As we approach the one year anniversary of our Lean journey, the accounting department took time to reflect on how we have evolved over the past year through Lean principles.

We had to laugh at how antiquated some of our procedures and processes were before Lean.

One process we brought into the 21st century was how we collect and store our credit card receipts.

Identifying Waste

Storing expense receipts and invoices is an unavoidable pain one must endure if they wish to maintain a healthy relationship with Uncle Sam.

Before we started Lean we used to collect receipts via a basket on my desk and an email address for digital receipts. Then, I had to scan all the hard copies into quickbooks and store them in a file box under my desk. I would then move on to the digital receipts (learn more on how to file receipts and invoices).

We had a receipt email address that credit card holders would send all their digital receipts too. I would go through the inbox and one by one download or screenshot each receipt onto my desktop.

After downloading or screenshotting the receipts, I moved the receipts to a folder belonging to the specific credit card holder. We had north of 20 different folders. Once they were on my desktop, I would open QuickBooks and drag the receipt into the attachment section.

In order to attach a receipt to the proper transaction in QuickBooks, you need to know the vendor, date and amount for each transaction.

Being an international company with offices in 15 countries servicing 9 different languages, I would often have to try and find that critical information in a language that wasn’t my own.

I had to find a currency converter online to get the amount in USD.

Then I would would use Google translate to find the vendor.

Finding the date was even a hassle since countries vary in where the date is located on the receipt. The order of day, month, and year is even different.

I would have to do this with a few hundred transactions per month spending on average one to two days a week attaching receipts.

Lean forces you to evaluate every department and every process within that department. When the accounting department began evaluating our processes, we knew that the credit card receipt process needed some Lean injected into it.

Our first improvement actually came from an employee outside of the accounting department. One of the eight wastes of 2-Second Lean is underutilizing employee genius. Lean forces you to leave your ego at the door. We did not mind that someone from another department had an idea that would improve one of our processes.

We had recently switched our internal communication software to Slack so the suggestion was to create a Slack channel for each credit card holder that they would send their digital receipts to. This made it easier for them to send their receipts and easier for me to keep track of their receipts. This one simple improvement shortened the digital process by a third.

Continuous Improvement

Now that we mastered our credit credit receipt process, it would make sense that we would move on to another process. Right? Wrong.

Lean is continual improvement. That includes processes that have already been “leanified.” Lean is not a fad you incorporate for a few months until you find another business book at the airport to read on the plane. Lean is a cultural overhaul of your company.

Sending the digital receipts to a Slack channel was the catalyst that got the ball rolling. We realized that digital receipts were just half of the equation. What were we going to do about the box of receipts under my desk that would put CVS to shame?

Don’t Waste Employee Genius!

To solve this issue, we once again had to rely on employee genius outside of the accounting department (you are probably wondering if there is any employee genius within the accounting department). It helps to have a fresh outside point of view evaluating your processes.

One of our international employees, who has a fair amount of receipts, was finding it very tedious to download and send in all his receipts. He had a very simple solution.

Realizing that he had a camera on him at all times on his phone, he simply took pictures of all his receipts and uploaded them directly into his Slack channel. This saved him the step of downloading the receipt as a PDF to upload it and saved me the step of downloading the pdf to open it.

This was such a simple and effective solution that we made it a company wide standard. In fact, it was so convenient for the digital receipts that we made the people in the office that turned in hard copies switch to this method as well.

More Continuous Improvement

With the issue of collecting and storing resolved, there was one more major issue to address.

I needed to find an easier way for me to get the information needed to properly code the transaction. Instead of putting all of the responsibility on me for finding this information, I asked all of the credit card holders to write down the information on the receipts.

They wrote down what the charge was for, how much the charge was in USD, the date of the charge and the proper expense account it should be coded to. What sometimes took me up to five minutes to find per receipt, they were able to produce in around 30 seconds! It was a game changer.

Loving Our Lean Journey

Lean was able to turn a dreaded weekly process into a minor, but necessary,  inconvenience.

It is only able to do this if you check your ego and make yourself a little vulnerable. I know it can be scary opening yourself up to criticism, but it is essential for personal and organization growth.

Albert Einstein, a fairly successful physicist, once said,

Success comes from curiosity, concentration, perseverance and self-criticism.

How do you use Lean to succeed? Share your tips in the comments.