Small changes can have a large impact
Process improvement is a tricky discipline, often requiring us to spend time analyzing and understanding complicated business situations. In order to propose improvements it's necessary for us to understand current problems, get to know the people involved and work with stakeholders to propose a new, better and more effective process. Yet defining a new process is, in some ways, the easy part. Implementing process changes and driving adoption can be even harder!
Changes that seem small and insignificant on paper can have wide-ranging implications that may require months of careful negotiation, planning and consultation to implement. We might suggest simplifying a set of processes by removing handovers, and in doing so we might (for example) propose merging two swimlanes . Merging swimlanes is an easy thing to do on a process diagram—it can be done with a few strokes of a pen or clicks of a mouse—but the real world impact is much more wide ranging. Merging swimlanes can imply the changing of job or team roles, altering job descriptions or potentially even needing to merge and 'multi-skill' two teams. It could end up being a major organizational change that affects structure, work design and job design. This would likely require a program of engagement and consultation, and certainly isn't to be undertaken lightly. It would be important to recognize the size of the change up-front.
We shouldn't shy away from these sorts of changes – but it is important that we take the time to assess whether they are feasible, beneficial and whether there is appetite to progress them. Often there will be boundaries of scope—either explicit or implicit—that we are working within and there might be some elements of the process that are considered to be outside the scope of the change. If our sponsor has ruled out organizational structure changes then this would clearly steer our improvement work in another direction. Speaking with the sponsor early and understanding scope and any constraints that we are working within is crucial, as we can ensure that the changes that we propose fit within them (or, alternatively, if we feel the constraints are unrealistic we can tactfully challenge them).
To ensure that any proposed change is realistic, it is crucial that we carry out an impact analysis. This analysis is wide ranging and typically involves considering the impact to areas such as the organizational structure (changes to teams, additional resourcing requirements and so forth), roles (changes to job design), automation and technology (new IT systems), data and information (new data necessary to support the process) as well as changes to the underlying sequence of the process itself . iServer provides a powerful impact analysis tool that helps to facilitate process changes where process diagrams are dynamically colored and annotated with data-driven graphics. When carrying out impact analysis it is important that we spread the net wide and ask "what if ..." and "what would happen". It is an excellent opportunity to work closely with our stakeholders and pull on their knowledge and expertise.
Modeling the process in a notation such as BPMN provides a firm foundation for carrying out this type of Impact analysis—particularly if existing processes are well-managed and stored in a common repository. Having a clear view of the "as is" allows us to clearly see where the changes would apply, and allows us to see the areas that will be impacted. Of course, the model will rarely give us a full picture of impacts—but it will signpost where we should look and will guide our further analysis and discussions.
With a view of the types of impacts that a proposed change would involve, we can then assess feasibility. We can check whether the proposal is within scope and whether it fits within any known constraints. Impact analysis also drives useful conversations about how a change would be implemented, and how we would make it 'stick' so that the benefits are sustained over time. It also helps us avoid progressing changes that are unlikely to succeed. After all, a change may be desirable and even beneficial but there may also be policy or cultural reasons that it would not work. Having open discussions about these factors will help us will help us target our resources at process improvements that yield real benefits.