Cross functional and global: Improving the order to invoice process at Baker Hughes

Bhavesh Joshi

The process of transforming a customer order into an invoice is one that cuts across many different departments and directly impacts on your customers. So what better process to look at if you want to encourage a new, more interdependent way of thinking in your company?

That's at least, according to Bhavesh Joshi, Head of Asset Utilisation and Global Cash Flow Improvement, at Baker Hughes. His company has recently applied Lean Six Sigma tools to the order to cash process in order to standardize and improve the work. In this PEX Network interview, Joshi describes what they did, how people were the key to success but the difficulty of changing existing habits and the importance of sometimes just getting on with it and getting something done.

PEX Network: You recently did some work on your order to invoice process, which made a significant impact on your cash flow. What exactly did you do?

Bhavesh Joshi: This is a process that has a lot of customer touch-points and has a heavy involvement of people: both of leadership as well as staff. We used very simple concepts and simple ways of improving the business processes, enhancing the systems, and creating the necessary tools required to get the job done.

In essence, what we did was make our peoples' lives easier by giving them a standard way of doing things, enabling predictable performance. We also took Lean Six Sigma approaches and training to thousands of people who had little or no exposure to these concepts.

More importantly, we built a team of our own in-house and home-grown Baker Hughes people using a fairly rigorous selection process. This ensured that we had both credibility and buy-in.

But our goal was wider. It was to use this process as a way to demonstrate we can actually achieve a truly transformative culture, and demonstrate-given the right training and motivation-people are both willing and able to change.

PEX Network: Why this particular focus? Why was this the process that you decided to start with first?

Bhavesh Joshi: Quite often, I think, we do a lot of discussions focused around process excellence governance, strategy, and frameworks trying to embed them into an organization. We chose to start by demonstrating how we could align them and achieve great results.

We wanted to make this process a hallmark of how well a cross functional approach could actually work. This is a process that directly impacts our customers' experience and a lot of people-from sales to marketing, to operations, to finance-contribute to the invoicing process.

PEX Network: The important piece was that it's a process that goes across your whole organization?

Bhavesh Joshi: Yes, that was the key reason. It would require all of us to work together; it wasn't one boundary process isolated from all others, where one person has a control over it and he/she can basically dictate; and it would probably even work for a while. We wanted to make sure it reflected the organizational imperatives, the close linkages and interdependencies; that it really works and improves people's lives and business outcomes, and finally, that it can be sustained. And what better way to actually demonstrate this than a cross-functional process deployed at a global scale?

PEX Network: What did you find were the keys to success?

Bhavesh Joshi: There were many keys to success but the most important one was the people: the people that we chose to have in our team; the people who provided us with the leadership support; the people who actually gave us a lot of feedback about what we were doing and how we were doing; the people who got challenged; and the people who felt motivated, energized, and empowered. The people are what made it work. And we ensured we recognized their contributions through monthly meetings, weekly newsletters, and even corporate-wide video releases.

PEX Network: What was the most challenging part of the whole experience and the whole journey?

Bhavesh Joshi: The challenging part was trying to break down existing habits. The order to invoice process was sometimes looked as just an output: that it was just the biller's job to create final invoice, We were trying to create a much more interdependent mindset; that we were there to help each other and that all of us worked collaboratively to create the final output. Once people were fully engaged, it was very easy for them to adopt the new process and the mindset.

PEX Network: What was your biggest lesson learned?

Bhavesh Joshi: My biggest lesson learned was that rather than thinking about what can performance excellence or Lean Six Sigma or anything can do for you, start making things happen by putting customer and people at the center. In my team of 40 people-across about 15 different countries-only a few people had formal Lean Six Sigma education or certification. Most of the team members did not have it. Even then we were so successful in one very hugely transformative initiative.

So the lesson learned was that if you have the right attitude and the right approach-the "what" and the "why", getting the knowledge and the solution-the "how" is easy. You have to have the willingness to do it.