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Spend it Before You Lose it

Make the most of any remaining project funds for 2016Budget

2017 is only a few months away, and when it arrives, whatever is left of your current budget departs. You’ve spent the summer lobbying for funding to make sure your key initiatives happen next year. That shouldn’t mean new projects are off the table for 2016. Examine what’s left of your budget and how your remaining dollars can provide business value in the next four months. To help you do that, we have highlighted three types of projects that will set you up for crucial initiatives in the coming year and be an efficient use of the last of your budget.

Do you foresee compliance changes coming in 2017? If so, you’ll likely need to evaluate what types of controls must be added or modified to comply. Take time now to look at your process controls; are they all functioning as they should? Do you have the infrastructure in place to implement or integrate new ones? While adding controls to an existing process will undoubtedly take work and foresight, beginning to do so now will allow you to identify potential overlap in advance. Doing so can help you avoid damming processes that are already laden with compliance controls and keep inputs flowing through. Once you have a firm understanding of the processes and controls that are already in place, conduct a gap analysis and determine new ones to build that will give you a leg up moving into 2017.

Do you have legacy systems that desperately must be replaced? One reoccurring issue we see here at NEOS arises when companies maintain aging systems well past their primes. Systems that are no longer supported by their vendors are especially risky. Senior management grows anxious, asking if the technology falters, would operations be crippled. A team is put together and scrambles to select the new system that is best aligned to business processes. In their haste, they often forget to define selection criteria. The result is often the wrong purchase, and later, making the best out of an expensive mistake. Take the fourth quarter to consider whether you need a new system. Even though there may be critical processes built around it, continuing to use an old system long after it is unsupported is risky business. Instead, ask which functions your system must be able to perform and what controls must stay in place. Identify criteria for your potential new system from a variety of viewpoints, e.g.in terms of functionality, the level of customization required and speed to market. Base these criteria on business strategy and operational needs, not current constraints. This will help you separate the critical from nice-to-have, make selecting a new system faster, and ultimately, engender a strategic purchase.

If you can answer the above questions with a confident “NO,” turn your attention to possible enhancements and improvements to how you currently do business. Take a look at the Key Performance Indicators or KPIs you have in place and the types of behaviors they reward. Indicators must be measurable and actionable, and while that may sound easy enough, many companies have problems measuring and acting on their KPIs. Examine your KPIs to align strategic goals with operations by tracking what is important, not just what is easy to track. KPIs may attempt to measure qualitative things, like the level of service in a customer service center, but KPIs should be measured by quantitative data. Defining quality service in quantitative terms, such as average time spent with a client or an average number of attempts needed to resolve an issue allows managers and staff to align practices to performance goals. In the example above, it would be important to measure both indicators to align with the goal of excellent service, and it’s important to keep in mind that the indicators chosen can have direct or indirect impacts on employee behavior. If average time spent with a customer were the only measure, customers may receive abrupt service and not have all of their issues resolved. If some attempts to resolve an issue were the only measure, customers may be faced with long wait times while trying to reach representatives, as representatives would aim to resolve an issue in its entirety in a single call. Considerations like these should factor into which KPIs your organization chooses to measure performance. Examining KPIs before the close of the year will set you up to meet your goals in the coming one.

Put the last of your budget to good use! Thirteen weeks is not a lot of time, but performing some of the endeavors above can set you on the right track to execute critical projects in 2016. If compliance changes are coming soon, your systems are aging past support, or your KPIs are not yielding the information you need, there are brief, practical projects you can undertake now to bring you closer to your goals. We have seen these types of quick-hit projects not only deliver immediate value by exposing areas in need of attention, but also by setting up your big 2017 projects for success and smoother sailing. Bringing in experts, like NEOS, can shorten the timelines of these smaller projects even more. These are only a few of the projects you can undertake this autumn; whatever you chose to do, make it count!

The Department of Labor Changes are Coming, Are You Prepared?

Department of Labor It’s no surprise when the regulatory environment shifts. Insurance companies are nearly always adjusting to new regulations and legal interpretations of existing regulations. 2016 looks to be a little different, however, with the Department of Labor’s (DoL) redefining the fiduciary definition to include insurance product sales people, agents and advisers. With the DoL unveiling a final version of the fiduciary rule changes this week, it is not yet defined how the fiduciary definition will be applied to life and annuity products.

Several trends are likely to result. It is difficult to know how the rule changes will affect the industry long term, but there are several actions insurers should accomplish immediately to prepare. The below actions should be underway or started as soon as possible:

  1. Create a User Story Inventory – The first step is to create a user story inventory of interactions between consumers and their sales person. Whether group retirement, individual, or voluntary products, documenting the user story will help insurers understand where the impacts of the DoL changes will be greatest. The goal of the inventory is to make visible the interaction points in preparation for the DoL changes to the fiduciary rules. Documenting the interactions and work streams will facilitate a rapid response when the DoL finalizes the changes. The user story inventory should be gathered by first interviewing key stakeholders from distribution, operations, service, sales, marketing, technology, relationship management, legal and compliance. Gathering all of these touch points in documented user stories will allow you to create a matrix that categorizes each story by several dimensions including:
    • Type of interaction, such as lead acquisition, proposal, selling, enrollment, service, question/response and others.
    • Distribution channel and selling style.
    • Mutual fund or Annuity (type of product(s)) involved in each story.
    • Documentation of the information commonly gathered (and not gathered) during the interaction and where it is captured and stored.
    • Categories of interactions such as ERISA/Non-ERISA, large case exemption/non-exemption, best interest contract exemption/non-exemption, etc.
    • An overlay of the systems that support each user story.
  2. Understand How Your Agents and Brokers Sell – Categorize your sales force into various categories based on the user stories that were developed in step one. By knowing how many sales people fall into each sales story type, you will be able to much more easily identify who will be impacted by the new rules. This will be easier for insurance companies that have captive distribution, but it should be completed by all companies regardless of distribution channel.
  3. Prepare for Product Innovation – Look at your product process to see how prepared your organization is to develop new innovative products. Our experience tells us that many companies are good at creating slight variations to existing products, but have difficulty being innovative with new products. Too often insurers don’t know who is making product decisions, they don’t know their system or operational capabilities, they don’t know how to effectively test products in the marketplace, and they struggle to create products targeted to specific niches. All of these problems are fixable and insurers should immediately begin creating product development processes that will serve them for the next several years.
  4. Seek out new Partners – New innovative distribution partners will be vitally important to identify those distributors that can fuel your growth. To identify these, insurers will need to capture data about distribution partners that indicate the types of partners you value. For example, if you want to find fee-based advisers, you may create a data profile that allows you to track these to identify the best.

While it might feel too late, completing these recommended steps within a couple of months will make you much better prepared to adjust to the rule changes. Putting this off until later, will force your sales, service, and systems departments into rapid tactical solutions rather than finding the advantages through strategic solutions.

Using Mad-Libs to Fuel Your Data Capabilities

Madlibs for data capabilitiesThere is little question that the availability of new and extensive amounts of data is changing our world. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, which acts as a sensor, collecting new data about nearly every action we perform. As processes become increasingly digital, new data can be collected about users’ behaviors. Furthermore, the Internet of Things is making use of sensors on our bodies, cars, appliances, homes, equipment, planet, and nearly everything else. This rush of new data will accelerate change and force insurance companies of all kinds to adapt.

Alan Kay said in 1971, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The big question for insurers is, “how can I invent it?” This is especially challenging given the pace of change insurers are facing. They are asking, “How can I find the right data to change processes, broaden service capabilities, increase sales, and bring more value to my customers?” The following simple brainstorming technique will help insurers explore the possibilities related to data that they may or may not have today. If you don’t have the data today, you may need to find a source that can deliver it, or look for data that is only now beginning to become available.

The key to this brainstorming exercise is the question “What would I do if I knew?” This will help you broaden your thinking and move past your current constraints. You may recall the Madlibs you completed as a child. This exercise is a little like a Madlib. Replace the “I” with a department or group. So it reads, “what would [claims] do if it knew [ ______ ] ?” The first bracket could contain any department or group. So for example, you could fill in sales, service, training, agents, marketing, underwriting, and on and on.

In the second bracket after the word “knew,” fill in the data that you already have, or wish you could get access to. Have a list of data you already have, and a list of data you could likely obtain to begin to fill in the second bracket. Using the same example, “what would [marketing] do if it knew [the income bracket of the beneficiary]?” Once that is filled in, explore what possibilities it opens up. In this example, outcomes might be the following:

  • We could send targeted offers about reinvesting the claims money rather than simply sending a check.
  • We could have the check delivered by an agent (even for orphan policies) for wealthier beneficiaries to build a relationship rather than mailing it.
  • We could prioritize our engagement efforts and offer additional information, services, or other value to the beneficiary to establish a relationship with those beneficiaries who would make ideal customers.

Some additional examples could include:

  • What would sales do if they knew which agents were not illustrating our products?
    Possibility: We could send out additional training or offer to do illustrations for them.
  • What would service do if they knew how much their customers used mobile devices to interact with their life/annuity insurer?
    Possibility: We would know what services would provide the most value to high-value consumers. What would sales do if they knew the buying triggers of prospects?
    Possibility: We might send them targeted offers that align to the life stage of the consumer.

As the availability and use of data continues to expand, insurance companies will need to find ways to successfully leverage that data to their advantage. This “what would you do if you knew” brainstorming technique can help insurers open up their thinking about what is possible, and how their customers can be better served.

We would love to hear how this went with your teams. Did you generate some new ideas? Did you wish you had data that you don’t currently have? Do you have a list of great ideas that you have no capacity to implement? Let us know in the comment section below.

Transform your agents world with data

To achieve data objectives, insurers should apply the three types of data (diagnostic, decision support, and alerts) to improve their services to their distribution partners and agents. Read the full whitepaper

The Business Value Linkage: Securing Buy-In for Your Data Governance Projects

Buy-in for data governance projectsOver the past decade, the need for data quality and better governance has evolved from a struggling sales pitch to an integral must-have by executives across company functions and industries. Yet, many CIOs and other enterprise information management (EIM) leaders are finding it hard to secure the buy-in needed to continue maturing data management practices and reducing the many risks that come from ‘dirty data’.

Executives most often fail to get the buy-in they’re looking for because the discreet outcomes, or project deliverables, do not have a clear connection to business objectives. In other words, can you isolate a key deliverable from your project and articulate to the Senior Leadership Team how you are going to move the needle on one of their most pressing measures for business success with it? In most cases, this connection is not clear. Providing evidence for this connection is essential in order for executives to gain resources and secure the project funding they need, even when competing with newer business priorities, to deliver a new product, service or enhancement with maximum impact at no unnecessary cost or risk.

An effective way to track your efforts to create and maintain value linage to your project objectives and deliverables is by using a Business Value Linkage dashboard. Think of it as a business case on steroids, a measurement tool, and the basis for status reporting. Keep in mind, each of these steps can be completed by the project team, but should be vetted with key executives who will be impacted so everyone is aligned on scope and ‘what they’re getting’ from Day 1. This is crucial to buy-in. Here’s a quick reference guide on how you can get started at building your value linkage dashboard.

  1. Define the project mission. That is, very clearly define, “what is the particular initiative or project going to deliver and how does it support the broader business objectives?”
  2. Define your objectives. You need to answer the question, “How do we define success for the project?” Best practice is to develop 3-5 objectives, depending on the size of the project or program, and include questions like, “will your project automate processes and reduce the likelihood of human error?” Or, “will it organize data more effectively in some way?” Make sure these objectives tie to your mission and broader business objectives.
  3. Identify specific business indicators. Your last step will be to ensure your dashboard is supported with the organizational metrics that will help you answer the question of whether you are successful. If they do not exist today, you know you have a little more work. Indicators answer the question, “How will we track and report success for the project?” Here’s a practical tip. You likely already have a starting point if you have an existing data governance or quality dashboard. This step is something that is typically overlooked in projects, but it’s necessary to continue telling the story, demonstrating value (or how a program may be deviating) and sustaining buy-in for the change. Don’t skip it!
    Here’s a conceptual view of what you’ll end up with:Link Data Management to Business

The Business Value Linkage methodology is a powerful tool for isolating scope, gaining buy-in, securing funding, and articulating progress in terms that the ‘business’ can understand. By implementing a few fundamental shifts in how you propose your data governance initiatives, you will be well on your way to winning the executive support you need across the organization to implement better data governance.

Further your knowledge on linking to business value

Read Linking Business Value to System Initiatives and watch a short Business Value Webcast.

Secure Your Data so You Can Focus on Growth

Security DataEach morning you start your day and think about the growth opportunities that lie ahead. Some of these are strategic endeavors and others are tactical in nature. Yet, one thing they all have in common is that they are grounded in the assumption that you and your team will have access to the data necessary to make the critical decisions that drive your business. But will you?

Have you and your organization considered the external and internal threats that put the data of your firm at risk? Did you know that data in motion, that is data that is being manipulated or transformed, is subject to different types of security threats than data that’s at rest or simply being stored? Are you protected against these various types of interruptions to your businesses growth opportunities?

The first quarter is the perfect time to assess vulnerabilities that put your data at risk. This is the time to develop and execute the mitigation strategies, processes, controls and technologies necessary to protect them. Do you have the necessary identity management, entitlements and access controls in place to ensure that only those with “the need to know” have access to your data? Can you actually recover the business critical data necessary to run your business in the time required by the regulations that your organization is held to comply? Is the data used to test your applications secure and confidential? If you answered yes to all of these questions (honestly now), then you are far more mature than most firms are.

In many cases, we at NEOS have found that organizations are faced with huge data security vulnerabilities that are the result of a series of business risks that are not intuitively seen as related, yet come together to create a huge business impact. These risks are often subtle in nature and are the result of unrelated situations such as the need for cases where your organization faces a deadline to comply with a new regulation and the call goes out for “all-hands on deck”! Of course, you have controls in place to protect against defects being released into production, but what about the case where a copy of your production data is being used in your QA environment to test this critically important set of changes. While the firm is focused on complying with the regulatory deadline and addressing their business as usual, there is a hiccup with the replication between the efforts to work on the “all-hands on deck” effort and your normal business as usual effort. The “QA data” (which is actually a copy of real production data) is sent out to your production environment. Disaster! This is a data security breach from the inside out and it wasn’t even caused by a third-party. That’s where a trusted data security expert like NEOS can help.

Take this time to ensure that your company’s data is protected. This is particularly important for confidential and material non-public information (MNPI) in highly regulated environments. The investment you make now, will reduce the risk surface to your organization and the stakeholders that your serve. NEOS can help you to ensure that you are using the appropriate tools and techniques including data masking and encryption. We can also help ensure that you have a robust access control framework in place to ensure that only those with the need to know, have access to your second most important asset – your data (your first being your people of course).

All it takes is “The Perfect Storm” of third-party imposed deadlines, coupled with the normal over-abundance of business as usual workload and then an unanticipated data security breach, to throw an organization into disruption. By engaging experts like NEOS now, you can reduce the likelihood that these types of risks will impact your organization; and if the unfortunate should happen, you will be prepared to respond with proven mitigation strategies and responses so that your data is protected.

Big Data: The Force Awakens

Roughly 90% of the digital data in the universe was created in the last two years. Big Data: the Force AwakensThis data comes from people, devices, and all types of machines, thereby causing the data universe to expand much like the real universe does today. With that type of velocity, volume, and diversity, it is the Big Data vessel that is designed to handle such capacity and ongoing force.

According to Wikipedia, “Big Data is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate.” This definition seems lacking, maybe because it was found on Wikipedia. So, let us expand on that definition to say Big Data is a combination of unorganized data such as texts, tweets, and other social media posts plus the addition of organized data including product transactions and financial records hosted in a relational database. Although spreadsheets are not in a relational database, they are still considered part of the organized spectrum. To go one step further beyond the unorganized versus organized debate, when the data population set gets so big that it cannot be analyzed “without the help of non-traditional data analysis tools,” the data population is then affectionately blessed with the title of “Big Data.”

Big Data is used to do extraordinary things in the world today. For example, it is used to predict diseases based on weather patterns, predict the need to balance corporate computing resources based on historical trends, or even update a customer master data set with the latest email address, buying behavior, location, availability, and demographics. What is most shocking is that “only about 0.5% of all data is currently analyzed and that percentage is shrinking as more data is collected” according to Professor Patrick Wolfe, Executive Director of the University College of London’s Big Data Institute.

Imagine the force Data Scientists and Analysts impart on their company as they explore Big Data and uncover more ways to generate innovative product or service opportunities, increase profitability, enhance operational performance, reduce company risk exposure, and more importantly, solidify their competitive advantage. With such power in the hands of senior management and C-level executives, a company might recognize a new line of business or even clearly identify what is required to refactor an existing one. Obviously, this requires asking the right questions because data is only data, whether it is big or small.

Collecting, unifying, understanding and taking action on such massive quantities of data is intimidating to say the least. But, the time is here and now to determine the best tools and methods to handle Big Data. Executives realize they have to get behind the force of Big Data if they wish to stay competitive.

What if the company leadership believes the time is not now? The response is that the force is currently at play in the marketplace, and if you want to compete, you need to get Big Data working for you. If a company lacks the expertise, there are consultant firms that can assess the business and technical landscape and build a Big Data roadmap in alignment with the company strategy.

Although it is okay to start small, the big picture must be in place, especially when people, business processes, and technology all need to work as one. If starting small is the only option, focus on revenue generation opportunities, operational efficiencies, and risk management. Once a company starts to work with Big Data, they inherently learn what they don’t know and can begin to recalibrate to take steps to move forward in other areas feeding the cycle of change.

Being able to have information at our fingertips that enables holistic, data driven decisions is not only possible but essential in order for executives and senior management to flourish in tomorrow’s business climate. So, do embrace the force and remember that technology is on your side of the rebellion.

Interested in more on Big Data? Sign up to receive the next article in the series on How to Start to Feel the Force.

3 Truths of Operational Excellence in Insurance

646x224On October 26 through 28, some of the leading minds in the Insurance industry will gather to discuss, brainstorm, and debate topics related to Operational Excellence. As the primary sponsor of the Operational Excellence in Insurance Conference, we have had the opportunity to engage with the Process Excellence Network in shaping the subjects and speakers. What we learned through this experience has validated and confirmed a lot of our findings this year, including:

  • Everyone struggles with sponsorship and leadership when it comes to implementing change and making it stick. In 2015, NEOS conducted two informal surveys through various LinkedIn groups, asking practitioners to cite their biggest challenge in implementing new processes or executing large-scale programs. An overwhelming 73% of respondents chose sponsorship as the most likely reason for the failure of an initiative. As we spoke to prospective conference-goers, the questions, “How do I engage an executive sponsor?” and “What makes an effective sponsor?” rose to the top of the list. There will be several panel discussions and presentations touching on these and related questions.
  • Linking operational excellence initiatives to strategy is hard to do. In our webinars and as part of the intelligence-gathering for this conference, we heard loud and clear that leaders in the insurance industry want to learn how to effectively link initiatives to overall business strategy not only at the beginning of a program but throughout its lifespan. It seems that no one has cracked the code on how to crisply define program milestones in terms of the value they deliver in relatable business terms. During the conference, this theme will thread through many of the presentations.
  • Digitalization of process is unavoidable, especially for “analog” organizations. The Insurance industry is not known for its agility or cutting-edge technology, but it’s going to have to get there. Disruptors like Google and Amazon are beginning to play in our space, and Geico and Progressive have proved that disruptive technologies can be successfully deployed. Several sessions on the conference agenda will focus on technology trends influencing operational performance.

The OPEX in Insurance Summit will bring together speakers from across the industry to address these and other challenges Representatives from Guardian, Lincoln, AXA, TIAA-CREF, Blue Cross Blue Shield, EmblemHealth, Chubb, and XL Catlin (and others) will share their experiences and lessons learned through discussion, workshops, and presentations. As a member of the NEOS community, use the discount code NEOS20 to receive 20% off your registration. Visit http://www.operationalexcellenceinsurance.com/ for more information. We hope you’ll join us!

Use It or Lose It. Your Remaining Budget, That Is.

Use it or Lose it2016 is only 90 days away, and when it arrives, whatever is left of your budget departs, along with the last of the visiting relatives and Christmas cookies. You’ve spent the summer lobbying for funding to make your key initiatives happen next year, but that doesn’t mean new projects are off the table for 2015. Consider what’s left of your budget and how you can best put your dollars to use in the next three months. To help you do that, we will highlight three types of projects that could set you up for crucial initiatives in the coming year and will be an effective use of the last of your budget.

Do you foresee compliance changes coming in 2016? If so, you’ll likely need to evaluate what types of controls must be added or modified to comply. Take time now to look at your process controls; are they all functioning as they should? Do you have the infrastructure in place to implement new ones? While adding controls to an existing process will undoubtedly take work, now is a good time to examine the process controls you have in place and see if there is potential overlap. Doing so can help you avoid damming processes that are already laden with compliance controls and keep inputs flowing through. Once you have a firm understanding of the processes and controls you already have in place, you can begin to strategize on how to implement new ones, giving you a leg up moving into 2016.

A common issue we see here at NEOS arises when companies maintain aging systems well past their primes. When those systems are no longer supported by their vendors, they become especially risky. Senior management grows anxious, asking if the technology falters, would operations be crippled? A team is put together and scrambles to select the new system that is best aligned to business processes. In their haste they often lack defined selection criteria. The result is often the wrong purchase, and later, making the best of an expensive mistake.

Take the fourth quarter to consider whether you need a new system. Even though there may be unique processes built around it, continuing to use an old system long after it is unsupported is risky business. Instead, ask which functions your system must to be able to perform and what controls must stay in place. Identify criteria for your potential new system from a variety of viewpoints, e.g.in terms of functionality, level of customization required and speed to market. Base these criteria on business strategy and operational needs, not current process constraints. This will help you separate the critical from nice-to-have, make selecting a new system faster, and ultimately, engender a strategic purchase.

Well-functioning processes that are compliant and systems that are supported allow you to turn your attention to enhancements and improvements to how you do business. To start, take a look at the Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, you have in place and the types of behaviors they reward. Indicators must be measurable and actionable, and while that may sound easy enough, many companies have problems measuring and acting on their KPIs. Examine your KPIs to align strategic goals with operations by tracking what is important, not just what is easy to track.

KPIs may attempt to measure qualitative things, like level of service in a customer service center, but KPIs must be measured via quantitative data. Defining quality service in quantitative terms, such as average time spent with a customer or average number of attempts needed to resolve an issue allows managers and staff to align practices to performance goals. In the example above, it would be important to measure both indicators to align with the goal of good service, and it’s important to keep in mind that the indicators chosen can have direct or indirect impacts on employee behavior. If average time spent with a customer were the only measure, customers may receive abrupt service and not have all of their issues resolved. If number of attempts to resolve an issue were the only measure, customers may be faced with long wait times while trying to reach representatives, as representatives would aim to resolve an issue in its entirety in a single call. Considerations like these should factor in to which KPIs your organization chooses to measure performance. Examining KPIs before the close of the year will set you up to meet your goals in the coming one.

Put the last of your budget to good use! Thirteen weeks is not a lot of time, but performing some of the endeavors above can set you on the right track to execute critical projects in 2016. If compliance changes are coming soon, your systems are aging past support, or your KPIs are not yielding the information you need, there are brief, effective projects you can undertake now to bring you closer to your goals.

We have seen these types of quick-hit projects not only deliver immediate value by exposing areas in need of attention, but also by setting up your big 2016 projects for success and smoother sailing. Bringing in experts, like NEOS, can shorten the timelines of these smaller projects even more. These are only a few of the projects you can undertake this autumn; whatever you chose to do, make it count!

When the Processes Align

Align your processes with your insurance business strategies and gain competitive advantageMany people believe that the alignment of the stars and planets has significance beyond astronomical coincidence. People think that business, love, or even the flow of history is impacted by the way that celestial bodies line up. However, there is a different kind of alignment that is proven to have a more scientifically verifiable benefit to business. That is the alignment of an organization’s processes with its business strategy. The investments that you make in your processes are only effective when they align with your strategy. When it comes to achieving that alignment, there are three important items to remember. 1. To get the greatest bang for your buck, invest in the processes that align closest to your business strategy first. Process improvement efforts tend to have greater buy-in and support when you are able to prove that they are making gains. Process improvement often requires shifting the way people think about their work, which can also mean difficult cultural and political shifts in an organization. Showing progress and benefit to stakeholders is one of the most effective ways to get the organization on board with the change. The way to do that is to target processes that are closest to strategic goals. Precisely which processes those are will be different from one company to another, even within the same industry. One insurer might identify its competitive advantage in the rapid development of new products. In this case, modernizing processes that support that capability are probably high-benefit opportunities. This provides “good press” for the initiative all the way up to the executive level, who are happy to see the strategy they set receiving support. 2. Remember that strategy can change over time. Process improvement efforts need to adjust over time along with those changing strategies. Change in strategy could be in response to leadership changes, industry trends, or the moves of competitors. Whatever the reason, successful process improvement efforts keep an eye on the overall strategic direction of the organization and ensure the program is kept in line with the organization’s goals. A process improvement effort could suddenly see itself losing resources or funding if it no longer aligns with the organization’s strategy. Imagine a lengthy effort to improve customer service-related processes in a company that has recently decided to shift towards pushing self-service via a web-portal. The project manager of that effort ought to carefully consider how to realign the project’s major tasks, tweak its scope, or consider halting the project. 3. Manage conflicting strategic goals when it comes time for implementation.  We were engaged to improve the New Business process of an insurer that sought to drastically increase sales while also maintaining certain customer service metrics. It quickly became apparent that, given resource constraints, both of those goals were not possible, so NEOS helped the insurer to find the ideal balance between those goals. We allowed them to push as far as they could in both directions by optimizing their process, and the technology that supported it. Taking better advantage of a workflow system that they already owned and making some organizational tweaks enabled them to handle larger sales volumes, while still satisfying customers. Luckily, you don’t have to wait hundreds of years for the stars to align for your processes to start making you more efficient and providing benefits. By keeping your business strategies in mind, and that those strategies can shift over time and even compete with one another, you can complete successful process improvement initiatives. Organizations that take this strategy and process alignment seriously will be rewarded.

Playing Process Detective: Uncover your process efficiency crimes

Process Detective
Sometimes you need to investigate your business processes, much like how good detectives will go through a round of questioning suspects to help them understand the components of a crime. Likewise, interrogating business processes can help you identify the culprit that is sabotaging your results. The best inquisitions determine the heart of a situation and build out the details, and the most efficient way to do that is to employ “the 5 W’s.”

Employing the 5 W’s
The “5 W’s” is a basic tool for gathering information and is a formula for interrogation that can help you capture critical evidence about your process. According to the principle of the 5 W’s, your process examination can only be considered complete if it answers the questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

Before you start grilling your business process using the 5 W’s tactic, have a goal or objective in mind. What are you trying to achieve for your business that is not being achieved today? What problem are you trying to solve? When you have the problem identified and you have a goal, getting answers to the W questions will help you begin your investigation. The results will also provide you with an understanding of your process, its problems, and point you toward solution types.

W1: Who? The people component of the 5 W’s is undeniably the most important because people are a business’ biggest asset. Whether the role a person holds is at a leadership or practitioner level, they have a part to play in the processes that support the business. The people part of your interrogation should include questions like:

  • Who is involved in the process?
  • Who owns the process?
  • Who is impacted by change in the process?
  • Who audits and regulates the process?
  • Who is missing from the process?

W2: What? Once you have a solid understanding of who’s involved in the process, it’s time to move in on the what. A detective would need to know what elements constituted the crime; to understand what happened by breaking it down. Similarly for your business process, this line of questioning will determine the fundamentals that make up that process. Use questions like:

  • What starts, or “triggers” the process? (input, e.g. an insurance application)
  • What happens to the input along the process?
  • What is the path of least resistance in the process?
  • What is the path of most resistance in the process? (may include repeated tasks, unnecessary handoffs, or delays)
  • What systems are used by the process?
  • What controls (e.g. data security, compliance, regulatory rules, etc.) should be in the process?
  • What documents are used by the process?
  • What ends the process? (output, e.g. an insurance contract)

W3: Where? As with looking to solve a crime and determining where the crime took place, in the business process world you will need to understand the “where” components to help you complete the picture. Obtain this type of key information by asking questions like:

  • Where are practitioners (users) of the process? Where do they physically reside?
  • Where do users of the process need to be?
  • Where is information stored (outside of systems/databases)?
  • Where does information, relative to the process, need to be accessible from?

W4: When? A detective definitely needs to know when a crime happened in order to solve it. Similarly, you will need to understand all of the “whens” involved in the process being examined in order to obtain the full picture. You can get to this by asking these types of questions:

  • When is the process used? (can typically include time zones, calendar or work days, times during the day, etc.)
  • When does the process start and end?
  • When should the process end? (if there is an SLA target)*

*Note: This particular “when” question could be posed as a “how” question too, e.g. “How long should the process take? Many times the 5 W’s tactic is also promoted as “The 5 W’s and one H.”

W5: Why? This is probably the most confounding part of a cross-examination. From a crime perspective, knowing why a perpetrator broke the law will not only provide the detective a motive, but, potentially, ways that it could have been avoided. You need to understand why your process is not performing to target, but the “whys” need to be centered on the details of the specific process and the problem you’re trying to solve. Therefore, it’s best to lead off the “why” questioning with the problem statement, i.e. “Why aren’t these particular forms getting through the process within the expected timeframe?” However, fundamentally you do still need to understand:

  • Why does this process exist?

This line of questioning will always help a detective to understand, and ultimately solve, a crime. Similarly, it will get you to a solid understanding of your business processes, and the root cause of any process problem. Once you have the answers to the 5 W’s, you can begin informed discussions on how best to remedy your business process challenges.


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