The value of an ‘outsider’ when analyzing a process


Analyzing and improving processes can be hard. Our improvement initiatives are kicked off by a problem, need or an opportunity—and this might be progressed by one particular function, team or area of the business. It is often the area that feels the most pain that kicks off the initiative. There is a metaphorical fire burning, and the team members nearest the fire are determined to dowse the flames as soon as they can.

The challenge, of course, is that an end-to-end process usually spans multiple teams or functions, and addressing root causes often involves spreading the net far and wide. It is very easy to concentrate on extinguishing one fire, only to find that another appears elsewhere unexpectedly. We move the problem or move the constraint to a different part of the process. Let’s take an example: Imagine a sales & service team is looking to increase customer satisfaction and reduce the number of faulty items that are returned. The team might immediately think there is a manufacturing problem, and may put pressure on the Head of Manufacturing to solve the issue. Yet further investigation may uncover the fact that the manufacturing team receive low quality raw materials (due to a combination of a procurement issue along with insufficient checking when the goods are signed in) and that they are relying on significant numbers of temporary staff to address a peak in demand (caused by unexpected peaks due to the Sales team committing to very short delivery dates). The cause of the quality issue is wider and more complex than it first appeared.

This holistic approach to problem and process analysis leads us to working cross-function. Indeed, the very action of drawing an end-to-end process model with ‘lanes’ denoting the various ‘actors’ helps us to understand who is involved, when and the type of work that they undertake. It can also help us to understand where handovers take place and where bottlenecks occur.

Yet a perennial question in organizations is who should undertake this holistic analysis work? Or, more appropriately, should someone in one of the business functions undertake it, or should it be somebody from elsewhere in the business? Or should it be undertaken by somebody completely external to the situation? Arguably, there is no absolute ‘right’ answer to this question, and a lot depends on context. However, there are significant benefits to engaging somebody outside of the immediate problem domain to undertake this work. Somebody with some knowledge of the business, the domain and the industry—but someone who isn’t affiliated or associated with the specific teams that are involved. This could be an internal consultant, business analyst (BA) or business process analyst (BPA) – or it could be an external consultant.

The benefits of a ‘fresh pair of eyes’.

A suitably skilled and knowledgeable ‘outsider’ (whether they are from a different team or from outside of the organization entirely) can bring a level of objectivity that may be difficult if we rely entirely on those directly involved with the process that we are examining. It is much easier for outsiders to ask challenging questions, they may well observe anomalies or eccentricities that those

involved in the process have long since accepted. A fresh pair of eyes helps us to see those improvements that are hidden in plain sight. They can also bring ideas and experiences from elsewhere, and may help us think beyond our current perceived constraints.

However, it is absolutely crucial that whoever undertakes this role (internal or external) has enough knowledge of the organization and domain and the process to be credible, and also that they have suitable business and process analysis skills. It’s also extremely important that they have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to quickly build rapport with the team, and that they are comfortable and confident taking an objective position of trusted adviser. And, to be a useful part of the team, they also need a clear understanding of the goals that are being pursued within the process improvement initiative.

In summary: Process analysis can be enhanced by ensuring that the person (or team) undertaking it are as objective as possible, and that there is a clear understanding of the goals and outcomes that are desired. Having a suitably experienced and knowledgeable ‘outsider’ (whether from elsewhere in the organization, or from outside of the organization’s boundaries) can help provide this objectivity. And with this objectivity, we attain better outcomes from our process improvement initiatives.