At some time (usually grade school) almost everyone has played the party game where people sit in a circle and whisper a short message that is passed from one person to the next.  The “fun” of the game is that by the time the message makes it around the room, it has invariably morphed beyond recognition.  A not unusual outcome is that the end message is almost exactly opposite the original.

Naturally, the moral of the game is that communications get distorted as they pass through multiple people in a linear fashion.  Ha ha ha.

Consider now the many lines of communication in court processes.  Every time information moves from one actor to the next (for example, a pleading is filed by one person and sent to another to set for hearing) constitutes a risk of distortion.   But in courts, this “game” is no laughing matter.  Indeed, many, many court processes involve significant— and resource consumptive—checks and cross checks to attempt to catch such distortions. 

This phenomenon helps explain why implementation of automated workflow as part of Electronic Content Management (ECM) invariably results in far greater savings and improvement than is usually contemplated when considering ECM implementation.  The savings from avoiding mistakes are usually larger than expected (See the October 1, 2012 post, “Last But Not Least: Defects – the Seventh Waste“), although often avoidance of those mistakes constitutes part of the motivation for moving to ECM. 

What is generally unexpected is the magnitude of the savings from being freed from deeply ingrained sub-processes intended to catch what were previously difficult-to-detect errors.  Perhaps the chance of a communications glitch in a process were exceedingly small.  In fact, in some courts, a particular error occurred only once; following which, the judge insisted that forever more everything be rechecked each and every time to avoid any reoccurrence due to concern with the potential consequences.  Thus an activity with a potential failure rate of less than one in a thousand – one tenth of one percent – has a redundant and/or additional activity that is unneeded nine hundred ninety-nine times (see the September 17, 2012 post, “Inside the Department of Redundancy Department: The Waste of Over Processing“). 

In fact, many times these often subtle redundancies remain virtually invisible as the result of long use and tight coupling with core processes.  Many times, the redundant activities persist long after the reasons for which they were instituted no longer exist.   No one even thinks about them.   As a result, many courts start achieving savings and efficiencies directly from the process and opportunity analysis that precedes actual ECM implementation.

Upon implementation of an ECM system with configurable workflow, the risk of things “slipping through the cracks” or being incorrectly routed (communicated) declines by orders of magnitude.  With automated workflow, it doesn’t matter how many times the message gets whispered around the room: It comes out the same one hundred percent of the time.   Moreover, the savings from eliminating the re-checking and repeating of the “communication” are often greater than even the savings from eliminating the occurrence of the errors themselves.

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