How reducing a 4 week invoicing process to 3 days helped a business reclaim more revenue in one year than the cumulative 2 years prior.
Alex joined the Commercial team on a country-wide Asset Management consulting project in the Middle East. He was tasked with producing and managing the monthly invoices to the client so his company could be paid for the work completed each month. This was a 5 year project and he joined in year 3. Due to a number of reasons outside of the company, invoicing in the first two years was inconsistenly successful. By the time he got there a lot of the problems external to the company had been solved but the internal process was complicated, error prone and took almost an entire month to complete. It was taking a month just to claim the previous months time and now there was a significant backlog of potential time that could be invoiced.
Alex reviewed the process and brainstormed with the commercial team to understand how it had come to be, limitations, what had been tried before etc. Once that was understood it was a matter of understanding where the process could be improved or steps eliminated. It quickly became apparent that most of the errors and thus time spent was on quality control – they had a big issue with data quality (garbage in, garbage out). The simple act of trying to identify and correct for mistakes added a significant amount of time and steps to the process. So the first step was to fix the people problem, not the process.
Reviewing the data it was easy to see which individuals and teams were consistenly submitting poor data (timesheets). This results of this analysis was already well known to those in the Commercial team who had to deal with this data day in and out. This information had been escalated numerious times to management almost weekly prior to the analysis. Despite this, the results of the analysis was new information to management (despite having been told about it prior).
Talking to these teams and individuals it quickly became clear that nobody had been taught how to fill out their timesheets (we had lots of codes for different things across teams and individuals). The normal checks and balances of a supervisor checking and approving timesheets were in place but supervisors weren’t educated on how to check time sheets so they just approved them based on what they thought was right.
- Created a business card sized quick refernce guide for everyone in the company.
- Changed the culture. It used to be an us (commercial team) vs them (everyone else on the project). Instead, other teams asking questions was encouraged and supported.
- Set a time with each team (starting at the lowest accuracy team and working up) to explain what each code meant, when to use it and why. This allowed him to disseminate information at a team level and work 1:1 to answer questions before they became problems.
- Actively made himself available to supervisors to sit with them 1:1 to teach them how to correctly use the timesheet system and the common mistakes to look for. This system was causing the a lot of stress because all leave and holidays had to be approved through this system and their teams were getting upset their holidays and time off was not being approved.
As the data quality improved, less time was spent fixing mistakes so more time could be spent on improvements. This came in the form of automating more and adding extra checks in meaning less errors less often.
It took time and effort but the culture changed, the entire project started working as one team, rather than silos.
Individuals reported less time or stress filling in their timesheet each week meaning that the number of missing time sheets and erros both reduced dramatically.
Supervisors reported less conflict and stress in their team as leave was now straightforward to approve.
By the time Alex left the monthly invoice process had been reduced to 3 days. Now the Commercial team had the time and capacity to recover cost from the first two years of the project. In that year, more money was successfully invoiced than first two years of the project (cumulatively).