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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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