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Wednesday , July 30 , 2014
You are here:  The Meeting Cycle

Meeting

Improving an Everyday Process:

The Meeting Cycle

© Paul Arveson 1998

Why are we so slow getting rid of paper-based processes? Is it because we aren't really convinced of the business case for IT (Information Technology)? Have we been using IT as effectively as we could?

Pete Silvia, a colleague of mine, said, You just can't make a blanket statement that IT improves everything. I like to read paper and edit on paper more than on a computer screen. I agree with Pete; most of us do prefer to edit on paper. But if we stop thinking about the question there, we will overlook ways in which IT can truly enable productivity improvements.

Computer-based word processing is an example of how IT can improve a process (writing) compared to the old way. I don't think many of us would like to abandon word processing. But word processors can also serve in situations involving more than one person. Here is an example of how adding IT can shorten a frequent and costly business process.

Suppose we are having a meeting to rehearse a presentation for the sponsor. Several managers are in the room to hear the presenter and offer comments. I have tabulated some time estimates for this process, based on my own experience of the pace of work. (Times shown are not the time taken to do the work, but typical wall clock times including gaps while waiting for other events).

Case 1. The presenter uses viewgraph technology

Step

Activity

Time (days)

1

Presenter prepares slides (using PowerPoint, etc.)

5

2

Print slides on color printer

1

3

Call people and set meeting date

1

4

Wait for meeting

5

5

Give presentation, collect comments and notes

1

6

Revise slides

1

7

Print revised slides

1

8

Call people and set new meeting date

1

9

Wait for meeting

5

10

Give presentation, collect comments and notes

1

11

Make final revisions of slides

1

12

Print revised slides

1

13

Call people and set final meeting date

1

14

Wait for meeting

5

15

Give final briefing

1

 

Total duration:

31 days

Case 2. The presenter uses electronic technology: a laptop computer with a word processor (or Power Point) connected to an LCD projector.

Step

Activity

Time (days)

1

Presenter prepares slides (using Power Point, etc.)

5

2

Call people and set meeting date

1

3

Wait for meeting

5

4

Give presentation, make revisions on the spot

1

5

Prepare final presentation

1

6

Wait for meeting

5

7

Give briefing

1

 

Total:

19 days

In this example, the time taken to prepare for the final briefing has been cut by 12 days, due to the shortening of the cycle time needed to make revisions. Most of the revisions in the text of the slides are made at the rehearsal meeting, on the spot. Everyone is together in the same room, so that the final revisions are achieved rapidly by consensus. In effect the editor or word processor is being used as "groupware". (Many other kinds of documents, not just presentations, could also be developed by the same method).

The time reduction shown here, which is 38%, represents clock time reductions where there are two rehearsals for the final briefing. If we consider the amount of time reduction in the meeting process itself, the percentage is much higher. Sometimes many review meetings are used to develop an important presentation. Several iterative cycles of briefings using viewgraph slides are compressed into one process when the on-line editor is used. So the 38% number is probably a lower limit.

This example shows a cycle time reduction for the briefing preparation process. This is one of the common and important processes throughout an agency. Such a process is repeated frequently, so it accounts for a lot of time and work hours and dollars. The exact cost is not easy to calculate.

(Note: we cannot directly translate the time reductions directly into cost reductions. This will not work because the times shown are wall clock times, not work hours. Work hours for this process are more difficult to estimate and they depend more on the content of the presentation and other factors.)

Leverage Effects of Electronic Technology

There are other leverage effects of the electronic process that are enabled by the IT process:

1. No plastic or paper is consumed (except for handouts).

2. File storage requirements are drastically reduced (A file cabinet full of viewgraphs can be placed on a few CD-ROMs.)

3. Less usage of expensive color printers.

4. Presentations can be distributed at low cost on floppy disks.

5. Data can be distributed on web sites via the intranet or Internet.

Each of these will entail significant cost reductions, storage space reductions and time reductions. Although the exact amounts will be difficult to estimate, I believe the point is clear: if effectively used, IT can enable our key work processes to be done faster, better, and cheaper. IT will work quietly to improve our productivity, increase customer satisfaction, and thereby affect the bottom line. And we are not talking about advanced technology -- just the more effective use of word processing.

Quick and Easy Business Process Reengineering

A similar analysis could be done of many of the processes in your agency. Agencies are currently operating in a "hybrid" environment: partial electronic, partial paper. Here is a simple guideline for doing business process reengineering: look for the paper in the process. Often it is not necessary to conduct detailed analysis and flowcharting of your business processes; the real bottlenecks can be found on cursory inspection. Often we find that costly delays are caused by a little piece of paper stuck in the workflow stream.

What are some other steps that might be taken along the route to paperwork reduction?

  1. Reduce the dependence on FAX machines, which are nothing but paper producers. Don't release FAX numbers to commercial vendors. Use email when possible.
  2. Increase usage of web and file servers internally. Use them to distribute large documents and graphics, instead of paper mail or as email attachments (which are often printed out again at the other end).
  3. Post notices on the printers indicating the cost of paper and supplies, and discourage use of the printers.
  4. Convert all meeting rooms to electronic format, and provide LCD projectors and other equipment needed for computer/projector presentations.
  5. Create documents initially in HTML (the newer text editors permit this). Then they are ready to be displayed directly on a web browser with the proper formatting.
  6. Begin planning for the future vision of unified knowledge management, for instance by developing a set of keywords for all your documents. Require authors to include them in documents as metadata tags.

The key point is that paper is often the most visible symptom, as well as a cause, of process inefficiencies.