YAP – Yet Another Process


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There’s a web application out there called YAM (Yet Another Meeting) and I thought it was interesting how the brand essentially tags meetings as wasteful, yet then supports these wasteful meetings with a tool. Funny…in a lot of ways. The same can be said for processes, or maybe they are procedures (or steps); it gets confusing.

In many companies that have existed for a while you’ll see great examples of end-to-end (cross-functional) business processes that no one can actually see or explain. They get all muddled up with non-value-adding steps performed by non-value-adding actors and are designed within the confines of a single functional area of the business. They focus on their own internal (departmental) goals, rather than understanding the result their customer (internal or external) actually wanted. From a value-added performer point of view, having administrative personnel (non-value-adding) ask you to do one more thing for them – that takes away from the time you want to spend helping your customers – can be frustrating. I see this all the time; don’t you? We’re all process experts, after all – just check the Internet.

There are many things to evaluate when looking at business processes. But, there are the two concepts that I’d like to highlight today.

Everyone likes to believe what they do is valuable. Unfortunately, too many processes are actually knee-jerk reactions to some problem caused by other process failures, or assumptions, and are designed to satisfy the needs of an individual or functional area of a business. These efforts typically do not pass the test of “will our end customer give a hoot about this?” They can be pet projects, or they can be a serious attempt to deal with assumptions made about what customers want. As we all know, assumptions can be very dangerous; we just think we’re smarter than everyone else J. There are other necessary tests, but I really like this one as a starting point! Go ask a customer next time you want an employee to perform extra work, or rework and see if they give a hoot.

When end-to-end business process is not clearly understood, and when it is not communicated visually, these dangerous conditions begin to manifest themselves. I referred to it as spaghetti and meatballs in a post a few years. This is not the visualization you want to have! If you look at a process superficially, you may not see what is really happening. Uncovering non-value-adding steps added to a process over time may be immediately recognizable to you, or you may need to probe deeper. Don’t tell people they are performing non-value-adding work; show them and let them discover it on their own (preferably in groups).

It’s a well-known fact in the process world that local optimization leads to global sub-optimization. What this means is that when functional areas of an organization attempt to optimize work that they do (process fragments/silos), it tends to make the entire process worse. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If I create a custom method for doing something with no consideration for any external factors, I will require whatever item, token or information that triggers my process part to be in a certain format (requiring me to rework it). I will also output my transformed, item, token or information in a way that was convenient to me (requiring someone down the line to rework it). So, as I receive triggers from other parts of the real process, I will likely need to perform rework to transform it to my needs, and the same thing applies to those performers that receive work from me. It could also be that I have to wait around for work to get to me. So, while we have optimized in-between these handoffs, we have sub-optimized the handoff process and disrupted the overall flow of the token.

What’s even worse, as we optimize our process fragments, we begin measuring how the fragment has been improved, but we can’t measure how well the process has improved because we have either failed to identify it, or we are instructed to improve our part from powers above (the above trying to optimize something we are not privy to). When the steps and/or process fragments are optimized in a vacuum, we begin seeing wasteful things like waiting around, rework, redundant work, work-in-process and more. Everything looks great within a process fragment (or functional area)! But, if you don’t look at the entire end-to-end flow, there is no way to standardize handoffs to promote the differentiators your end customer actually gives a hoot about.

The customer doesn’t care how well you perform your specific part of the process if the end result doesn’t give them what they want. By the way, it’s not always speed and cost they are concerned with; but we can’t incorporate differentiators into the equation until we know what the real end-to-end process is. Some customers want cheap and high availability (e.g. Kia), but others might be willing to pay more and wait longer if you cater to their unique needs (e.g. Ferrari). When you break things apart, it becomes an exercise in efficiency; and only within a specific part of the true process. Even in scenarios where operational excellence (low cost and convenience is desired by your customers) is the differentiator, you can actually make matters worse by allowing functional parts of your business design their own workflow in a vacuum.

If you take a moment to think about it, I’m sure you can come up with numerous examples of yet another process forced upon you by well-meaning people that simply don’t know any better. Things get more complicated as businesses grow, and the last thing you need is a complicated, non-integrated set of procedures that strangles your ability to scale with the demands of the market. A growing business is what we all hope for, but YAP will get you (like it gets so many others) if you don’t approach workflow discovery, analysis and design using a solid framework or methodology, involving all of the relevant actors (managers, performers, customers), and facilitated by someone who can be objective and has experience with this process.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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