How TIM WOODS can improve productivity in your conveyancing firm

In the conveyancing world, fixed fees are paid for purchase transactions or completed sales, therefore time spent on activities that add no value to these transactions will eat into the profit a company earns.

In the world of Lean, we call this non-value adding time “waste”, and Tim Woods is to blame. (Tim Woods isn’t actually a person, but an acronym – we touch more on that below.)

The likelihood is that most CEOs and Managing Partners in the conveyancing sector are aware that some processes need to be improved within their company, but they aren’t clear on the magnitude of the situation.

In addition to this, knowing how to identify non-value adding time, along with determining solutions to reduce it, is not a straightforward as it seems.  In our conveyancing assignments alone, we typically find between 80% and 90% of transaction time is non-value adding.

With so much waste in the workplace and so many opportunities to reduce non-value adding time, the Lean framework enables organisations to see how, where and when they could improve in granular detail.

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Being able to comprehend the different types of waste and how much labour time is used to process it within a company is where you need to start. Waste analysis allows you to see where paid time is used, so you can make bigger, impactful changes and overall improvements.

In order to create a seamless flow of value that goes straight from the customer, to the conveyancer, and on to the broker and lender, waste needs to be identified and reduced wherever and however possible.

  • Transport
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over-producing
  • Over-processing
  • Defects
  • Skills

Below is a range of examples of the Eight Wastes of Lean (A.K.A Tim Woods):

Transport

Transportation waste refers to the unnecessary movement of anything, such as data, information or physical materials. In the conveyancing sector, transport waste could be the movement of information by email, or transfer of paperwork from one person to another.

For example, despite the pandemic forcing many conveyancing companies to introduce document-scanning technology, many conveyancing solicitors still prefer to print, move and post documents around.

If your conveyancing business could reduce transport waste by five minutes per case, how many more cases could be completed every year with the same number of solicitors?

Inventory

In conveyancing, inventory may be termed ‘back log’ waste. It includes full email inboxes, queues of outstanding tasks in case management software, obsolete paper files or outdated records in the database.

There is usually an inventory of cases waiting to be processed to completion, and it is typical to find around 10% to 20% of the cases can be brought forward. This is a win for both the business and the customer, as cases can be worked, and fee income can be collected earlier than expected.

The benefits of reducing inventory waste in a conveyancing business always provides surprising results. What benefits would you see if you could reduce case inventory and bring forward 10% of your cases by four weeks?

Motion

Motion waste is the unnecessary movement of people in the workplace. In a conveyancing environment, wasted motion includes a huge variety of actions. For example, this could be moving a mouse around a screen, extra clicks on a case management system to move prompts, walking to pick up paperwork from a desk, searching for information on a system, and so on.

Although each individual motion may not seem like an excessive amount of time, the accumulated motion time waste across a conveyancing company will run into months.

Do you know how much time is spent on motion waste in your company?

Waiting

The variety of reasons for excessive waiting in the workplace are endless, but it is symptomatic of imbalances in workload, how people are organised and disjointed processes with multiple handoffs. For example, waiting for agents, customers, brokers, lenders, proof of ID checks and so on.

Wait time between departments is usually a result of how people and processes are organised. Typically described as a ‘sub-optimal operating model’, where resources with the required skills to process a case task are not available or ready at the right time. This results in delays between tasks leading to chase emails and downstream rework – all non-value adding time.

Furthermore, excessive wait time can be the result of a variety of scenarios, such as teams with different priorities, someone’s workload being backed up, or someone being off sick or on annual leave.

There are countless ways in which conveyancing companies can minimise waiting time.  For example, reorganising and up-skilling people to minimise handoffs, automating broker or lender updates, or developing a more beneficial task sign-off process.

Reducing wait time in a conveyancing transaction provides various productivity and customer benefits, including reducing chase emails and phone calls, and reducing the time spent by solicitors checking the status of a case when waiting to process it to the next stage.

Through working with our conveyancing clients, we have discovered that email communications absorb a staggering 40% to 60% of a solicitor’s paid time.

How much time could you save and how many more cases could you complete per year, if wait time between process steps was reduced?

Over-producing

Have you found yourself, or seen your colleagues, creating reports that nobody reads or completing a task when the next step in the process is not ready to receive it? Similarly, if your case management system prompts you to complete a tasks ahead of time, this is also over-producing waste. Creating documents and producing reports containing the same information are also examples of over-producing in the conveyancing sector.

Knowing how to best anticipate when tasks should be completed, coupled with keeping your customers, brokers and lenders updated regularly, will reduce the amount of over-production time.

During a recent conveyancing project, it was found that on average 15% of cases were processed four weeks too early. What could your company do with an extra 15% of capacity?

Over-processing

It can easily go unnoticed, but if you sit and study how each person in your office works, the amount of over-processing will surprise you.

Do you have people checking the work of others, or worse, multiple people checking the same thing repeatedly? You may be under the impression that this over-zealous inspection process is the reason problems don’t occur. If this is the case, when was the last time you checked to see if there is a way to prevent the problem from ever occurring?

Duplicating data in multiple places, moving on system prompts, sending more than one email to update a customer on the same topic, are prime examples of where conveyancers over-process.  Over-processing time is a big drain on capacity and can be freed up using simple solutions we know that work, so solicitors can spend time adding value to the business.

We have discovered that over-processing typically accounts for 30% to 50% of conveyancing case handing time.

How much time is wasted over-processing in your business?

Defects

Defects are simply mistakes or errors that require additional time, resources and money to fix. Common examples in conveyancing include incorrect contract approval, missing post complete checks and client questionnaires that contain missing, unreadable or incorrect information.

Many defects relate to basic administrative tasks that are simple in nature, but due to the high volume being completed, errors occur. Defects lead to rework, downstream correction and in some cases, arrive at the customer causing a complaint to the SRA.

Do you measure the impact of defects in your company? Do you know how much time and money you are wasting to check and correct them?

With multiple root causes, solutions should focus on helping employees get things right first time. To do this, the concept of ‘error proofing’ to prevent defects from occurring in the first place is used. With significant advances in technology, automating rules-based basic administrative tasks is also on the rise.

Using a combination of Lean methodology to simplify processes, organising teams around core processes, and introducing technology solutions such as Robotics Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are seeing leading conveyancers create 30% capacity over a two-year period.

What would 30% of increased capacity look like for your company?

Skills

Despite not being a part of the original Toyota Production System (TPS) Tim Wood acronym, the 8th waste of Lean, ‘skills’, is the waste of human potential – in other words, not utilising the talent and skills you already have in-house. Staff with advanced skills doing routine administrative type work, are a recurring ‘skills’ waste within conveyancing companies.

These employees are being paid at a higher rate to process basic tasks below their skill-level and qualifications. In addition to the hidden costs of solicitors processing basic tasks, over time this can lead to frustrated solicitors, reduced service levels and in some cases, resignation.

Reviewing your organisational chart, identifying the type of tasks performed and requesting feedback from employees about the type of tasks they are too skilled to perform is a great place to start.  Developing a company-wide skills and capabilities matrix that shows the skills employees have and where the company can use them, can provide surprising outcomes.

For example, following a skills review with one of our clients, an insurance claim assessor was found to have extensive IT skills. The company had open positions in IT, which led the claims assessor to apply for and secure the role.

How many basic tasks are performed by staff with superior skills in your organisation? Can you increase profit by allocating basic tasks to low-cost workers? Can those basic tasks be automated to reduce costs further?

How do I identify Tim Woods in my business?

Avoiding or minimising waste in the workplace does not have a one-size-fits-all solution.  However, the first place to start is observing tasks being performed, timing how long they take, identifying non-value adding tasks and finding solutions to reduce or eliminate them.

 

Colin McArdle is founder and Managing Partner of Time Consulting Group and has worked with conveyancing organisations to develop their operational efficiency. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt (MBB) with deep expertise in digital transformation, operational excellence and business process re-engineering. He has developed a unique approach to finding and unlocking capacity for conveyancers by using a combination of task simplification, digitalisation, operating model redesign and operational management best practice.

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