This is a guest series by Joanne Wortman, an independent business/technology consultant and freelance writer in the NY Metro area. She has almost two decades of experience providing business process optimization, organizational change management, M&A integration, and program management across many business sectors, with a concentration in manufacturing.
Modeling improvements to your business processes involves considerable effort but it is only the starting point for effective process management. With a clear idea of how processes should work in the future and a set of meaningful KPIs in hand, it’s time to take the plunge and transition your business from today’s inefficiency to tomorrow’s first-class performance. In this post, we will discuss three important components of successful business process evolution:
- Measuring process performance so that you can validate your improvement strategy or fine tune it24
- Driving organizational metrics or moving the needle in the right direction for your KPIs
- Eliminating shadow processes to root out and address ad hoc process workarounds that are lurking in the hidden areas of your business operations
Measuring Process Performance
When you defined your KPIs using the SMART framework we outlined in the last post, I’m sure you gave some thought into how you would measure and track them. If new reports and dashboards need to be developed, you also need to capture the answers to some questions about each KPI. Answers to questions like the following need to be documented after there is agreement from the business owners of the KPI, those who drive the behaviors necessary to influence the metric, and those who can authorize any effort involved in developing the required dashboards and reports.
- Who is responsible for driving this KPI towards the target metric?
- How often are updated values for this KPI needed?
- How will the data be collected? (application, spreadsheet, manual count)
- Where and how should the data be displayed? (count, sum, percent of goal, etc.)
- Do we need to track this KPI across any hierarchies? (regions, locations, departments, products, etc.)
- Do we need to visualize trending over time, if so, at what granularity? (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly)
- Do we need historic insight into year over year or quarter over quarter performance?
- Do we need to display predictive or forward trending based on where we are right now?
A governing body such as a steering committee needs to prioritize the effort involved in automating the answers to these questions for all the KPIs that are within the scope of the business process improvement initiative. The steering committee needs to consider the relative importance of each individual KPI to overall organizational goals.
Driving Organizational Metrics
With effective tracking in place, an organization can effectively steer operations toward the target metrics by:
- Using the metrics appropriately to communicate to the individuals whose day-to-day actions can move the needle in the right direction. A communication plan should specify each role or group that needs the information along with information. Some groups can be overwhelmed by too much information or complex displays, but they need to know how they are tracking so they can take remedial action to improve performance.
- For example, appropriate communication to the shop floor or the customer service agent usually requires much simpler views than the dashboards created for management.
- Establishing appropriate behavioral incentives. Traditional incentives include bonuses and parties, but in some areas, gamification is now taking hold as an effective way to motivate individual and team performance against KPIs, especially with a younger workforce.
- Pre-planning interventions so that when performance is lagging, remedial actions are not invented on the fly. These corrective actions are often based on set points for the KPIs that are specified during process design and displayed visually as red-yellow-green status. Pre-planning allows greater agility, eliminating meetings to discuss the options, and delays that arise when corrective actions require too many layers of approval.
- When average wait time for inbound customer service calls exceeds three minutes, we will add temporary CSRs.
- When our Days Sales Outstanding rises to 75 days, we will write all new sales orders with net thirty days payment terms.
In some situations, incremental improvements to a particular metric can only be achieved by careful orchestration of the effort of many different individuals. In these cases, management needs to provide:
- Effective training so that the right people can initiate the right actions in the right sequence and context
- More direct daily oversight to coach and coordinate effort
- Agile cross-departmental steering, perhaps via a quick daily standup meeting while everyone reviews the pertinent dashboard.
Finding and Eliminating Shadow-processes
In every business, organizational politics and personal working relationships have the potential to create shadow processes. We have all encountered them:
- “I’ll call Joe in IT and ask him to turn back the server clock so I can book this sales order into last month.”
- “The system is slow today so I’ll just record this order on my notepad and enter it tomorrow.”
- “I don’t understand how to process these special orders, so I will just leave those in the queue and do the easy ones.”
- “I was on the phone during training and never learned about all this drill down stuff, so I will just track this information in my old spreadsheet and walk it over to the production department. Stacy hates this new system and says my old spreadsheet works better for her.”
- “My new hire starts tomorrow, I’ll just call down to the help desk and see if they can get me a workstation and account access asap, oh, and have someone come up to train them on all that IT stuff right after their HR new employee orientation tomorrow afternoon.”
In addition, verbal approvals and ad hoc decision-making that are hidden in lengthy email threads result in an inability to analyze what has happened and design effective ways to deal with non-routine situations in the future. The verbal and email workflows exist to fill what Oracle describes as process whitespaces, the work that gets down outside the large enterprise systems like CRM and ERP. The best way to fill these whitespaces is to add a cloud-based BPM tool that can be implemented quickly and configured (and reconfigured) easily.
A Gartner report from an annual BPM summit summed it up perfectly:
“To encourage shadow process owners to make their processes more visible, business process improvement leaders, application managers and enterprise architects should proactively suggest high-productivity BPM cloud platforms to their business process stakeholders.”
Are you struggling with any shadow processes that are eroding business performance? Leave us a comment and let us know how you discovered them and how you are working to eliminate them.