If you don’t address a lack of alignment across teams and processes early on it will cost you dearly in the long run.
Process discovery is often perceived as too time consuming and costly. It can be hard to convince people of the value of taking the time to review existing processes, especially if they are about to be transformed. However, this can also mean that your project is doomed to failure before you have even got started.
Let’s be honest, in reality, everyone from leadership to execution, has a different view of the processes and a different perception of the value in improving them. Therefore, taking the time to map them can really be an eye opener to everyone involved.
Capturing processes is about aligning the team, highlighting the gaps, identifying constraints and creating a universal common language. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be complicated or consuming.
From cost overruns, delays in launch, disputes with vendors, poor adoption and employee resistance, many projects face obstacles. The truth is that if you work together to understand business processes, identify improvement opportunities and align the teams early on, all of this can be avoided.
Leaving it too late leaves you open to failure.
Imagine you do decide to skip the process discovery work, perhaps time and budget are tight or simply its viewed as unnecessary. If you know your existing processes aren’t working, then what's the point wasting time going over them again? Maybe you plan to introduce a set of best practice processes that the company will adopt that will solve any of these niggling issues. Except… that as your programme progresses, and the vendor configures the system, suddenly a new, more detailed, set of requirements is needed.
The problem with waiting until this moment is that then you are up against it, and you have no way of documenting even the simplest of queries and requirements. It may be that you can log and action them, but as volume increases how do you ensure there are no duplications and that everyone is logging them using the same descriptions and parameters? In short, it will easily lead to omissions, confusion and rework. Simple requirements gathering, if not done correctly, leads to weeks of delay and inaccuracies that are not simple to fix.
Delays in launch are not only incredibly frustrating to the management team, but to the employees anticipating their use it can be hugely disappointing. Not only may they discover the new system they’ve been promised does not solve all their ills but in reality, is a fraction of the solution they really desired. Lack of information gathering is responsible for that, add in a serious delay and you have a fairly disgruntled workforce who need to be retrained again after waiting months to use a system they don’t really want.
Which leads me to another point - process capturing not only provides you with a set of requirements but it provides the base of your training and quality documentation. Get this right at the beginning and you are on your way to providing your employees with the right tools to actually use the system you have taken great strides to install effectively.
Process is perceived as too complicated and time-consuming
Process capture hasn’t always had the best of reputations. Mainly because many of us haven’t had great experiences with it. This is more to do with the running of a process workshop and the tools used than the activity itself which should always be engaging and collaborative. One of the first issues is that Process Improvement is seen as ‘being done to people’ rather than teams using it to improve themselves. Often analysts will ask a lot of questions, conduct interviews and workshops before disappearing for a few weeks to make sense of the data and presenting it back to leadership. At this point, most of the people in that workshop will have lost a lot of the engagement and may even have forgotten what was agreed in the first place.
Part of the problem with process improvement workshops is that business processes touch every aspect of work we do and that means they contain valuable information for a very diverse set of stakeholders. We use Process as a generic term and therefore make the mistake of taking a process process-based approach on one project and apply it to another expecting a similar outcome.
This ‘one size fits all’ approach leads to mistakes and miscommunication. As I have experienced myself, some process led projects are highly technical and require lots of detail and use domain-specific language. Consider systems engineering, compliance or manufacturing and then try to take the same approach with customer experience mapping or marketing. They all use processes but the language, the level of detail and the expertise are all very different.
A successful project needs people to be aligned. They have to have a common understanding of the current issues, the current ways of working, the constraints and the opportunities for improvement. And because Process touches everything we do, it makes a fantastic framework on which to hang all these things and make sense of them. But it has to be done right for the task at hand, pitched at the right level for the audience to achieve that essential alignment. That's why taking the time to get it right from the start will make such a difference.
A Simple and Progressive approach that saves you time and money.
So, how do we ensure that we get any HR transformation project off to the right start? Well even for the most complex of programmes a few simple process alignment sessions can make a big difference. Getting a few key people together and quickly sketching out their understanding of the process, the opportunities and constraints don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming but you will reap the benefits. It will quickly highlight gaps in alignment, or gaps in your planning that you can make informed decisions about.
Even more importantly this simple approach, used regularly throughout the programme, will keep everyone on the same page. It will also highlight issues early on and allow you to respond and adapt the plan accordingly. If well documented, it can become the framework, or taxonomy, of the programme so that anyone dipping in and out can understand what’s happening, why, when and how they’ll be impacted. It connects the strategy with the execution and becomes your organisation’s central library of knowledge.
Putting it simply, process done right doesn’t need to be painful or frustrating, in fact, it doesn’t even need to be time-consuming if you put together the right tools in the first place. Where process capture has been estimated to take up to 12 weeks to complete, my team have seen it achieved in 4 days. More importantly, the organisation was able to see the value and adopt this approach for future transformation projects right from the start. Not only were they delivering on time but also with high levels of engagement.
It's never too late to start your process discovery programme, but try to get into the habit of making it the first thing you do in any transformation project. Use your process documentation as a way of health checking your progress throughout a project and ensuring you are all still on track.
Few people working in transformation would ever disagree with the importance of understanding processes. However, the real challenge is finding the right balance of time, cost and project resource. For the great rewards that it brings, taking the time to manage and tame your processes is always a valuable investment.
This article is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.
Craig Willis is the CEO of Skore, the user-friendly and intuitive process improvement software that accelerates digital transformation through easy process mapping and insightful analytical dashboards. As a consultant, he has spent most of his career helping teams build trust, improve communication and accelerate change by removing the complexity from business processes.