July 21, 2017

Lean Six Sigma at Your Firm:

by Debbie Foster, Affinity Consulting Group, LLC

As we tackle our last waste, Extra/Over-Processing, this is a good time to pause and talk about what all wastes have in common. In the beginning of the series, we defined value as anything you do that the client is willing to pay for, that’s done right the first time and changes the client’s situation. Waste is the opposite of value. What is the common denominator? The challenge to think differently about how you get your work done. Waste happens when we keep on doing what we have always done, and we do not encourage innovation and invite people to find a better way whenever possible.

Not too long ago I was at a firm and noticed that a paralegal had UPS overnight envelopes in a prime location on her desk. I asked why they were there; she explained that she used them almost every day to overnight documents to clients. I took the time to try to understand the “why” behind the overnight mailing and determined that the only reason she was doing it was because she had always done it that way. That example is the textbook definition of over-processing, or doing more than necessary to get the job done.

Other examples of extra/over-processing include doing work that goes beyond the scope of your engagement with the client, especially when you are not going to get paid for it. We call that scope creep. Or emailing and mailing something, when the email is all the client really needs. Another favorite of mine is writing personal cover letters and attaching them to your bills. Some firms find that excessive research is over-processing and it does not only cost the client more in time, but in research costs as well.

Unfortunately, eliminating waste is not a one-time event. You must adopt a culture that is constantly on the lookout for waste, and constantly in search of finding the better way. It’s called Continuous Improvement: the exercise of finding ways to be a little better today than we were yesterday, and finding opportunities to delight our clients by working as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.