Feb. 23 2007 04:37 PM

In the ever-changing business environment, managers are regularly held accountable for achieving greater results with fewer resources. Ultimately, this accountability is dependent upon the managers' abilities to accurately track, document and communicate their teams' performances. Every aspect of a team's responsibilities and expectations should have quantifiable markers to determine success, improvement and value within specific timeframes (daily, monthly, quarterly, etc).


What are the best tools for your organization to provide the data necessary to demonstrate that the best possible results are achieved?


1. Touchpoint Reviews

In conducting touchpoint reviews, the goal is to identify every step in a process, specifically, the number of times an item is "touched" in the process. The ultimate goal is to identify opportunities to eliminate "touches" and streamline the process. For example, a product is produced in one area and one employee comes and takes the product to another room to be boxed by another person for shipping. Is it possible to have the second person box the product in the same area it is produced and deliver it to shipping, thus eliminating a "touch" and improving the process and reducing costs?


This is a very simple representation of a touchpoint review. Different shapes can be used to quantify the individual steps, such as manual process, decision making, transporting, documenting, etc. Standard "flow chart" shapes are usually used for this purpose.


Items that should also be captured in your touchpoint review are time, distance and staff involved in each "touch." These items contribute to providing a clear visual representation of the process. Obviously, when you are looking to improve a process, you will need to improve the time and decrease staff to achieve results. Once final touchpoint reviews are completed and potential process improvements are identified, they should be shared with all parties involved and reviewed with management for approval.


2. Detailed Policy and Procedures

In the reality of the transient workforce that exists today, it is imperative to create detailed policy and procedures for all tasks completed in your organization. The expectation that someone will stay on the job for an extended period of time and pass along all the details of the daily expectations of their position to their replacement is an antiquated and dangerous path.


It is certainly more likely that the individual will leave abruptly or with little notice, taking all of the knowledge of the position with them. There must be a clear, detailed and complete description of each task. Items that should be defined and listed are purpose, scope, standard, responsibility, procedure and exceptions of the task. The purpose should define the results that are expected when completing a task. For example, the purpose for metering First-Class mail could be as follows: "To accurately and efficiently meter all outgoing First-Class mail within the regulations as determined by the USPS, utilizing compliant digital mail processing equipment."


The scope should define the parameters as well as components that are involved or that could impact the task. For example, the scope for sorting incoming accountable mail could be as follows: "The accurate recording and timely delivery of accountable mail is critical to the efficient processing of checks and documents received by all departments within the organization, most notably accounts receivable."


The standard will identify the quantifiable results of the tasks regarding timeliness and/or quality expected in completing the task. For example, the standard for processing return mailpieces could be as follows: "All return mailpieces must be researched, reprinted and returned to the mail stream within three business days."


Responsibility will identify specific individuals, by title, who will perform the task. Bear in mind that individuals identified must be fully trained in the expectations of the task to be assigned responsibility. For example, the responsibility for an inserter operator could be as follows: "Vendor certified inserter operator and/or trained
 backup or production supervisor."


The heart of the policy and procedure document is to list the steps to accomplish the task in such a manner that anyone can pick up the document and perform the task properly. This creates written steps that will eliminate the "legacy" training that involves "word of mouth." This, of course, is contained in the procedure portion of the document. Procedure should be written in numbered steps, and bullet points can be used to explain any decisions or additional details involved in each step. It is also valuable to compare your touchpoint reviews to your procedure to see that they represent the same steps in the process.


The final item to remember to include in your procedure is to list the quality control steps to be followed. Identifying specific steps to ensure the process is completed accurately sets the expectation for the person completing the task. It also provides documentation that there is a commitment to quality and that the staff will be held accountable to producing quality work.


To complete the document, the final section should include any exceptions related to performing the process described in the procedure. The question to ask at this point is what external or internal events would impact the completion of the process. The following are a few questions that would create exceptions to the process:


  •            Are there special projects or peak times
                            that impact the process?


  •            Will equipment failure impact the
    or impact the staff performing
                            the process?


  •            Does the process rely upon different
                            departments or individuals to complete?


    This will identify under what circumstances  the process will not be completed within expectations or will be altered. Again, this leaves no question as to what is expected under any circumstances.


    3. Service Level Agreement

    Creating a document to outline all services provided and the details associated with those services are at the heart of a service level agreement (SLA). As a service provider, it is a powerful tool to establish the expectations for the individuals performing the service and the individuals receiving the service. By creating a written document that describes all expectations, such as delivery timeframes, quality expectations, specific task requirements among others, you are taking the lead in eliminating any questions that may arise regarding the services provided. When you provide this document to the individuals receiving service, they know exactly what to expect. Any discrepancies in their expectations to the expectations written in the document can be corrected or changed immediately, as opposed to creating a confrontation at the time services are provided.

    There are many tools available to help write a service level agreement; many are available on the Internet free of charge. There are examples for writing an SLA for many different industries and circumstances. Regardless of the format of your document, you will have a very valuable tool that will need to be reviewed regularly as your business and expectations change.


    An essential component of your SLA should include the method for documenting and reporting your performance against the deliverable items listed in the agreement.


    4. Clear and Concise

    Documentation and Reporting

    Your ability to establish the success of your efforts is directly related to accurately documenting and reporting the performance of yourself, team, department, etc. All of the tools described up to this point do not mean anything if you cannot provide the proof that they are being used successfully. Documenting performance should be done every day and involve everyone in the process. Whether it is utilizing reports generated by equipment used in the process, hand recording data to be entered into a spreadsheet or recording data on a board posted in the work area for everyone to see, a continuous effort to verify performance is critical to success. It has been said that "anything not measured cannot be improved," but in this situation, it is more accurate to state "anything not measured cannot be 'proved.'"


    Basic knowledge and experience with Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet software is all that is necessary to create the tools to document and report the performance against the deliverables established in the SLA. When tracking performance against established, tangible units, the spreadsheet should include a column to note if the expectation is met as well as a column to identify the variance against the goal. Finally, the spreadsheets should be shared with individuals receiving the service(s) as "proof" for performance against the standards.


    Establishing yourself as a strong manager committed to great communication and attention to detail is the end result of utilizing the tools described in this article. You become an example to your peers by ensuring all parties are fully aware of all expectations of the services you provide, and in addition, you verify those expectations are met. Ultimately, these tools should lead to greater recognition and opportunity for you as a manager!


    Mark Hale is the Account Manager for one of OMG's largest accounts. He is responsible for managing five individual departments, fulfilling services related to incoming and outgoing mail, shipping and receiving, document imaging and microfilming/document retrieval.

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