Over the holiday season I received a number of calls and email on time management and workflow. Literally a dozen flooded in - very likely tied to wanting a fresh start in the new year. Being a student and advocate of studying process and finding business areas primed for workflow I was of course thrilled to find so many receptive folks looking for answers in this area.
Largely leading up to our current recession, financial practices had spent several years investing both time and money in implementing the latest technology solutions. After 12-18 months away from making business investments - the pressure is now on to kick off a new year and both find ways to gain efficiencies and grow revenue. Being a technologist, I do not have any comments on 2010 from an economic perspective - however - my own philosophy has been to invest in business when peers and competitors have retracted from spending. That tide is slowly coming back in and practices are slowly feeling the pressure of their reduced internal capital expenditures.
There are a number of established methodologies around process and workflow. I subscribe to simpler approach that really borrows from each.
Take for example my Christmas Eve caller. She runs an investment advisory practice in the Midwest with two advisors (herself included) and three staff (one admin, one compliance and one operations and research staff member). The firm has approximately $90 million under management. Her primary complaint on the call - "We are stuck where we are! I cannot free up enough time for us to grow to the next level - say adding 15-20 new clients and $15-30 million in new assets".
After a lengthy discussion about their platform, custodian, systems and so forth - we settled on exploring the processes around three key areas that eat up their time:
The practice had already invested in deploying a good CRM and document management solution (both respected choices) - however - they had never gone through the steps of mapping their human workflow back to those crucial systems. Thus, because they continued to maintain data outside of CRM and Imaging, preparing for client reviews and overall management of customer information was chewing up numerous hours.
A key investment here to help get things rolling was to share with their team the plan to shift everyone to dual monitors in the practice, along with efficient and versatile desktop scanners on each desk. The team agreed unanimously if they can more easily get information of all stripes into these systems - as well as a user friendly manner to access information as needed - they will commit to tweaking processes.
Secondly, the team is carving out time to get more advanced training on both systems (to their pleasant surprise - the CRM and Imaging systems can integrate with one another out of the box) and are beginning to look for processes they think can be automated. Even by just walking through these steps conceptually - the practice now believes they can save themselves around four to six hours per week. As they pilot test workflow - they may find more areas of the practice where they can discover new time savers through workflow.
This leads to what can be the toughest step in some cases. If these investments results in significant time savings - be prepared to explore how to reinvest staff members time and skills. It may not always fall into the expected categories. This could be an opportunity to begin grooming a staff member for a "next level" set of responsibilities or a promotion. I always suggest it is an excellent time to cross train staff on every role in the practice - a great tool for your business continuity arsenal.
Ultimately, the reward for identifying and deploying reasonable workflow in your business is time management - i.e. more time on your hands to direct into your practice, customer relationships, training or even - a vacation!