Better Business Processes through ECRSA

I came across my old friend Ecrsa while working on some teaching videos for our Business Process Mapping.  She’s actually an industrial engineering acronym, ECRS. It stands for Eliminate, Combine, Rearrange, Simplify, with the addition of Automate. ECRSA helps us think through ways to improve our business processes after we have mapped them.

Eliminate. Can we stop doing it?

Just as overproduction is the greatest waste of production, business processes are often plagued by doing work beyond what customers need. Work that’s been done the same way for a long time is a prime candidate for finding things to eliminate. Many routine activities such as daily meetings, creating of reports, participating in e-mail chains, checking data or proofreading lose focus and erode in value over time. Entire categories of activity or expense such as advertising, internal policies or services, may no longer be effective. When this is true, they can be eliminated. All it takes to ask, “What’s the purpose of this activity?” and “Who needs the output of this activity?” then checking in what that person.

Combine. Can we achieve more than one thing in a single step?

At the most basic level, this is an attempt at creating a bit of flow by using wait time, transport time, processing time to complete additional tasks. In an extreme cases, within traditional functional organizations, a person opens a file, performs a task, closes it and passes it on to the next person. Flow-focused organizations design work so that people perform a series of steps while they have the file open. It’s often just as fast and better quality for one person to progress or complete a process, accounting for set up and task switching losses.

Rearrange. Can we improve by altering timing, sequence or inputs?

Once we accept that an activity is necessary or at least unavoidable, it’s time to question whether we’re doing it at the right time, with the right resources and in the right way. We don’t ask surgeons to gather, clean, and put away their surgical tools. We can break apart inputs and preparation elements of business processes to better rearrange the work. This can mean two people swapping tasks that they are better suited for. It can involve breaking apart batched tasks and having people do them individually. It can be having one person do a batch of support tasks to free up time for others.

If we were doing it by hand, could we use a tool? If we were using a PC, could we use a mobile app? Or vice versa, as in, would a software-mediated task be better done manually? Rearranging can be a simple matter of changing the sequence of information flow, starting the day with a decision-making rather than ending the day with it, or vice versa. Rearranging has the broadest range of possibilities, so we need to proceed thoughtfully.

Simplify. Can we do less to achieve the same goal?

It’s easy to confuse simplicity with the elimination of unnecessary steps. But there is an important difference. For example, when we eliminate a report, we stop creating and sending it out because we recognize we can do without it. When we simplify the report, we find a way to remove some time or effort elements from the task. We may use a template to speed up its creation, clarify and reduce the required information, or change the policy so that a photo and text from a mobile phone replaces a formally written document.

Simplifying comes near the end of ECRS because it’s the most difficult step. Another way of saying this is that simplifying is much easier once we’ve stopped the non-essential, combined disconnected activities, and rearranged them properly.

Automate. Can we use proven, flexible, low-cost technology?

Automation comes last because we want to avoid at all cost the automating of unnecessary, disjoined, badly arranged and complex business processes. Information technology isn’t always be designed around streamlined processes. Once we have invested in expensive automation, whether medical information systems or production machinery, it can be very difficult to eliminate, combine, rearrange and simplify our processes. ECR and S come before A for that reason.

ECRS for Everyday Life

ECRS applies equally well to business processes, physical, industrial, hospitality, retail and other people service processes. In these days when many of us are trying not to go out and breathe the same air as other humans as often, the ECRS steps can guide us to eliminate, combine, rearrange or simplify our trips. And of course, we can always examine our personal or family expenses to eliminate nonessential items, combine services such as insurance or other purchases when this results in discounts, reconsider the timing of purchases, and simplify our lifestyle in general.

2 Comments

  1. James La Trobe-Bateman

    August 10, 2020 - 3:15 pm
    Reply

    Love this hark back to some great stuff from the past …and make it the present

  2. Norbert Faulhaber

    August 11, 2020 - 9:20 am
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing. ECRS(A) reminds me on SCAMPER I learned 1997 at General Electric as well as on the OSBORN-Methodology, which is also following a similiar logic and set of questions.

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