Everybody is busy. We get that. There’s only so much you can do at once. As such, the goal of our consulting work is not to identify a utopian endpoint, but to identify a sequence of small steps that can get you there over time. This approach takes less time, delivers benefits sooner, costs less and, critically, requires far less people/change management. In short, it’s an example of Continuous Improvement. Using this methodology, we can get started slowly and accelerate the pace of change (and associated benefits) over time as:
a) staff get used to constant improvements
b) the business generates more excess capacity (time, dollars or both) to invest over time, through the delivery of interim benefits along the journey
Identify > Optimise > Document > Facilitate > Automate
Our 5-step framework is flexible to each process – sometimes we can go straight from step 1 to step 5, if the automation is obvious and easy to implement. But often it isn’t and the best approach is to go through each of these steps in sequence.
We start by identifying possible improvements in the business. This is done through a combination of interviews with key stakeholders, observation and formal process mapping workshops. At the end of this process, we end up with a sorted, prioritised list of improvements that would have the greatest return on investment.
Depending on the changes involved, we may also insert a Systems Architecture piece here to ensure that the changes we plan to make over time converge rather than diverge. This is the case if we need to implement multiple software systems over time – we want them to talk to each other, or leverage a common system – rather than result in further siloing of data and business processes.
Then, sequentially, for each process, we tear apart the way it is currently working and ask how it could be done better, bearing in mind both possible manual and technical solutions. We get you or your staff to run this process and see how it works.
We then document this improved process. At this point, you can “hand it off” to a manager or staff member to manage. This should free up your time to be able to focus on other business improvement tasks. Whilst the work is still getting done manually at this point, the documentation serves a couple of key purposes:
- it gets the management of this process off your plate
- it results in a greater likelihood of the process being executed correctly and resulting in fewer exceptions / escalations to you
- it acts as a form of “specification” for what we want to subsequently partially or fully automate
During this phase, we identify if technology can be used to facilitate the human managing or executing the task. For instance, a procedure may need to be done manually (it may involve phoning someone, and we don’t want our customers speaking to computers just yet!), but the management of the status of that task might be automated – such as the task creation being done on a schedule based on some data in a CRM, a notification sent automatically to the staff member, business rules around how long the task is allowed to sit in WIP and then automated reports on process completion times and volumes of activity at the end. This may be sufficient without further automation. In particular, doing this kind of facilitation is far cheaper than trying to automate highly complex or human-dependent tasks, but typically delivers 80% of the benefit of so doing. It also allows far greater business scalability and facilitates a flatter (and hence more efficient and dynamic) organisation to evolve over time, as there is less need for multiple layers of hierarchical management.
After the above, if and only if there is a clear business case for so doing, we automate. Having gone through the above steps, this is usually trivially obvious to establish as we have baseline data for how long a task is taking manually and can calculate that cost. We know the exact steps involved in the task (through step 3) and hence we can work out to a high degree of accuracy what it would take to automate that task. The ROI is then very clear (or not), and is typically achieved for many common tasks inside 3 months.
We then repeat the above process until we run out of ROI-positive things to improve. But at that point, you’ve probably grown and have new challenges!