Most Process Improvement efforts start usually looking at Turn-around Time (TAT) for each step in a process. This is useful but not as useful as looking time that is wasted in between process steps.
Passports in any country take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks or longer, not because there are experts poring over your application checking every fact in your application and making sure you are not a member of Al Qaida! Nothing as exciting! Between bursts of a few seconds activity for each process step, the application just waits for some human being to do something.
That’s the reality if you are waiting for a reply to an email you sent to the customer service department regarding your purchase or if you have submitted an application for a home mortgage loan. Truth is that these are waiting interminably in someone’s inbox, physical or electronic, for a human being to take some action, somewhere.
Mercifully, many new examples of technology concentrate on the application of the Pareto Principle to these situations and cut down waiting time to Zero. 80% of Credit Card applications are either accepted or rejected on the spot and a decision given directly by the computer. The other 20% is directed to human beings for making a decision.
Many Insurance companies make auto insurance underwriting decisions automatically. The combine the information in an application with accident records retrieved electronically and a straight accept or reject decision made using some business rules. These could things like "if the applicant is a male driver, under 21 years of age and the car is a Red Convertible,put it in the manual underwriting pile" or "If the driver has had more than three accidents in the past year, reject the application". This way the 80% applications where a machine can make a decision quickly, be it positive or negative is taken off the list of things to be done manually.
Japanese automakers, especially Toyota have performed wonders by systematically looking at what activity is taking what time and eliminating delays. If they want to change a production line from manufacturing Toyota Camrys to Toyota Corollas, the stamping machines (the ones that stamp out steel doors or body panels) used to take weeks to switch over. By systematically studying the delay times, they have reduced it to minutes! A typical improvement example would be to have the dies for the different cars in a circular table and just rotating the right one into place!
The same kind of miracles are possible in services also. Cutting down time directly increases productivity, decreases costs and counterintuitively increases quality also (quality includes satisfied customers also!).
Looking at waiting time may be more important than looking at TAT!
Delay is the deadliest form of Denial! – C.Northcote Parkinson