The People Side of Process Improvement

When there are problems with a business process, it is tempting to jump straight in and propose process related improvements. Yet, sometimes the underlying process is just fine--the root cause may be a lack of communication, or that the people involved are unsupported or untrained.

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When a process is not working effectively or efficiently it is very useful to investigate further and understand the root causes of the problem. Process analysis can help us with this, and we’ll often find a whole range of opportunities for improvementwe might examine handovers, bottlenecks and look to remove or reduce any ‘wasteful’ activities that take place. However, there are times when our investigations confirm that the process should work just finebut there are other factors affecting it. 

It’s absolutely crucial that we keep people in the front of our minds when we are examining processes. Processes only work well if the people involved are on-board, adequately trained and supported, and have all of the tools they need to do the job. This is equally true with automated processesthere will likely still be people involved either monitoring the process or dealing with any exceptions that occur 

It is sadly the case that sometimes ‘perfect’ processes fail because of the way that they are implemented. Imagine an organization that implements a brand new process for logging IT requests. Rather than ringing the IT team directly, a support portal is developed where users can raise ‘tickets’ with their problems.  This type of system can undoubtedly work well, it can be more convenient for those people raising tickets and those people dealing with thembut only if thought is put into the implementation and communication of the new process. If the change is not well communicated, we may find that users don’t put the right details onto the ticket, meaning that the tickets get mis-routed, and the whole process takes far longer than it needs to. It may be seen as unnecessary bureaucracy from both sides, and in this case, people will likely start working around the system, relying on their personal networks to get stuff done. 

 These types of situations can be avoided by keeping the customers, users, operators and beneficiaries of our processes firmly in our minds when we design our processes so that we build in a good internal and external customer experience. During the process design effort, it is also crucial to think about how the changes will be communicated, and the types of support that people will require before, during and after the change. 

Going back to our IT helpdesk example, it would be crucial to have clear communication well before the change letting people know it is coming, letting them know why it is coming and ‘selling’ the changes by stating the clear advantages to them. Nearer to the change there would need to be more detail on the new processes, perhaps short instructional videos or blogs and short FAQ style’ articles. It’s also important to provide a channel where people can ask their own questions, and there can be value in picking up on the common themes and adding these to the FAQs. Thought should be put into trainingthose who are going to be operating the new processes will need a more detailed understanding of the activities within the process and the systems that support it. 

Once a process has been implemented, we should continue to keep people in the front of our minds. There will likely be a few niggles or snags that we need to resolve, and we should build in the potential for ongoing process improvement. We should consider how new staff will get trained on the process, how changes to the process will be handled and managed, and we should ensure that the effectiveness and efficiency of the process are measured and managed.   

Throughout our initiatives, we should also think about how people are feeling about the change. If people are reluctant or have concerns, we should do our best to address theseto show them the advantagesand also accept that sometimes the concerns are genuine and they are right! We should be prepared to pivot or change course if we discover new information! 

In conclusion: Process Analysis is an extremely valuable discipline and it is inextricably linked with people. We must keep people front of mind in our process analysis and improvement efforts.

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