Improving productivity within departments is straightforward. The challenge comes when we try to work together across business divisions, where the tendency to silo information and segregate responsibilities gets in the way.
Here are a few tips on how to improve workflow and cooperation between departments.
Have a Holistic Vision
Process improvement within a department tends to focus on its own metrics and views. They focus on cycle time for their particular part of the process or their volume of transactions. They tend not to relate their projects and processes to the overall business operations. This creates the risk that one department’s improvements end up creating problems for others.
The solution is to have a holistic vision. How does this department’s actions relate to the broader corporate mission? How does what this group does relate to the end result for the customer? When you have a holistic vision, it is easier to work with other departments to deliver that final result. It also helps people see themselves as part of a team working for a common goal.
This process can be sped up by having employees spend a day or week in other business divisions, understanding their operations and procedures. Rotating new hires through various business departments, too, can help new staff gain this vision.
We discussed the need to standardize business processes, including when they cross department boundaries. One method of minimizing errors and delays is automating communication as part of those standard processes. And the communication needs to be automatic both ways.
When a new order comes in, this information is almost always fed to production planning by MRP systems. When changes to a design are made by engineering, that information needs to be fed to the MRP system and automated emails sent to production control to understand what is going on. When reliability or production engineering finds out that a part is going obsolete, their findings need to be communicated automatically to engineering to change the design as appropriate and then fed to drafters up update all the related documentation.
Standardize Processes, Including Hand-Offs
One common problem is the lack of standard processes in an organization. When standard processes do exist, they tend to be for a particular department. A standard process may exist for purchase orders and engineering drawing changes being approved, but product verification according to the as-designed parts list the customer ordered versus the latest product design tends to be absent due to the lack of communication. The solution to this problem is having standardized workflows for every process, including the hand-offs between business departments. This ensures that tasks aren’t dropped when the ball is handed to another work group.
You should consider mapping department and corporate workflows so that you can see the processes you have and track work as it flows. You can use lean management tools to achieve this. One example of a useful tool can be seen through the Kanban Software which provides you with a full overview of what’s going on in your organization including when tasks are handed over. Using this will prevent backlogs because of poor communication between departments and be able to analyze and improve the hand-offs between departments. Over time, you have the data necessary to get everyone onboard for streamlining the entire process, as well.
Improving collaboration and communication between divisions requires breaking down the psychological barriers between work groups. It is enhanced by standardizing and automating processes across the organization. And you need to have a common vision for the organization communicated to your employees.