Bippity Boppity Boo – ECM, Workflow, and Magic

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable for magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

Walt Disney was a man way ahead of his time. Yes, long before anyone coined the term, ole’ Walt managed to embed a major plug for advanced Electronic Content Management with configurable workflow into his 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty. This feat was remarkable, even for Disney, considering that it would be decades before ECM would be invented.

Don’t just take my word for it; go watch the movie. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t use the terms “ECM”, “configurable”, or “workflow”. No, futurist that he was, Walt cleverly used code words and allegorical situations. But, when you see the scenes in which the Fairy Godmothers try to manage their “household” WITHOUT workflow (they use the code-word “magic” instead; but, clearly, it’s configurable workflow), things are a hot mess. Once they return to using workflow – ok; call it “magic” if you insist – everything settles right in and works like, ahem, a charm.

Yes, the dishes put themselves away. The cake not only puts itself together, but it’s quality is without compare. That doesn’t mean the ladies don’t create the cake. They decide what the result should be and fashion a masterpiece. But there’s no muss, no fuss, and absolutely no wasted effort, duplication, errors, or sloppy work. Materials, ingredients, pots and pans, utensils – all arrive just when needed, then clean themselves and put themselves away.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a practically perfect illustration of the power of ECM with workflow. For those who have implemented it, the thought of doing without it, however briefly, is no less terrifying than the thought of cooking and cleaning without magic was to the Fairy Godmothers. For those who have not implemented it, the purported benefits sound like, well, magic.

Consider: Not only did the cake get baked; but all the ancillary prep work and cleanup were automatically executed as fully integrated functions. Suppose holding a court hearing operated the same way. No gathering documents and files; that’s done. No arranging the materials for the judge; that’s done, too. The judge can hold the hearing, the output (order, hearing, warrant, whatever) can be generated with a flick of the wand — uh, or the proper command issued by the proper person (there’s a difference between this and magic?).

Afterwards, the files and documents can hie themselves to their proper next places, be it “storage” or the next step in the process; notices can generate themselves, and so on. Moreover, for those who like to keep track of what’s been done (that is, every court manager who ever lived) all the proper recordings of what has been done, who was involved, and so on will be made without even asking. Want the answer to  any type of statistical or historical question? Just ask.

Walt even foresaw one of the less obvious considerations with using magic; at least, less obvious until the first time you get burned. That is, the need for security. Fortunately for today’s courts, they’re not the first ones to try using magic in the heart of the woods with Maleficent on the prowl. Today’s systems come with robust security; and staff awareness and training are among the highest priorities of professional court managers. Courts have gotten very good about keeping their windows and chimneys shut, so to speak.

And then, there’s the final scene. As the Princess and The Prince dance into Happily Ever After, the Fairy Godmothers each change the color of the Princess’s gown to conform to their different fashion tastes. What a concept: Configurable display, to suit the needs, wants, and preferences of each particular user. Guess what? Your wish is granted.

Bippity Boppity Boo.

Last But Not Least: Defects – the Seventh Waste

Note:  This blog – the last installment in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda” as they relate to court document management – deals with the “D” in TIM WOOD: Defects.

Calling “Defects” a waste seems sort of like calling “trash” garbage: Of course Defects are a waste.  Nevertheless, in calling out Defects as one of the Seven Wastes in setting forth the Toyota Production System’s principle of management responsibility for Muda (the elimination of waste), Taiichi Ohno went way past the obvious.

First, the cost of defects vastly exceeds even the most extravagant common sense estimates.  Second, defects are not “inevitable”.  They have root causes, which are, to a great extent, common.  Third, they have the potential to be existential: That is, they can result in the failure of the enterprise.

In the manufacturing context that Ohno was directly addressing, “defects” generally referred to parts that do not meet specifications.  The most obvious waste results from the labor and materials required for rework.   Still obviously, although less directly, lost chronological time cannot be recovered.  Likewise, the cost of finding the defects can range from minimal (if identified at source) to enormous (if not discovered until the product is in use).[ii]  Too extreme?  Consider the cost of a recall of all vehicles due to a defective $.05 bolt. In courts, consider the cost of setting aside convictions as the result of a constitutionally defective document chain of custody.

When there is the prospect of catastrophic failure due to defects, all kinds of costs go into prevention, quality control and so forth.  Parachutes that open 99.9% of the time are really not acceptable.  This principle has major affects on court operations.  Almost every court has some very labor-intensive processes that came into being because sometime in the past something was missed; and to prevent the possibility of it ever happening again, multiple re-checks have been implemented.

While defects in the service sector (including of course, court operations) are very different from defects in the manufacturing world, they are no less real.   Muda – the elimination of waste – requires not just identifying and correcting defects early, but  taking proactive steps to prevent them in the first place.

Defects in court operations take all kinds of form.  Misfiled documents.  Matters incorrectly calendared, or not calendared.   Judgments and other documents incorrectly (or not at all) logged into Registers of Action and/or Judgment Dockets.  And so on.

I particularly love it (NOT!) when I hear or read that someone advocates “saving money by eliminating mistakes”, because all too often that is a euphemism for “we’ll tell people to be more careful, which won’t cost us anything”.  The truth is, defects occur for pretty common reasons.   Each of the other six Wastes provide fertile ground for producing defects.  Beyond that, non-standard operating procedures constitute one of the most common causes for defects.   Personnel untrained in a particular process (as in someone filling in for the regular clerk); temporal discontinuity (a process requires multiple documents; they arrive at different times in different places); and emphasis on quantity (speed) rather than quality and accuracy are some of the most common.

In subsequent posts we will examine how Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with configurable workflow (and the analysis that goes with it) can directly attack the root causes of Defects, as well as the other Wastes (each of which helps produce Defects).  For now, consider Defects to be a potential “low-hanging fruit” for some serious cost savings when migrating to ECM.


[ii] A standard formula you often see is: Cost “X” if discovered at the time of occurrence; X times ten if not discovered until the next step in the process (and more for each subsequent step); X times one hundred if not discovered until the final product is assembled and ready to deliver; and X time one thousand (or unlimited) if the defect is not discovered until the product is in use by the end user.

Another formula, attributed to Mary and Tom Poppendieck (http://www.poppendieck.com/), is: WASTE=(IMPACT OF DEFECT) X (TIME DEFECT LIES UNDETECTED)

“You Can Sit Here in the Waiting Room; or You Can Wait in the Sitting Room.”

From Nick Danger, Third Eye, by Firesign Theater

Note:  This blog – the fifth installment in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda” as they relate to court document management – deals with the “W” in Tim Wood: Waiting.

Calling out the Waste of Waiting in courts seems like shooting fish in a barrel: Where is the challenge? We know we make people wait; indeed, courts often make people wait to wait.  We’ve got waiting rooms, sitting rooms, court rooms, hallways, jury assembly rooms, ad infinitum.  True, Disneyland does the same thing; but it all seems so much more fun there. 

That Waiting is a Waste for those who are doing the waiting is pretty obvious.  But that’s not why Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System classify Waiting as one of the Seven Wastes.  Not to be callous about it, but if an organization can get away with making other people wait AT NO COST TO THE ORGANIZATION, well, what’s the harm?

Of course, from a customer service point of view, the answer is “Plenty”.  Courts have surpassed Motor Vehicle Departments as most notorious for waiting.  Still, that is not the primary reason why Waiting is one of the Seven.

Quite apart from people (the frittering of whose time waiting is indeed an enormous Waste), whenever things that should be processed are not being processed, Waste occurs.  In the manufacturing world, Waste occurs whenever parts or raw materials to be assembled/processed/used, etc.  are not being processed.  In the court document management world, any document, file or matter that is Waiting for action generates Waste.  Court examples include documents awaiting signature; filings that trigger the need to schedule a matter; matters requiring review and/or approval, matters requiring multi-step preparation, and so on. 

One big Waste is Time –which really IS Money – which is why the most carefully watched court performance metrics are the case aging statistics.  Other significant, if less obvious, wastes include storage space for piles of documents and files, and unavailability of the documents and files for other processes (causing MORE waiting), to name just two.  Both of these, as it happens, can be greatly ameliorated through use of Electronic Content Management (ECM). 

The largest cause of this type of Waiting generally results from some form of process discontinuity: Either the needed document or file is not available to a process in a timely manner; or the document or file, even though ready for processing, is not forwarded to the next action point in a timely manner.  An associated source of Waiting Waste occurs when the document or file falls through the cracks and is either misrouted or lost at the bottom of someone’s out box.

While not as obvious as many other cost drivers, the amount of time things spend waiting for the next activity or action is extremely significant.  It’s why courts that implement ECM with workflow often find that process improvement is the largest driver of savings and efficiency in operations.  The reason, of course, is that the main purpose of  configurable workflow is to seamlessly and instantly route things that are ready for processing to exactly who and where they need to be, at exactly the right time.  As a bonus, the system will keep track of any subsequent “Waiting” and will give timely feedback to the person responsible for the activity and/or process.

In short, configurable workflow is specifically targeted at the Waste of Waiting in court document management.  When utilized with ECM and electronic signature, it squeezes out Waiting, and thus Waste.  As a result, courts that have implemented ECM with configurable workflow typically find that the improvements and cost savings from process efficiencies alone exceed whatever they had expected.

A major reason is the attendant elimination of lots and lots of Waiting Waste.