Goodbye, Bottlenecks: Evaluating Your Workflow to Leverage Automation

July 12, 2018
Even small technological changes can lead to decreased overall costs and increased customer satisfaction.

With the age of automation looming, new data will soon allow manufacturers to work more efficiently than ever. To stay ahead of this digital transformation, it’s important for organizations to evaluate the efficiency of their existing processes.

Have you noticed bottlenecks or inefficiencies in your company’s workflow? Are you considering an automated system? Even small technological changes can lead to decreased overall costs and increased customer satisfaction.

To take advantage of new tools and gain a competitive edge in this age of automation, start with these tips to evaluate your existing processes and prepare your organization for the changes to come.

1. Involve stakeholders early.

Manufacturing is all about meeting expectations. One missed step, incomplete data set, or failure to notify someone of importance can ruin the whole process. Leaving someone out might finish the job faster, but it could ultimately lead to lower adoption rates and missed opportunities.

Compile a list of everyone who should be involved in workflow evaluation before beginning the task. Consider who triggers the workflow, who holds the data, who owns the process, and to whom the results of the workflow matter. Ask each of these people for opinions on the progress of the change and possible improvements. Assuming no technical limitations, what changes would these stakeholders make?

Use this information to create a map of the ideal workflow process. Then train frontline workers and others outside the group of stakeholders on the new workflow before launch to ensure the adoption phase runs smoothly.

2. Map the workflow process.

Don’t just discuss an understanding of how the workflow goes — physically write it out, and make it as explicit as possible. Start with the end in mind, and work backward.

Our team worked with a roofing materials manufacturing company that was struggling to optimize its approvals process. Across 19 manufacturing facilities in the United States, the company’s workers and managers were emailing one another constantly and scanning documents manually. In order to track items moving through the old system, employees had to send emails asking for location and status updates and hope some sort of email trail existed. Tracking this way proved quite difficult, and bottlenecks were standard procedure.

The company’s leaders followed a few requests from beginning to end, identifying each step in the process. We then worked with them to map the process, at which point they discovered that using a platform that automatically moved information would be much simpler than manually transferring every data point. Plus, they realized that as long as certain managers had access to the data, they could eliminate many logjams. Our team and theirs implemented a workflow tool that eliminated emails, moving information instead to the next task in the workflow automatically, making it easier to track approvals from start to finish.

3. Establish a baseline for measuring improvements.

If you do decide to switch to an automated system, identify the key performance indicators, or KPIs, your team uses to track improvement and success. Your CFO might track the costs associated with poor-quality items, for example, while the COO might track defects per million opportunities.

Remember to account for less-common metrics, too, such as the number of quality complaints your COO has to deal with or stress levels across your company.

Tracking these metrics with hard data helps you measure the success of your implementations. Use existing numbers to establish a baseline for your manual system’s performance that you can compare to your new automated reality. If you change nothing else when you switch from a manual to an automated system, you’ll be able to see the fruits of your efforts. It will feel good to see your efficiency metrics improve, and you’ll have a far easier time determining the ROI of your new tech implementations.

Automation promises incredible opportunities to increase your net revenue in the manufacturing space, but without proper preparation, those promises will remain unfulfilled.

Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of KiSSFLOW, an SaaS-based enterprise-level workflow and business process automation platform enterprise. He is an entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises leverage automation.

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