Research programs are faced with ever-increasing workloads. In a way, this is good, because a busy team is a sign of a healthy and robust program. However, the demands of the workweek shouldn’t be overwhelming for those involved. To ease the burden, research programs frequently adopt technology resources. Many of today’s technological work tools, such as Streamlyne Research, can aid in increasing efficiency and reducing errors for proposing and managing sponsored projects. However, prior to automating any process via software implementation, it’s important to know how to prepare properly. This way, the software adoption and system implementation can go as smoothly as possible. Here are a few tips to help.
Process automation alone is not a guarantee of efficiency. In fact, automating a bad process can create extra effort and the need for work-around procedures, placing you right back where you started.
Before you begin, ensure you’re starting with a process you want to automate. Review the current state of the process and detail out the current steps in the process. Evaluate each step, and any workarounds, in the process for defects, overproduction, wait time, transport & motion, and overprocessing, which we cover below.
Defects involve errors that result in forms returned due to missing or incorrect information. Look for defects or places where errors commonly occur, for example:
- Are forms sent that are incomplete or that have errors?
- Are questions or data fields, including signatures, routinely missed?
- Do forms often arrive late?
Overproduction is making too much of something or creating something sooner than needed. For example:
- Are there extra copies of forms?
- Is information requested and / or stored in both paper and electronic formats resulting in redundancies?
- Are updated forms versioned?
- Are people unnecessarily copied on email communications?
Waiting or wait time involves delays in a process. Consider questions such as:
- Where are delays in the process and why?
- How much time is spent waiting for approvals in each step of the process?
- Is information processed in batches or when received?
- Are there delays due to investigators or staff being unavailable due to travel, leave, or vacancies?
Transport & Motion
Transport deals with how products move and unnecessary movement that adds no value to a process or a step within a process. The more times information moves from person to person or from person to system, the more likely it may get delayed, lost, or mis-keyed / mis-directed. Relatedly, motion is movement of information or items by people due to workspace layout, ergonomic issues, or technology issues.
- Are all reviews and signatures necessary?
- Are forms hand-delivered or emailed?
- Are forms sent to a shared email, individual staff, or both?
- Are multiple emails needed to process one form?
- Are forms routinely misplaced?
Excess processing occurs when there are extra steps or inefficiencies in a process, such as inefficient routing. Over-processing are steps that do not add value. Look for:
- Extra formatting
- Extra fields
- Excess details
Process Review in Practice
Below is an example of how you might evaluate a paper-based process for proposal routing and review prior to implementing a Pre-award routing and review system.
First, draw out the current process including any workarounds.
|Unit administrator completes the Proposal Routing form and emails to PI for signature.
|PI e-signs form and emails it to Department chair for signature.
|Department chair reviews and e-signs, then emails to the Dean’s office for review.
|Dean reviews and e-signs, then emails to central office.
|Central, pre-award staff reviews.
|If complete & error free, central staff enters data into central database.
|If incomplete or has errors, central Staff returns to unit administrator for corrections.
Next, use a spreadsheet, like the following one, or system that allows you to document waste and inefficiencies in the current process steps. At this stage, refrain from fixing problems as they are identified. Simply describe the defects and other issues in the process.
Process Review Worksheet: Proposal Routing
(High, Medium, Low)
Information incomplete or inaccurate
|Proposal routing form often arrives in central office after the 3-day submission review window.
|Institutional commitments often do not have the required account numbers or numbers are inaccurate.
Too much of something or too soon
|Co-investigators from different units send duplicate forms.
|Emails sent to the central mailbox are CCed to all central staff.
|Investigators send proposal routing forms for preliminary proposals, then again for the full proposal.
Waiting on people, information, or materials
|Unit administrator waits until they receive multiple forms prior to processing.
|Proposal routing delayed when PI is out of the country.
|Form sits idle during staff vacations and vacancies.
Unnecessary movement of information or materials
|Forms are emailed to personal email accounts, resulting in delays when the receiver is out of the office.
|Reviews and signatures from unit offices are missed when multiple units are involved.
Non-value-added movement; workarounds
|-Duplicative data entry
|Every person with signature authority has to print, sign, scan, and email forms to the next office in the chain of review.
|Data must be entered from the paper form into the central database.
Extra, non-value-added steps
|Word processing version of form requires extra formatting of lines.
|Extraneous information is collected that is not currently being used.
Process Fix Prior to Automation
Once waste is identified, documented, and described, form a working group of end users and other key stakeholders. This group will help you to discuss and identify areas for process improvement. Together, you can map out an ideal process with the new automation in mind. The objective here is to develop a new process, free of waste, rather than replicating a damaged process in an automated system.
Remember, implementing a new, automated process doesn’t improve necessarily improve business processes. Prior to implementation, taking the time to make improvements in relevant business processes can result in higher levels of performance, value, and overall satisfaction.
Are you currently thinking about implementing an eRA system like Streamlyne Research eRA software? If so, here are some of the benefits and process improvements you can expect for your research program:
To learn more, including how to custom tailor Streamlyne Research eRA software for your needs, please contact us today.