Applying Kaizen to AP process for a philosophical solution

  • 29 May 2018
  • AP Automation
Applying Kaizen to AP process for a philosophical solution  Image

What is Kaizen? 

The business concept of Kaizen came about in the months after World War II had ended. A small group of Japanese businesses, most notably Toyota, knew that their strategy and processes from before the war would not put them in a position to recuperate and remain competitive in the post-war world. They implemented a method of productivity that focuses on positive changes that can be made as quickly as possible – constant, continuous improvements.  

This philosophy not only affects your day-to-day activities but also how your team is organized and how you rely on each other to be successful. Every person and department’s goal, in their own personal work activities as well as in the department processes and group interactions, is to strive to do what they do better.  

A part of the Kaizen method comes automatically with the introduction of cloud-based solutions. A major advantage of cloud computing is the ability to offer updates and new features that can be implemented at rapid rates. Additionally, support can be contacted through online tickets and electronic helpdesks, which save employees time and effort. 

Driving AP automation the Kaizen style 

The Kaizen methodology doesn’t just apply to massive scale operations like Toyota. You can apply Kaizen to your accounts payable process, whether you’re already automated or just beginning to look into automation solutions. If you’re already automated to some extent, congratulations - you’re well on your way to achieving Kaizen bliss. Now, you can keep up your efforts by focusing on continual improvement, making small steps each day to make your AP process more efficient than the day before. Utilize your workflow tool to highlight areas that slow down your process, or perhaps to identify a leading AP team member who can share best practice tips with the rest of the staff.  

If you’re not yet automated or are looking at implementing a new AP automation solution to improve your efficiency and control, you have the chance to implement Kaizen from the very beginning of deploying an automation tool.  

Implementation designed for success 

The implementation stage of deploying AP automation is a chance for dramatic improvement in your organization, and if the team leading it is well versed in the Kaizen methodology, there’s an even further opportunity for success. While Kaizen focuses on a linear timeline of improvements, the starting line of automation AP is just as crucial as the steps you’ll take down the road.  It’s also essential that your organization’s specific project goals and critical areas for improvement are at the center of the implementation. 

Based on 2,500 cloud deployments and best practice developed over 17 years of AP automation focus, the deployment should break down into five specific phases - Execution, Design, Planning, Training & Tuning, and Closure - which follow a key timeline. 

It’s important to note that the project begins with Execution. As a best practice, the project team should be actively sharing resources with the AP team as early on as possible. This sharing sets the project – and your team – up for success with cohesive collaboration. 

The other four stages provide your organization’s users the tools and training to effectively run with AP automation to their best ability after go-live. Design and planning are two simultaneous but distinct phases that often has a dramatic impact on the business as a whole. In the process of breaking down your AP team’s unique process and needs, many organizations uncover flaws in the previous process that need to be resolved (including problematic suppliers or necessary data clean-up), leading to increased automation beyond what was originally expected.  

In the training and tuning phase, the goal is to give your AP team the skills they need to become proficient users that can begin using the tool immediately. In addition to proper training and adoption, this also means instilling confidence in the product and in themselves and encouraging them to be internal advocates for their department.  

Even after go-live, it’s important that you continue to receive support as the final connections are put in place and you begin using automated workflows on a day-to-day basis. Once you feel confident in your new AP workflow automation, you’re off to the races! Continued assistance from a capable support team should always be on hand for any unexpected technical needs in the future, too. 

Kaizen after implementation: improving on improvements 

While your AP automation solution provider should support your company throughout your lifetime as a customer, self-enablement is the key to becoming best-in-class. A proactive AP team will continually improve their Kaizen implementation by focusing on small, quick wins for the AP team and the areas they touch in the business, as well as overarching long-term goals.  

Determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) that matter most to your organization and regularly measure and track them. If one team member is responsible for tracking these metrics, establish recurring reports for the entire team to review the numbers and compare them to data-driven benchmarks of your industry peers. These regular instances of review will make it easy to highlight and drops in automation levels or areas where you fall below average or leader benchmarks.  

If your solution is cloud-based, stay up to date with new features by subscribing to the provider’s customer email newsletters. Hold multiple workshops throughout the year to make sure all users are up to speed on functionality, train any new users (and re-train anyone who may be struggling), and swap tips with other users for the best practice of using your tool. Also subscribe to industry publications and emails to keep a pulse on what other organizations are doing for automation in the accounts payable process, as well as any new technologies on the market and events in your area where you can sharpen and increase your automation know-how. 

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