The secret science of process reviews
By Dharmesh Mistry, Handpicked Society member
Process reviews done well, can turn-around a failing business, boost profits and delight employees. Done poorly, it can negatively affect team morale and destroy business value.
These tips can help you approach your process review more scientifically, by using defined, Discovery and Advisory phases and employing specific techniques in each. They can be applied from macro level process down to sub-processes, creating a cascading understanding of the process you are reviewing.
The discovery phase is about building an understanding of the current process. It is not necessary or possible for you to become an expert. Your role is to gather enough information to move forward thinking and understanding of the process and it’s performance. My top 3 tips for the discovery phase are:
Tip 1 - Develop a multidimensional view
In practice, the discovery phase will iteratively build an understanding of the process. The list below offers examples of tools to do this in a revealing multidimensional way.
Top down: Understand the context and objectives of the process. Methods such as reviewing available documentation, including contracts, existing Standard Operating Procedures and meetings with management responsible for the process are required.
Bottom up: The day to day issues of the process can be understood through workshopping, 1-1 walkthroughs with staff members, surveys and hands-on observation.
Engage stakeholders: Get the views of people in the organisation, to get different perspectives and experiences from across the system. Step through the process with the eyes of each key stakeholder. For example, for users, the process should help them be more productive; for the business, the process should enable them to lower costs, increase revenue and build capacity, for customers, it should deliver an excellent journey and seamless experience. Active stakeholder engagement, has the added advantage that it builds buy-in and appetite for potential process changes.
Gather process data: Gather performance, volumetric and other key data from the process and build an objective model. It is important to get the views of multiple stakeholder on whether they feel the data is reflective of their reality.
Tip 2 – Perform a Health-check
A Healthcheck should capture the key factors that influence the process. This will be a combination of quantitative and qualitative information covering data (time, cost, number of steps), quotes and anecdotes (“it’s really frustrating”), specific examples and reference documents. This Healthcheck should offer a clear overview of the current state of the process. This will also help you identify where you need to gather specific information or where there may be gaps in your understanding.
All of your process information can be organised and analysed through a well designed health-check tool which can be created in Excel.
Tip 3 – Benchmarking
Benchmarking is about understanding (a) what the ideal process looks like, and (b) what industry standards are. It will start to become evident where there are gaps and issues are with the process (For example, the current process takes 30% more time than the ideal process, impacting the team capacity and processing cost). We believe there is greater value in benchmarking against an ideal process as it will offer greater commercial value.
Benchmarking can help identify where workarounds have been put in place, indicating that the underlying process is broken. This presents an opportunity and a risk. The opportunity being to resolve the broken process. The risk is that without deep enough process understanding, inefficient workarounds often become automation targets, with high investment spend to fix and without resolving the underlying process issue, which will come back to bite you. The good news is following the discovery approach of (1) multidimensional view, (2) process health check and (3) benchmarking, you will identify the broken processes themselves and fix them at source,
The understanding and analysis you have developed through the Discovery phase offers objective insights. The key step in the Advisory phase is to interpret these insights and communicate the benefits, so they can be realised by improving processes. All communications need to be focussed on business value. My top 3 tips for the advisory phase are:
Tip 1 – Answer the question
Do not get lost in process improvement jargon and methodology. Communicate in an authentic way. Answer the pain points, like “How do we create capacity in the team?”, “How do we improve customer service?”
Be aware of existing projects to improve the process and acknowledge the benefits that those projects aim to offer. Don’t be afraid to shout if the process highlights how an existing project may not be the right solution. New information is helpful to avoiding mistakes, and scientific process reviews provide a lot of new information, so this isn’t surprising.
Tip 2 - Quantify the value
Quantify the business benefit in terms of financials, time, resourcing and volumes to drive decisions on the next course of action. Offer a single figure that helps visualise the benefit, for example:
“You can unlock 30% of your capacity by making these changes”
“You can improve customer satisfaction scores by 60%”
“Reduce process time by 20% and save 15% in operational cost”
Be ready to back up your bold statements, with calculations, data and examples. Your multidimensional and data driven health-check and benchmarking should ensure you have this data to hand. If not, that should inform your methodology and your health-check tool for next time. Experience and continual learning are key.
Tip 3 - Make it cultural
Process improvement is not an activity, it is a continuous set of process techniques and should form part of any good process manager’s leadership style. The great news is, it’s something that all levels of employees can support and be involved with, through a variety of continuous improvement tools. Daily huddles, visual management and a problem solving mentality can embed process improvement into every aspect of the work.
Most of all: Be brave
When it’s not working day to day process can have a feeling of firefighting. Process reviews are incredibly valuable to step back from the day to day detail and identify how reactive efforts can be shifted to proactive, value generating activity. This requires a willingness, backed by quality analysis, to be brave and recommend improvements that will generate real business value.
These tips and approach will ensure the rigour of your analysis is understood, raising confidence in your recommendations. That confidence is key, especially if the benefits are large as it will take real effort to realise the value.
Dharmesh Mistry, Handpicked Society member
Dharmesh trained and practiced at a large well respected consulting firm and has wide and broad experience of process management and improvement, including working directly for large organisations, such as Shell. He is an expert in transformative change methods including Agile, Lean, Design Thinking and U Process, tools which have proven to engage diverse stakeholders to work together to solve complex problems. He has a specific interest in improving ways of working through collaboration across business teams to drive innovation and improve business performance. Dharmesh brings strong capabilities of strategic foresight along with operational process improvement skills.
Dharmesh is a talented property developer. He has build an impressive property portfolio, which he purchased, developed and is now estate managing. We’ve heard his management processes are the best in the business !