In our prior post we described by ludicrous example the concept of ‘procedure inertia’ wherein an arcane set of actually useless procedures balloons up around a misunderstanding about how a simple process within an ERP system actually works. The resulting mayhem creates inertia of its own for continuing the complex procedure required to move a simple item from production to inventory, even after the users learn that the ERP system has a very simple procedure for automating the process. But by this time, processes, spreadsheets, reports and entire functions have evolved over this essentially misunderstood procedure (all the while gobbling ups tons of labor hours, of course). Read the first post, if you haven’t already, and then resume here. [The entire story is an encapsulation of an article by Craig Schrotter, CPIM, in the July 2013 issue of APICS magazine.]
So what’s a company to do about the operational inertia that has reached a saturation point and is now embedded in far too many of the company’s operations to ever unwind it?
Procedural inertia, states Schrotter, is a lot more than just extra work: it saps a business’s ability to grow. With a well-implemented ERP system a company’s ability to grow is usually only constrained by capacity and access to materials or resources. But with the “trap” of procedural inertia, an artificial limit is placed on growth because as business increases, the ERP system is not the vehicle by which the company moves information – the (now very strained and sclerotic) procedures are!
Worse, while ERP can handle increased input to an almost unlimited level, manual procedures become quickly saturated. Unnecessary procedures are a bottleneck, just like happens on the shop floor.
All too often, the entire team of office personnel have been working mightily and expending all kinds of extra hours handling the procedures, and backing up the process. (We see this often!) Management blithely ignores the problem, figuring “Hey, we’re getting our reports… all’s well.” Except it’s not.
Signals aren’t reaching management. While staffers are overworked, what’s worse is that with the saturation point has been reached and things are grinding to a halt. Growth is not even an option. Procedural bottlenecks rule the day.
To overcome all this, the first step is to recognize, as always, that a problem exists. You have to look for the signs, but they’re there. The folks who work late, work through lunch, work extra days… stacks of paper lying everywhere… reports that are cumbersome and late. The signs are there if you look.
Then, as Schrotter states, you have to “subvert these convoluted systems before they establish a death grip.” Ask why people do the things they do. Have them explain those spreadsheets. (In our experience, the key is to ask “Why” over and over again, until you get to root causes.)
Finally, take the time to learn how your ERP system works. What are the expected inputs? How do procedures match up with your processes? What features are there you didn’t know about?
Schrotter concludes with the same advice we always give current and prospective clients: “Do an in-depth workflow evaluation to determine what features are being underused and where procedures can be streamlined.”
And of course, “throttle anyone who says ‘But that’s the way we’ve always done it.’!”