When we talk about SERIAL or PARALLEL in our industry, we always think about electrical circuits and CABLE layouts within the same.
In reality, at least in this instance, that’s not what we mean.
Instead, let’s talk about how activities are organized within an office and specifically a sales office, whether in our industry or in other sectors. Very often companies organize their work and their corporate resources by activity.
Let me explain.
There are several activities that a sales back office has to carry out in order to be able to satisfy customers in the best way possible and within the shortest timescales. Logistics activities, planning activities, study activities and the preparation of proposals, and all the various activities that relate to the order itself such as receipt, confirmation, monitoring, dispatch, sending of data and certifications, etc.
How are companies organized to handle the great mass of information and activities involved in dealing with customers?
Very often in mid-size companies (above all because it is easier to organize, and it sometimes results in saving resources), the back office staff consists of as many people as there are individual activities. And so there is one person to enter the orders, another to produce and send the proposals, another person to prepare the various quotations, another to take care of shipping, another for invoicing and so on.
Nothing could be more mistaken, for two main reasons. First of all, because a single activity, that of processing the order, is spread over multiple desks (serial activity), extending enormously the timescales for responding to the customer. In fact, if every person involved in this process takes 3/4 hours to perform their part of the activity, at the end of the whole process the customer only receives his answer after a very long time; all of this obviously is based on the assumption that every person involved is actually in the office (think about absences, business trips or holidays), otherwise the timescales become epic. Secondly, should one person be absent for a period, however long, the simple process of managing orders or proposals collapses.
Years ago I worked in a company that produced durable goods in the logistics sector where the office organization had been structured in this way for years. The staff was also happy because each had their own little empire, but the response times were too long and the level of customer service was poor.
After a brief consultation with my business partner we restructured the office starting with a simple analysis of each activity and after having analyzed them carefully we reassigned each one in parallel. But what does that mean? And how does it solve the problem?
In a nutshell, the tasks have to be assigned to individual back office personnel and the company’s organization chart may have to be redrawn in PARALLEL. An example? Let’s take the task of submitting a proposal and entering the order; whereas in SERIALLY organised companies, this activity is carried out by two people, one issuing the quotation and the other entering the order, in a PARALLEL back office, both people carry out the same activities, seeing them through to a conclusion but for different customers. One for one customer and the other for another customer.
In this way, two customers can receive their quotation within the same timeframe, and the two back office personnel have merely had their duties reapportioned. The company can, in turn, benefit from a lower resource specialization and thus reduce its risk and dependence on the resources. In other words, if one of the two members of staff is not present for any reason, the activity does not collapse and the process goes ahead, albeit slowly.
Furthermore, the company, or more specifically the entire back office can optimise customer response times and the customer, in turn, can track his requests or orders, having just a single point of contact in the back office. Each member becomes a little Key Account manager for the end customer.
However beware, there are several ways, or rather, variables by means of which a sales office can be organised in PARALLEL, even though there are mainly TWO: by GEOGRAPHIC AREA, each person in the back office being responsible for a specific area, or by CUSTOMER, where each person handles everything from A to Z, hence all activities, for a specific customer (or multiple customers) he being the main point of contact within the company organisation.
This also leads to a further advantage, that is, that clients feel that they are being given greater attention and that their requests are being cared for better, eliminating frustrating phone calls to a number of different contacts to find out if an order has been entered, or if specific products have been scheduled for manufacture and so on, or what is happening with an urgent shipment that is due for despatch at any moment.