Today's guest is Mark Greenhouse, an associate of the Client Development Centre (CDC), he has over 20 years’ experience in "Lean Management" based approaches. As we see increasing numbers of in-house legal teams ask for the support of the CDC to deliver "operational efficiencies and improved productivity", Mark shares with us his insights into implementing a culture of continuous improvement.
Continuous Improvement techniques and tools are familiar to many businesses as part of a long term strategy to improve:
- the speed of delivery;
- the quality of each process and activity;
- the effectiveness of resources; and
- to reduce costs
They are used in aspects of Operations (their natural home) through Supply Chain Management, to Customer Service, Sales and Human Resources. They are also now becoming increasingly relevant to law firms and in-house legal functions. At a time when the mantra is often "more for less", can we afford to ignore Continuous Improvement?
However how do we define what more is? And how do we measure less? Do we mean
- "for lower costs"?;
- "in less time"?; or
- “with lower skills"? (skills matching the actual requirement)
Often there is too narrow a focus on “for lower costs”. But what if the focus was on “in less time”, reducing the time to deliver work? And what if there are two types of time? The Process Time and the Waiting Time.
In any piece of legal work there are a number of activities, each has a Process Time: taking instructions; drafting the document; reviewing it; having it reviewed and commented on by others (multiple times); redrafting the document; further reviews; obtaining external advice etc...
Between these activities though are the hidden Waiting Times.
As an example, a domestic property transaction may consist of only 4 hours of Process Time.
The Waiting Time includes waiting for:
- external lawyers or other parties to return paperwork;
- paperwork to get to the top of the in tray;
- documents to be reviewed;
- estate agent, lawyers or other parties to return calls;
- searches to be requested;
- enquiries to be responded to;
- payments for disbursements to be requested and made; etc…
This takes up much of the other 8-12 weeks of the transaction time!
Which should you try and improve? The 4 hours or the 8-12 weeks? Which is easier to improve?
Reducing Waiting Time is often free, you just have to discover what causes the waiting. But the benefits can be immediate. More time can be available to your legal team to work on other tasks. Your business transactions are completed more quickly which can reduce capital costs. And while external law firms may not charge for waiting time, it does incur a cost to them in terms of locked up work in progress so it may facilitate a trade off in reduced fees. Or, if your in-house team has more time to do work itself, you may find you need to spend less on outsourcing.
Focussing on getting work to flow faster rather than the more common “you must change everything and reduce costs” could be the start of your Continuous Improvement journey.
Mark has a successful track record as a "Lean" Management consultant, enabling businesses in both the services and manufacturing sectors to produce substantial reductions in delivery time and operating costs, whilst also improving those elements of service that clients really value. Experience has enabled Mark to develop new models and adjust tried and tested "Lean" techniques that are relatively new within legal practices, ensuring that the approach is understood and will deliver results for lawyers. Mark lectures at the Leeds University Business School where he is an Associate in the Management Division (Supply Chain and Operations Management).
The CDC has been working with in-house legal departments for over ten years, delivering a range of organisational change and personal development programmes in line with their strategy. Call or email if you would like to discuss how the CDC can help you and your team be even more effective.