Looking at the big and small picture
In a fast moving business environment, smart organizations focus on creating and optimizing flexible processes that can respond quickly to changes. This involves consciously monitoring the external environment for changes, whilst also focusing on continuous improvement activities. It involves looking ahead, taking a big picture view, whilst simultaneously focusing on seemingly small (yet not insignificant) incremental improvements.
This dual focus on the micro and macro can be tricky. If we are not careful, it is very easy for continuous improvement activities to become fragmented and disconnected from organizational strategy. We risk pursuing seemingly rational local 'wins' that inadvertently create significant costs and problems elsewhere.
Perhaps the Sales & Service team in a mail-order retailer cuts out a whole range of seemingly superfluous steps from its process, and unknowingly creates a headache for the Finance team (as those steps were crucial for billing). Or perhaps a Call Center manager works hard to optimize and standardize the call handling process, introduces call scripts and reduces average call length by 50%. On the face of it, this might sound like a success – but if the organizations strategy is to differentiate on personal service and going the extra mile, then short and scripted calls might be completely out of alignment with what the organization needs. It might have the effect of reducing customer loyalty, which certainly wasn't the intention!
It is very easy for us and our stakeholders to inadvertently and innocently fall into these traps, particularly in organizations that are structured in a way that encourages silos and separation. Yet, with forethought, planning and collaboration it can be avoided. Considering strategic and process communication is key.
Firstly, it is crucial to ensure that there is a good understanding of the vision, mission, objectives and strategies throughout the organization. This strategic awareness ensures that when defining or refining processes we can align them to the organization’s goals. Regular communication of the strategic imperatives is crucial, as this ensures the key messages are reinforced. This is more than simply placing a document on an intranet and hoping people click the link – it involves weaving the strategy into the daily operations, ensuring that metrics and KPIs are properly aligned and that everyone in the organization is appropriately aware of the strategy. It is a tricky ongoing set of activities that are often neglected, but well worth focusing on.
Secondly and equally importantly is to work with our stakeholders to actively think from end-to-end. This includes ensuring we have an understanding of what the customer and other stakeholders value, whilst also having an understanding of how the organization’s processes fit together. By encouraging improvement activities to take a holistic view – examining not just the localized factors but a wide range of organizational factors too – we reduce the risk of scoring the type of inadvertent own-goals where localized improvements cause problems elsewhere.
A key enabler to embedding this type of approach is to agree on a shared notation (such as BPMN) in which processes will be modeled, and also to provide access to a relevant tool or shared repository. A well-designed and well-managed set of process models will enable the impact of potential changes to be assessed more easily, and will help everyone involved see where their processes fit in the bigger picture of the organization. This can help collaborative conversations to take place – some stakeholders might have the occasional ‘aha’ moment when they realize the types of impact that decisions within their process will make on other teams.
Of course, there is no silver bullet – there are a wide range of factors that need to be considered alongside those mentioned in this article – yet ensuring people can see where their processes fit within the wider picture is an extremely beneficial step. Encouraging a shared view of the macro environment will help avoid piecemeal analysis that backfires, and will ensure that we can co-create changes that create benefit all round.