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InPro Cuts Lead Time Applying Lean to the Front Office

At InPro Corporation, some customer orders rushed through the system, but moving other orders through was a torturous process-and the company wanted to know why.

InPro, based in Muskego, Wisconsin, has been progressively introducing lean principles into its operations on the shop floor for several years. But more than half of InPro's 250 employees are in the front office. So the front office became the next logical target.

"We wanted to become more efficient in our office processes and administrative flow," says John Marek, vice president of finance at InPro.

He and several InPro operations managers attended a lean manufacturing workshop. InPro employees also received training in value stream mapping (VSM) and value-added flow analysis (VAFA), both valuable tools for front office process improvement.

A real eye-opener

When InPro did their first value stream map-on the flow of an order from the time it was placed through shipping and billing-they really began to understand the business.

"At the point where we had the current state map developed, with the visual impact of all the steps and the time associated with those steps, everyone on the team sat back and said, ‘Wow!'" Marek recalls. "Almost everyone was saying, ‘I didn't realize some of these other things were going on.' They knew part of the flow, but not the entire picture from beginning to end."

One of the first non-value-added "wastes" to be identified was multiple contacts with the customer, such as to clarify an order and then also to get credit information.

In addition, when a job involving construction required a bid for a contract, the initial contract review was assigned to sales, which then passed it on to the credit and finance department for review of the payment terms. In the team's future state map, the contract review function moved from sales to the finance department, which now handles both contract and credit issues. The results: fewer contacts back to the customer, better use of time and happier customers.

The company anticipates cutting the current lead-time by as much as 50 percent by eliminating non-value added steps from this process. In another improvement project- to get complete and accurate order information up front, and again reduce the number of customer contacts-the team removed non-value added steps to reduce the lead-time for that process by as much as 75 percent.

A word to the wise

Marek advises companies to get help with facilitating the process. "Don't do surgery on yourself; get an expert to help at first," he says. Besides giving you training and background information, facilitators can also help keep the project timetables realistic. And he recommends that, no matter how focused the project is, the project team should be truly cross-functional and include open-minded and creative people from inside and outside the targeted area.

"Try to make the shop more efficient, but also look at the administrative processes in the office," Marek says. "You're moving documents or information rather than products on the manufacturing floor, but the same types of complicated flow patterns exist, in terms of work in progress, queues, and bottlenecks."

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WMEP provides technical expertise and hands-on implementation assistance to small and midsize manufacturing firms on advanced manufacturing technologies and business practices includinglean manufacturing, ISO, value chain management, and strategic repositioning services for manufacturers and manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin.

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