Communication Matters

The (Remarkable!) Hidden Cost Of Process

3/15/2016

The (Remarkable!) Hidden Cost Of Process

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Your communications processes are costing your firm much more than you realize.

If your company produces any content on a repeatable basis – reports, fact sheets, presentations, RFPs, web articles, etc. – the odds are good that you are blowing time and money on inefficient processes.

One of the advantages of the Purcell Communications business model is that we incorporate process management skills into all of our content work. Because ensuring the efficiency of your process is such an integral part of our process, we carefully track the process activity for every client project we undertake. Here is a typical report: a line graph depicting the average number of hours spent on process management versus content writing for a set of our large clients in 2015.
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There’s nothing surprising about that blue line – it shows that uneven workflows and high quarterly volumes are a fact of life in investment communications. But its the orange line that deserves attention in this graph. It shows that process management activity is a consistent and persistent requirement of investment content creation. And it’s a role that does not go away on the non-quarter-end months.

And That’s Not the Worst of It

Looking across all major Purcell Communications clients in 2015, we determined that process management activity comprised 28% of total billable time.
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That number should make any marketing or communications professional take note. When more than a quarter of your work hours are being spent on process management tasks, you’re facing a significant hidden cost.

But, if anything, these numbers dramatically understate the role that process management plays for most major investment firms. That 28% figure represents the best efforts of PurcellComm’s professional process managers to push process activity hours to their lowest possible point – in other words, this average is what’s left after inefficiency is driven out of the system.

In most organizations, these process tasks are handled by professional writers, or external freelancers, or sometimes admins, who are unlikely to have extensive experience in driving process efficiencies throughout organizations.

What Tasks Are We Talking About?

What are all of these process hours being spent on?

  • Receiving, organizing, and validating requirements
  • Identifying data or other inputs needed to produce appropriate content
  • Identifying review and approval loops, and in particular, redundancies within those loops
  • Communicating requirement changes throughout the production chain
  • Negotiating roles and timing with the suppliers of content and approvals
  • Creating and updating schedules
  • Using and evaluating automations and other technologies
  • Following up when deadlines are missed
  • Evaluating overall quality and the source of any errors
  • Negotiating process or style guide changes with all stakeholders

What Does Process Cost Look Like at Your Firm?

Here is a more typical look at the way process activities impact investment firms:
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This graph reflects activity at a specific client who implemented significant changes in business strategy and personnel in the summer of 2015. The percentage of monthly billable time spent on process activities ranged from the high teens to the low 30s prior to August, when these changes were implemented. As the original, optimized process was unwound, process billables shot up into the 40%-50% range.

Few investment firms track process time as a unique measurable, so it’s hard to estimate an industry-wide figure. But our experience with new clients, and with implementing major process changes, tracks very consistently with this 40%-50% figure.

What does this number really mean? Consider a firm that produces 50 quarterly portfolio reports; each report averages 6 hours to complete for a total of 300 hours of effort each quarter end. In a typical environment, approximately 120 to 150 of those hours are being spent on process management tasks. With the benefit of active process management, these tasks can be done in fewer than 100 hours, cutting total work hours by as much as 20%.
That translates into thousands of dollars of savings and significantly fewer internal resource strains. In our experience, it also dramatically reduces the number of potential errors in the finished outputs.

How Does Purcell Communications Reduce Process Hours?

In our experience, total time spent on process depends on several factors, including:

  • Number of versions and/or custom reports for multiple client groups
  • Number of review loops required internally
  • Number of sources for internally generated data or other inputs, and ease of gathering and interpreting that data
  • Ability of the organization to meet established due dates

By showing clients the true costs of their decisions around customization, reviews, and data availability, we can help drive decisions that meet client service needs at lower cost levels. Having people with a strong process management skill set also ensures that efficiencies are introduced more quickly and more successfully, with adequate reporting.

A final point: in describing the factors that influence time spent on process, technology was not included on the list. In our experience, technology and automation can be very effective at reducing time spent on packaging and distribution, but they cannot significantly impact the time spent on the more human processes of gathering information, sharing updates, or managing approvals.

Content management and other file sharing tools can ensure that certain tasks are done in a consistent, transparent way, but any time savings are usually negated by the need to regularly maintain and update the software, or to create workarounds for “special situations” that the software wasn’t designed for.

The Upshot

If you want to reduce time spent on process tasks in your communications work, you must:

  • Identify them;
  • Measure them;
  • Establish a routine for regularly (quarterly, usually) evaluating your data and seeking improvements.

Purcell Communications provides this evaluation as a component of our content development services for all clients. We do this because, in our experience, a good process substantially reduces the number of total hours writers spend completing their tasks, as well as the number of mistakes or errors that appear in the finished product. This attention to process has proved valuable for our clients, and we believe it would be similarly worthwhile for any cost-conscious firms struggling to handle high volumes and tight deadlines.

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