Lean Production Applies to Document Management, Too

The essence of lean production revolves around the premise of achieving maximum output with the minimum required resources and time. It’s not merely a cost-cutting exercise; it’s much more about the meticulous and strategic utilization of resources in the right places, for the optimal duration. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

We often think of lean production techniques as they apply to manufacturing plants. Though it may not seem so to outside observers, operations that compose, print, and distribute printed and electronic documents are very similar to factories that produce cars, food items, or household goods. Organizations that produce customer communications are document factories.

Companies can apply lean production approaches to document manufacturing with innovative software platforms. Sophisticated tools like DocOrigin from Eclipse Software are transforming how companies can operate, grounding themselves in the lean management philosophy, which includes the following concepts:

  • Efficiency: A system like DocOrigin allows companies to produce and distribute high-quality personalized documents at high speed, without sacrificing quality.
  • Cost-effectiveness: A lean approach ensures the greatest output with minimal inputs, leading to significant cost reductions.
  • Agility: With the right tools, companies can dynamically adapt their document production processes in response to changing market conditions.

A trend for companies to move towards this lean approach is not just a strategic shift, but a survival tactic, especially in the face of the uncertainties the business world has confronted in recent years. Supply chain interruptions, labor shortages, and technological improvements have encouraged companies to abandon legacy solutions and adopt new ways of doing things.

Principles of Lean Production

Five lean principles are considered in strategies for improving workplace efficiency:

  1. Defining value
  2. Mapping the value stream
  3. Creating flow
  4. Using a pull system
  5. Pursuing perfection

Defining Value

To comprehend the relevance of this element of lean production, one must step into the shoes of the consumer. Rather than determining value from an organizational perspective, lean philosophy emphasizes a customer-oriented approach where end users define the worth of a product or service.

For documents, this means stripping away most of our pre-conceived notions about why we create documents and focusing first on the recipients of those printed or electronic items. What is the most important information according to the recipients? Do the current documents meet those needs? What will recipients do with the documents after receiving them? How easy is it to accomplish what they need to do? How relevant is the information included in the documents?

Answers to questions like these can impact how a company designs, produces, and delivers a document. A lean approach that includes defining value can uncover previously unrecognized opportunities for improvement. Examples may include making important information more prominent, producing documents in multiple languages, or changing the delivery schedule.

In some industries, regulations dictate some of those document design, production, and distribution decisions. Companies must follow those rules. However, taking a step back to see documents in the eyes of the recipients can be – well, eye-opening!

Mapping the Value Stream

A value stream refers to the end-to-end series of actions a company executes to provide a product or service to the customer. Under lean conditions, organizations should streamline each of these steps to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. These efforts ideally result in superior resource allocation and overall output quality.

The focus of lean methodology is to define value from the customer’s perspective and isolate all the tasks that enhance this value. Tasks not contributing to end-user value are wasteful. We can segment waste into two groups: tasks that are non-value-adding but necessary, and those that are non-value-adding and unnecessary. The latter represents pure waste and must be eradicated, while the former needs significant reduction. A good example of non-value-adding but necessary document content are the regulatory requirements we mentioned earlier. The law may require you to use certain language in customer-facing communications, but the customers rarely pay any attention to it and find it hard to understand.

When we turn the lens towards document production, mapping the value stream serves to identify and reduce unnecessary complexities and redundancies. Companies can scrutinize every step in the document creation process for wasteful activities or bottlenecks. For instance, an examination could reveal inefficient workflows surrounding approvals. Platforms like DocOrigin can allow document designers to access pre-approved terms and conditions, for example, eliminating the need to wait for the legal department to review the same text repetitively. Changes like these speed up the document production process and eliminate needless tasks. 

The lean concept of mapping the value stream when brought to bear on document production exposes a myriad of options for efficiency gains. By rooting out wasteful activities and speeding up the production process, companies can achieve greater value from their document production operations, ultimately leading to enhanced productivity and customer satisfaction.

Creating Flow

A lean workflow weaves around obstacles, creating swifter, smoother routes to deliver value. Here, value refers to a document conceived and delivered with the least investment of time and resources, without compromising quality. 

Document production involves several stages of drafting, revising, approving, designing, and dispatching. For printed documents, we also have steps associated with printing, finishing, and perhaps mailing. This extensive chain of tasks can be a breeding ground for bottlenecks, delays, and errors, thwarting the firm’s objectives for productivity and profitability. That’s where lean flow thinking comes into the picture. 

Organizations use principles of flow to streamline processes. Companies can ensure that each stage of document production seamlessly leads to the next, without unnecessary halts or delays. No lingering or idle resources, no unintentional hoarding of work-in-progress drafts, and no inefficient redundancies. Instead, a smooth, steady, and swift transition from one phase to the next.

One way DocOrigin plays a part in creating efficient workflows is by allowing organizations to move some aspects of document design out of the IT department and into user teams. With configurable roles and permissions, certain areas of documents can be locked down or made accessible. This allows administrators in marketing, for example, to manage and test data-driven marketing messages on documents without risking the integrity of the document structure.

Using a Pull System

Instead of company-initiated mass production, a ‘pull system’ emphasizes the importance of processing only when required. The concept originated in the manufacturing industry and has found relevance and application in a vast array of sectors.

This principle has an application for some organizations that manage a high-volume document output operation but also handle on-demand correspondence. By formatting outbound mailed documents to fit in a standardized window envelope, companies can accumulate document requests from inside and outside the organization. These organizations collect the documents, sort them into an optimal mailing sequence, and then print and mail them as part of large, co-mingled batches. This approach optimizes machine and labor use by creating efficient work unit sizes.

The principle of ‘pull’ aligns with lean thinking by accentuating the need for optimized usage of resources, such as high-volume printing and mailing equipment. In today’s information-intensive business landscape, applying this principle to document production can yield significant dividends. Companies may experience benefits such as uplifted efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction, and adaptability in the face of fluctuating demand patterns.

Pursuing Perfection

The principle of ‘pursuing perfection’ is an ongoing process. It seeks to cut waste and optimize efficiency constantly and cumulatively through constant refinement. The aim is to make improvements on a micro level, which would culminate in macro-level enhancement of the entire production system, inching closer towards an ideal state of ‘perfection.’ 

When applied to document production, this principle encourages organizations to fine-tune their processes consistently. This might involve reviewing procedures, reducing ineffective or redundant actions, and implementing new methods to speed up the production or improve the quality of documents. 

Template rationalization is a good example of pursuing perfection. Many organizations maintain extensive libraries of document templates, many with multiple versions designed to meet specific needs or apply to certain customer groups. DocOrigin customers use the software to combine templates by embedding business rules to handle the variations. Rationalizing a company’s entire collection of document templates could be a months-long effort. A more reasonable approach would be to reduce the template population in incremental steps.

The first step may reduce variations by using logic to include or exclude content blocks from a template according to variables in the data. The second step might include language translation according to each customer’s language preference. A final step might add color pallets and logos as variables.

Such a lean approach, striving for perfection, ensures that document production becomes more sophisticated, accurate, and efficient over time. Ultimately, striving for perfection aligns document production more closely with the strategic objectives of the organization.

DocOrigin and Lean Production

The DocOrigin platform helps companies produce and distribute personalized documents efficiently. The software is perfectly suited to facilitate the principles of lean production. DocOrigin offers a range of features and tools that streamline the document creation process, allowing businesses to save time and resources. The platform provides templates and design tools that enable users to create professional-looking documents without the need for extensive graphic design skills. This means companies can quickly generate personalized documents such as invoices, statements, or marketing materials, tailored to their specific branding and messaging requirements. 

With DocOrigin, companies need not allocate high value IT resources to manage document composition and production tasks. Instead of enduring long wait times for document management projects to be addressed by IT, user departments can handle the tasks themselves. This labor distribution option speeds document development and implementation.

One of the key advantages of using the DocOrigin platform is its ability to integrate with existing data sources and systems. This means companies can automatically populate documents with relevant customer information, lessening the need for manual document design and reducing the risk of errors. This ensures each document is correct, up-to-date, and personalized to the recipient.

Eclipse Software’s platform offers advanced personalization capabilities. It allows companies to customize documents dynamically, based on various criteria, such as customer preferences, purchase history, or demographic information. Companies can use conditional logic to include specific content or offers based on a customer’s previous interactions with the business. This level of personalization helps to enhance customer engagement, delivering what the customers want, and improving the customer experience.

Overall, the DocOrigin platform plays a crucial role in maximizing business efficiency as prescribed by lean production concepts by enabling companies to produce and distribute personalized documents with minimal effort. By automating the document creation process, integrating with existing systems, offering advanced personalization capabilities, and supporting various distribution channels, the platform helps businesses save time, reduce costs, and enhance customer engagement. This ultimately contributes to improved operational efficiency and competitiveness.