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Guaranteed to blow your mind

Blowing for a WishThis Saturday's (20 Oct 2012) Boston Globe business section had one of those articles that is guaranteed to blow your mind. That is if you are an aficionado of process improvement techniques. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts made 10x improvements in turnaround times, but they were only doing it for a week and then back to normal.

Blue Cross Blue Shield speeds its customer service responses — at least for one week. The gist of the activity is described here:

Tasks that normally can take 10 to 30 days to complete — such as correcting mistakes on an insurance bill, or sending members a chart detailing their deductions under flexible spending plans — this week would be addressed the same day the requests were made.

Had they done some amazing process improvement work? Were they going to be improving customer service and other key performance indicators throughout the organization? Nope… They were doing it to game an industry survey being done. It would last one week, and then it would be back to normal.  Even better: the article suggests that this change doesn't require additional staffing or significant spending on their part.  What a great setup!

You should have heard me laugh derisively when I read this initially. They know how to improve customer service, it doesn't cost more, they have implemented it, but then are going to go back to the way things were after the one week period. This is a familiar situation, though for a different reason.

Many companies respond to emergencies by finding new (sometimes better) ways to get things done with the same people and facilities, but then when the emergency abates, they go back to the old operation without looking at what they did and asking the question of whether they could learn from the changes that had to be implemented.  Granted, the emergency often generates after-shock emergencies as well, but the whole point of "continuous improvement" or "learning organization" is that any event is an opportunity for learning and improvement. 

I wonder if they are going to look at the turnaround time and flow metrics that result from all this?  Maybe it will become something they explore as a permanent change, assuming they look at the right things, like number of tickets closed (flow) along with the turnaround time.

Happily, the article that the customer service reps don't see why this new operation can't be made permanent. Now management just need to convince themselves that this would be a good idea.

[Photo: "Blowing for a Wish" by GenBug]

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