June 23, 2017

Lean Six Sigma at Your Firm: Inventory

by Debbie Foster, Affinity Consulting Group, LLC

Did our last segment of this series on transportation get you thinking about your paper files and how to reduce the amount of paper you generate or keep? I hope it did, and that you are thinking about ways to continually improve when it comes to paper reduction. This week, we will explore the waste of INVENTORY. You are probably thinking this one won’t apply to you; after all, you don’t have any inventory. But keep on reading…

Inventory is one of the most visible forms of waste in a law firm. Think about the offices that have piles of files on the desks, floor or chairs – how many of those exist in your firm? That is one form of inventory. Let’s step back and talk about inventory in a more traditional sense for a minute: when you think about inventory, you think about products on shelves that a business sells to a customer in exchange for money. The more product the business sells, the more money the business makes.

In a law firm, your inventory is time, advice, drafted documents, answered emails, returned phone calls, research, consultations, attending hearings, etc. So, how many emails are in your inbox that need to be answered so you can work on solving a client’s problem? How many tasks are on your to-do list related to billable work for a client? How many documents are waiting to be reviewed/drafted for a client? All of that work is your inventory. The quicker you move your inventory, the quicker the client gets billed, or the case moves toward settlement, and the quicker you get paid.

Without getting too sidetracked, exploring inventory waste requires you to explore utilization. If your lawyers are in the office eight hours a day, are they “moving inventory” for most of that time? In other words, are they working as efficiently as they could or is the inventory piling up?

You might also identify excess inventory by identifying and exploring the bottlenecks in your firm. Where does inventory go to rest or wait to be sold? Start there, and keep on looking for practical ways to get people working smarter and to keep the inventory efficiently flowing. It helps with client satisfaction, too!

Next up, MOTION.