In organizations where processes have not been managed well, and where focus has not been placed on joined-up process design, it is often the case that work has been designed in a rather siloed way. We may uncover duplication and inconsistency, with processes being conducted differently depending on which team or individual picks up the work. Perhaps there are a dozen slightly different versions of the 'procurement' process, with certain areas utilizing approved suppliers and others ordering from whichever suppliers they deem best. Or perhaps the 'issue refund' process is treated differently by different staff members.
Sometimes there might be genuine reasons for differences, perhaps due to localized needs or legislation, but often the differences have emerged simply because the particular process has never been consciously designed. Or perhaps the organization was subject to a merger or acquisition, and the processes were not properly considered. When processes emerge in an ad-hoc way without proper management, we will likely find divergence, duplication and other anomalies. We find waste, missed opportunities and customer dissatisfaction due to inconsistent customer experience (they find a different approach is taken depending on the team or person that they speak to!). This provides a significant opportunity for process modelling, management and improvement. Designing an efficient, unified process can drive efficiencies and create better outcomes for staff, customers and the wider organization.
At first glance this sounds like a 'no brainer'—who would argue against making processes slicker, quicker and better? Yet as we progress we may find that we start to face a form of passive resistance. We may find that stakeholders agree with the principle of process unification and improvement, but only when it does not affect their team. We may find that some teams express a desire to include steps that appear relevant for their team only, and appear on first examination to be potentially unnecessary. We might hear people say things like:
"I am completely supportive of this initiative. However, my team deals with very complex cases, so our part of the process should be excluded"
Of course, there will be times when process unification isn't appropriate — or where it is sensible to have different process variants to meet local market conditions. I would imagine that, for example, selling a financial product in the USA would have very different legislative requirements to selling a product in the UK or Hong Kong, and these differences may be significant enough to tailor the process to the jurisdiction. Many other processes will benefit from unification, yet gaining buy-in to wide ranging changes of this type can be notoriously difficult. Collaboration, co-creation and cutting through complexity are key.
Process unification: Collaboration, co-creation and cutting through the complexity
Collaboration is a crucial but often overlooked point. It is important that stakeholders of all levels have the opportunity to contribute and have the opportunity to have their voices heard. It is therefore key that we undertake early stakeholder analysis, and use a range of elicitation and engagement techniques such as interviews, focus-groups and workshops. Well-facilitated workshops can be an extremely productive way of working with stakeholders to gain a mutual understanding of the situation, whilst also building engagement.
When people are engaged in this way we are much more likely to facilitate the design of a process that works and persists. This facilitative approach enables co-creation—we achieve an artefact that many people feel they were part of creating. We pick up any 'show-stopping' issues early and work as a cross-functional team to resolve them long before the process is rolled out. Buy-in is built through every conversation and engagement, through every interview, workshop and focus-group.
This facilitative and collaborative approach also allows us to analyze and assess complexity. Over time, particularly if processes are not well managed, processes tend to get rather 'bloated'. Extra steps are added without full consideration of the consequences, and we may find that there are unnecessary checks, loops and steps built in. These have often become 'the way things are done around here', and therefore challenging them is not easy. Yet It is crucial that we do so—not only will removing unnecessary steps make the process better, it is much more likely to enable us to create a slicker process that works for a wider range of teams and situations. With an engaged stakeholder community we can have these difficult but important conversations. We build rapport, and with a clear shared goal we work together to create a better process. And crucially, we create a process that works well for those involved.