maintain organization of materials? Consider vertical racking and under- and over-counter storage for easy access and to keep the workstations neat. Install a customer service window with storage for supplies to keep the customers out of the workspace.


It's important to understand how much staging space you need for each piece of equipment and function and then provide for it. If you are planning a new floor plan, make sure you incorporate the staging space into the space requirement and layout.


The most common deficiency we see in workflow is the result of purchasing equipment and installing it where there is space rather than redesigning the workflow to include the new equipment and process. The cost to redesign the workflow can easily be justified by the savings through increased productivity and safety.


3. Job Descriptions

How long has it been since you have revised job descriptions? They enable employees to understand responsibilities and know management's expectations. A job description should be concise and focus on the outcome, not the process. An inventory should be made of every activity performed. Related tasks and activities should be summarized and categorized. Each job description should be reviewed with the employee to ensure all responsibilities are included. A well-written job description provides managers the opportunity to seek employees with the right skills, establishes performance expectations, serves as a foundation for the hiring process and provides competitive salaries. Make sure you include ability and physical requirements of the job. It's a good business practice to review the job descriptions whenever an employee's status changes.


4. Staff Meetings

Do you schedule staff meetings regularly? If you don't put them on the calendar, it is very easy for weeks and months to slide by before time is set aside for this important communication process. We recommend brief staff meetings scheduled frequently to keep the communication lines open between management, staff and customers. If you hold daily staff meetings, 10 to 15 minutes can, in most cases, provide adequate time to get everyone on the same page concerning projects, new customer requirements, etc. Add some fun to your monthly staff meetings where the staff should expect the unexpected. For instance, have ugly tie contests, cooking contests, productivity contests, or selection of the joke of the month. An agenda should be followed in order to ensure important topics are covered. Employees should be encouraged to vent frustrations they have so the problem can be addressed and not simmer and build in scale. The meeting time should be mutually rewarding for all participants.


Jackie McPeak, CMDSM, is President of Mail Management. For more info, contact her at 610-869-8699 or by e-mail at mailmgt@aol.com.