|In this interview, Joe Pellicano, Director of Strategic Initiatives for PrimePay, discusses how focusing on flow has helped PrimePay satisfy customers!
Karyn: Joe, can you tell us a little bit about PrimePay, your role and what you are currently working on?
Joe: PrimePay is a company of 500 employees headquartered in West Chester, PA. We offer payroll, time and attendance, HR services, and employee benefits services and serve companies of all sizes, but have found a sweet spot in the 1-100 employee space. In my role as the Director of Strategic Initiatives, my primary responsibility is overseeing the implementation of Salesforce.com and I am currently managing the build and deployment of a new billing system. My real passion is blending lean processes and thinking with technology (although Karyn will tell me that a white board, tick sheet, and a pencil are all you need!).
Karyn: I know how passionate you are about “Do It Right the First Time” and not passing defects on to the next customer. Can you tell us about how focusing on this has helped PrimePay’s customers and team members?
Joe: When we started implementing lean practices within the organization, I spent a lot of time going to gemba with different client support teams as I was very interested in ‘why’ our clients were contacting us. We have a comprehensive knowledge base online and I often joke with people that in a perfect world no client ever needs to get in contact with us for support because the answer to all of their questions are available online. As I found out though, a fair majority of the support requests we received were not related to product knowledge or training, but because of mistakes that PrimePay made.
As with most service processes, in payroll there are many steps involved and information changes hands several times along the way. As it related to defects, I found there were two main scenarios:
(1) A mistake was made, but captured before it manifested itself as a support issue. At face value this seemed like an acceptable path because the external client didn’t get to see any of our “dirty laundry”. However, after digging deeper, I saw how mistakes, or more importantly, correcting mistakes was usually the responsibility of the person receiving the defect resulting in delays and rework. More troubling, the person who made the mistake was hardly even aware that it was made because there was no feedback loop.
(2) A mistake was made and went unnoticed for all except the client. Even process steps that take a few seconds to complete can result in a support issue that takes several hours to resolve, i.e. filing taxes for a client under the wrong FEIN, or direct depositing an employees pay into the wrong bank account. Again, the person who made the mistake was unaware of the resulting client issues and support requests because of the lack of a feedback loop.
In short, the team members were not being held individually accountable for their work and they were not empowered to act as their own process step gatekeeper, per se. As a result, we implemented three simple rules:
- I don’t make defects.
- I don’t pass on defects.
- I don’t accept defects
All three are important, but #3 had the desired effect of empowering the team and providing a necessary feedback loop. Notice an error? Reject it; send it back to the previous step owner for rework. This simple idea, that I can ‘reject’ work provided to me because of defects was a monumental shift for team members as they were no longer responsible for correcting the errors from the previous step. The previous step owner also could see the error in their ways and adjust accordingly.
The other 2 rules focused on a team member’s ability to consistently deliver quality work and recognize what quality looks like. To aid the team, we deployed checklists, updated process documentation, changed training procedures, and developed new or improved existing systems and tools to ensure a degree of quality.
Focusing on doing it right the first time has reduced rework, reduced cycle times, empowered team members, lowered support requests (and costs), and raised customer satisfaction.
Karyn: What have been some of the challenges in helping people understand flow?
Joe: A concept that I think people are familiar with, or at least understand, but struggle to improve is value-add time. When I talk about flow I am sure to always express it in terms of cycle time (total time from beginning to end) and processing time (total time piece was actually worked on). “This item takes 7 days to produce but we actually do only about 15 minutes of work on it.” In this example, the value-add time is 15 minutes. The rest of the time it is in a constant state of waste. It’s sitting in a big pile of other things, it’s being transported from one station to the next, or it’s being reworked. Asking someone to improve the value-add time, and hence the flow, really requires you to think outside-the-box and I often see people struggle to break-free of this barrier.
Karyn: In services, it’s often hard to ‘see’ how our services are flowing to our customers. What has helped your team the most?
Joe: Through no fault of their own, people tend to live in their own little process bubble. They have little knowledge of the steps an item took to get to their desk, and they have little knowledge of what other steps the item will take after it leaves. Visual management and implementing a feedback loop are two critical areas for ensuring the team and each team member has insight into their performance. Visual management has taken many forms over the last couple of years but it always has highlighted leading indicators. They provide a short-term window for how work is flowing to their customers and are useful in being able to make tactical changes on the fly.
Karyn: What have been the biggest benefits of working with a coach over the long-term?
Joe: Validation. I have been working with Karyn for as long as I have been learning about lean thinking. Having a consistent resource to validate (or entertain) my thoughts and ideas about process improvement, and to act as my true north has been incredibly valuable. She’s truly become a member of the team and her coaching and leadership has left an indelible mark on PrimePay and myself.
For further information about PrimePay, you can visit their website or reach out to Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(And as you can see from the picture above, Joe and his wife Meghan have just had their second son! Congrats to all!)