Process Happens – 6 Steps to Combating the Cancer of Process Inefficiency across the Organisation
Process happens in in every organisation, every day. It’s unavoidable. We need business processes to keep the doors open and the business functioning. The question is whether you are reaping the rewards of effective process management or whether process has become a burden and is slowly suffocating your business and leading to unacceptable business risk. Imagine the risk associated with a Board of Directors making a critical business decision based on inaccurate business data or missing a business opportunity that could cost the organisation thousands, millions or billions.
What is Process Cancer and is my business affected?
Process cancer is the debilitating effect of ad hoc processes or process variations that become engrained in the culture of the business. As service demand grows in a thriving business, operational performance declines and employees disengage. Employees feel like they are running through mud and customer service levels decline. Everyday processes become tedious. As these processes are part of the culture of doing business they are accepted as normal, the costs of which are associated with the cost of doing business.
“Yes – process variation hurts us, but are considered normal by the business. Users can’t see another way”, says Kyle Grace – Legal Business Process Analyst.
Process variation occurs when an organisation agrees to do the same thing different ways. This impacts the ability to streamline resulting in inefficacy and lower quality of service.
If you are frustrated, hacked off, fed-up, annoyed or can relate to any of these symptoms then your organisation is infected:
- Manual unstructured process – getting the job done by any means possible e.g. emails going backwards and forwards, Excel spreadsheets to manage anything and everything.
- Mountains of paper everywhere.
- Capturing and re-capturing data into systems.
- Scrambling to find the correct data to report on or spending hours correlating information to make sense of it all.
- Staff turnover resulting from fed-up and frustrated employees resulting in lost knowledge an over complicated process as people look for workarounds.
- Spending hours re-training new employees on the manual process or variations thereof or feeling lost and out of depth for weeks on end as new employee.
Understanding the cause of Process Cancer is the first step to recovery.
We have all done it and continue to do it every day. You’re under pressure to deliver so you take the shortest route possible (Process Variation) to meet operational requirements without thinking about the long term impact. For example, you send out a group email and ask for quick feedback on a document or input to a document. The result is a cascading effect of information gathering throughout the business, each step wasting time and resources.
It’s in our human nature to take the easiest process route possible. Because the process worked the first time and you delivered on your promise you do it again next month.
The result is an inefficient process that has become the way of doing business and is accepted as the standard business approach without being questioned. Your business is now infected and you don’t even know it. Keeping the process functioning simply requires more human effort.
Each Business Unit, Department, Executive or General Manager brings their own unique processes, resources, business applications and operates independently of the rest of the business. The net result is often a duplication of effort, multiple resources performing the same function and expenditure on individual business applications with overlapping functions.
Disparate Data or No data
Data is everything to running an efficient business. When business data is trapped in emails, electronic documents and on paper it’s impossible to report on it with any level or accuracy.
The result is:
- A lack of transparency across the business which is essential to improving the operating efficiencies and identifying problem areas.
- Increased business decision risk.
- A governance nightmare.
- A workforce that is overburdened and inefficient.
An IT strategy that results in business data being trapped in systems where it cannot be retrieved or reported on is just as debilitating as having no data at all. Organisations often fall into the trap of trying to leverage existing workflow capability embedded in line of business systems to solve the workflow needs of the entire organisation.
This approach is doomed to fail at some point for a number of reasons:
- The workflow capability within line of business systems (e.g. ERP, CRM, EDRMS) is designed to function optimally with the data within the respective system and it not designed to span the workflow needs of the entire organisation. This approach often results on failed IT projects that do not address the needs of the business.
- Forms implies data. Data is the lifeblood of doing efficient business. Leveraging the forms capability within a line of business system often results in the data being stored in a data repository that is inaccessible, difficult to manage and impossible to report on. Creating and maintaining forms in this scenario and be overcomplicated costing time and money.
- Linking your forms and workflow strategy to a line of business system is high risk. When an organisation outgrows the respective platform you will need to rip and replace your entire forms and workflow strategy as well. Remember forms implies data. Lotus Notes and more recently the Microsoft InfoPath retirement are good examples of this. Is your organisation repeating the mistakes of the past or have they learned their lessons the hard way?
The Treatment Plan
The good news is that there is a cure.
Here is a six step plan for combating the cancer of process inefficiency in your organisation.
- Acknowledge at all levels of the organisation that there is a problem.
- Identify and classify all the processes within the business, whether they are ad hoc or business critical. Don’t document the details at this point as they will change. Remember they are ad hoc and business users don’t understand their own processes. Simply acknowledge and classify.
- Embed a culture of continuous process review at all levels of the organisation, especially at management and executive levels.
- Prioritise which processes need to be addressed first.
- Identify a best of breed forms and workflow platform that addresses the following minimum requirements:
- Empowers the organisation to remain in control of the data at all times.
- Can be replaced if required while retaining the data in a structured data store.
- Is decoupled from existing line of business systems to reduce technology dependency.
- Is best of breed and focuses on addressing the workflow and form problem. A forms solution without workflow is as useful as a piece of paper.
- Future proofs the organisations long term forms and workflow strategy.
- Implement a transformation plan with the following in mind to ensure your success:
- Choose the simplest processes and forms to start with in order to prove the expected return on investment quickly.
- Business users do not understand their own processes. Remember process happens! Ask lots of questions, and then ask again. Document and build in small iterations as the process will change as users become comfortable with the solution.
- Ensure your IT team is skilled and empowered to deliver, or you will become a victim of your own success.
- The dream of citizen developers deploying an enterprise solution to a production environment is unrealistic. Acknowledge this upfront, however involving process owners in the prototyping phase can have a lot of advantages and shorten the development lifecycle.
- Change management is inevitable during this process. Manage it well.
- Have a success plan and stick to it.
The reality is that if solving the problem of process inefficiency was easy we would have all done it by now and moved on. The good news is that many organisations are getting it right, reaping the benefits and leaving the competition behind. A piece of software isn’t going to transform your business. You are!
“As our understanding of our own processes improves – yes it improves our IT applications but more importantly it improves our conversations with clients”, says Kyle Grace – Legal Business Process Analyst