Stakeholder Analysis: Think Beyond the Customer

While customers provide us with key indications of areas for process improvement, it's important to remember the risks for Stakeholder Analysis

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Stakeholder Analysis

When optimizing processes, there is no doubt that it is extremely important to consider the customer’s perspective. Understanding how the customer experiences and perceives the process and identifying any frustrations can lead us to improvement opportunities. For example, if the customer perceives there is a frustrating delay in the process, this might indicate that we are carrying out unnecessary or excessive checking, that there are unclear task boundaries, or that there are errors introduced internally. By finding the cause of the delay and re-designing the process to eliminate it, we can save time, cost, and we may even become slicker than our competitors. By focusing on the customer’s perspective, we might find a whole raft of opportunities for improvement—reducing delays being just one type of example.

Yet, a trap is awaiting the unwary. If we were to focus purely on the customer’s perspective, we might end up with a process that doesn’t meet the needs of our other internal stakeholders, or even some of our important external legal or regulatory bodies. Therefore, when analyzing processes it is crucial that we consider the perspectives and interests of the full range of relevant stakeholders—including (but not limited to) the customer.

This is best illustrated by a hypothetical example. Imagine we are re-designing the application process for a personal bank account. We notice that a large number of bank account applications ‘stall’ when the customer is asked to provide proof of ID—particularly when they are asked to provide a utility bill or proof of address. If we purely considered the customer’s perspective, we might be tempted to remove this step entirely—after all, as a customer, do I really care if the bank validates my address? I’d rather the bank just set my account up straight away. However, to remove the step entirely would be problematic—it is likely that it exists to prevent fraud and also to ensure that the bank adheres to its regulatory requirements. There will be a stakeholder—somewhere—in the organization that cares about that step. Perhaps it’s a Compliance Director or even an Anti-Fraud Manager—either way it would be important to identify them and engage them in the process re-design effort. We ignore these stakeholders at our peril.

Spending time up-front saves time overall

With this in mind, it is extremely beneficial to spend a little effort up-front for Stakeholder Analysis identifying the stakeholders who have an interest in the execution of or the output generated by the process. This will save time in the long run, as we’ll be sure that any process changes we make are aligned with the business and organizational context. The stakeholders to identify will include anyone who inputs to or triggers the process, anyone who receives the ‘end product’ or service, as well as those people who help make the process happen. It also includes anyone who provides guides, policies or constraints. Often these are people who aren’t directly involved in the process itself, but who set or interpret policies or rules to which the process must conform, like the Compliance Director in the previous example. It is crucial that we clearly identify these stakeholders and the rules that they set. Re-engineering a process that doesn’t comply with a regulatory standard would be somewhat of an own-goal!

A clearly identified stakeholder landscape can make process improvement easier. When examining every step within a process we can ask ourselves “who cares about this?” or “who would be impacted or affected if this step were removed?” This will help us understand who we need to speak to. If we identify tasks that don’t appear to be required, we can scour the stakeholder landscape again to check if the task is necessary for any other reason—and if nobody shouts then we can remove the task with confidence.

In summary: When analyzing processes from a Stakeholder Analysis perspective, it is extremely beneficial to spread the net wider and identify all key stakeholders who have an interest in the process. This will prevent us from making changes that might otherwise prove problematic. It helps us identify constraints up-front and move forward with confidence.

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