If you are the manager of a business service department, does your department look like to your users? More than just a rhetorical question, this question requires that you look at your operations (and the results that are being achieved) through the eyes of your users. Their perceptions color your reception and image in the organization. This idea requires thoughtful structuring of workflow; work procedures which are clear, understood and documented; and good quality control.


Here are some basic questions to ask of yourself and your users:

  • Is your department perceived as being well organized, responsive, friendly, professional and effective?

  • Do you and your staff understand the work priorities and needs of your users? Is the staff alert to user questions and problems? Are users treated courteously by your staff?

  • Is the work center professional in appearance (organized, clean and attractive)?


    Three Main Factors

    If you conclude that improvements are needed, follow a three-pronged approach when dealing with your processes, your tools and your clients. Note that this isn't rocket science. It takes time, effort and perseverance.


    I. Processes

    Start by reviewing your operations processes. Begin with the basics workflow, storage and housekeeping. Walk through the department, following the major flow of jobs in each work center. Note that it is helpful to create a simple overall "workflow" chart or diagram for each area prior to the review.


    Look for improvements that can be made in areas such as:

  • Materials flow and identification

  • Materials storage

  • Storage and flow of standard supplies (paper, envelopes, toner, etc.). Keep only what you need on hand, get the rest out of the way.

  • Access to equipment for maintenance and cleaning

  • Overall housekeeping


    Review noise levels, safety issues and employee concerns in the area. Address any needs that your employees may have on safety. Remember, a safe work environment can only increase efficiency.


    Consider relocation of equipment, storage racks, addition of new shelving, etc. Look for ways to "get things off the floor." Use shelving, carts, bins, etc. for job related materials and supplies. Consider wheeled carts with shelving for materials that can be collected as received, identified to a job and then brought to the work center when needed.


    While you are improving the workflow and organization, develop clear work procedures and instructions for your staff. Document these and review them with your staff. Be sure to include quality control steps and reports for critical operations. Describe the specific things to look for at each step using clear terms. Meet with the staff frequently to discuss issues and to instill a true customer-service attitude.


    II. Applications

    Besides doing basic reviews of overall operation, workflow, housekeeping and employee training, there is an ongoing need to investigate the application of equipment and technology to best maintain your work processes. This is especially true in the environment of constant change and development of new technology.


    This sounds great, but how do you find time to do this and still run the department? It isn't easy, but it can be done with determination and an organized approach.


    First, make sure you understand the dynamics of your key department operations and workflows. What are the volumes and types of operations? Are there critical elements and time requirements? Are there outside (i.e., legal, postal, etc.) requirements?


    Secondly, can you "benchmark" with other firms doing similar tasks? Often, professional organizations can aid in this (such as a Postal Customer Council for mailing operations). Can you visit other firms and observe their operations?


    And lastly, maintain an awareness of current equipment and technology available for handling your key processes. 


    When you have identified a process or key operation, which might be improved by the addition of new equipment, look at this in more detail:

  • Investigate alternate suppliers, looking for their best equipment (operation, reliability, service, etc.).

  • Observe all possible equipment in operation at client sites, getting facts about actual operation.

  • Try to conduct tests of the equipment using your actual work pieces, documents, etc.


    When you feel you have identified equipment to propose for installation, check the possible cost/benefit relationship for the equipment in your operation. Determine the benefits you will see, such as improved accuracy, faster speed, higher throughput, quicker job turnaround, less waste, etc.


    Determine the changes in operating costs, which would occur if the equipment were installed. These can include staffing changes, materials costs, utilities and supplies, etc.


    Then, you will be ready for the really fun part getting management's approval for the capital outlay. Usually, they will want to see all the costs and benefits as well as the defined "payback period."


    III. Clients

    The final factor for improvement is to establish ongoing, productive relationships with your clients. You should plan to meet with your clients often. Start with your key users, say, the "Top 5." In many cases, this will represent 70% to 80% of your department's workload, too. Develop methods for planning of work coming to you from their areas. Setting specific schedules and expectations may also be helpful.


    Develop performance measurements for the delivery of key jobs (for each client) and report on these frequently. Establish an ongoing mechanism for feedback on quality and performance. Specific feedback on each job at completion may be warranted, at least for major jobs.  


    Review their operations to understand their needs, problems and priorities. Learn what they do with the work your department produces or how they prepare materials delivered to you. This should be done by you and your key staff/supervisors. Get to know their people (managers and staff). Let them see you often and know that you care about their satisfaction.


    When you have accomplished all of these steps workplace and equipment reviews, employee training and client relationships you will find that you not only have improved your operations but you have become a true business partner with your clients.


    David Borck has over 25 years of management experience, having held various senior administrative and management positions in the Chicago area. He may be contacted by e-mail at davidborck@aol.com.

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