For ten days stints over the next couple of months, I’ll be working with a regional college system helping them to unravel what has become a maze of overlapping and sometimes frustrating business processes. Many organizations suffer from less-than-ideal processes that eventually become institutionalized for any number of reasons, including personnel weaknesses in some areas and lack of understanding about how an individual process affects the organization.
There comes a point, however, at which someone in a position of authority final says, “Enough is enough... we need to fix this.” In most cases, this epiphany comes as a result of new leadership in the upper ranks of the organization that wants to rid the organization of serious inefficiency so that its mission can be better accomplished.
I’ve spent a lot of time conducting business process reviews, and have learned several important items that I want to share them with the Wikibon community.
People want to do well
No matter how convoluted an organization’s processes are, the people responsible for carrying out these processes truly want to do well. Many times they’re hindered by poorly considered decisions from senior management or by other factors outside their control. When presented with an opportunity to tell someone what they do and how they want to make it better, they’re often thrilled and fully engaged in the improvement process.
Focus on positions and processes, not on people
“Mary is terrible at her job.” If you hear that as a BPR consultant, you might make a note of it, but you should quickly refocus the conversation back to positions and processes and leave the personal out of it as much as you can. BPR is about conversation and connecting with people to learn about what they do. If they feel threatened, they won’t be willing to share what could be critical information, and the project may not bear the fruit that it otherwise could.
It’s critical to lay the ground rules for a successful BPR
I’ve begun starting my interview sessions with a short presentation that outlines the goals of a BPR, the process and the expectations. I’ve found that those to whom I show the short presentation have a better outlook on the process and better understand their role.
BPR is both about venting and process mapping
In many cases, the interviewees want to vent. They’re frustrated with a process, and you’re the one there to help them, so you become the natural outlet for their venting. Listening is both healthy for them and informative for you, as you can glean some insight into where things might be going wrong. Don’t let that go on forever, though. You need to gain an understanding for pain points, but you also need to understand the process from start to finish.
The process map is the critical baseline
Building the current baseline process map is a critical step. It’s easy to get into a room and say, “Here’s where we need to go.” However, as any good mapmaker will tell you, you need to know where you are before you can determine how to get to your destination. The baseline process map provides that starting point and then allows you to begin building a delta document that compares current business processes to best practices.
BPR is about listening and teasing out details
Although I do talk to people in BPR interviews, I do so in order to tease out details. Remember, the people you’re talking to don’t think “process” all day long. They just do their jobs, which might require 100 steps and 25 different decision points. It’s important to listen and keep asking them to dig deeper so that you can get the full big picture.
Don’t ignore those informal processes
It’s easy to identify and map well-managed formal processes, but every organization also has informal processes that need to be considered and that are critically important in a process review. Identification of an informal process often starts with hearing something like, “Well… so and so needed this done monthly, so I just started doing it.” Those informal process can help you to build powerful insight into the operation.
Action Item: CIOs need to assign to business process reviews those people who can really listen to and facilitate groups. Further, it's important that the CIO/BPR analyst share some common ground rules so that the documentation developed along the way is accurate.