Process Doesn’t Have To Be A Process

By: Eric Fairchild, Senior Principal

It seems like the word process is getting a bad reputation. Suggesting that something will be a process (a declaration often met with rolling eyes and tired groans) implies that it’s going to take a while. The business community in particular has an undeservedly negative view of the word. Some business leaders assume that process improvement is fundamentally time-consuming or difficult compared to other types of bottom-line improvement initiatives.

Business process improvement, like any other aspect of business, carries with it a risk of going overboard. This, however, does not mean that a good business process improvement project can’t exist. If the project has well understood scope linked to clearly defined goals, strong executive sponsorship, and the engagement of key stakeholders, then there is no reason why the project should live up to the misconception.

A recent client engagement got me thinking about why process doesn’t have to be a process. The client came to NEOS needing help with their monthly KPI reporting process. Key stakeholders knew that a change was needed, and the executive leadership team provided clear goals and were committed to finding a better solution. From this foundation, we were able to move from a current-state assessment to future-state improvement recommendations in ten business days. Yes, you read that right: ten business days.

If the gap between current-state assessments and future-state recommendations can be bridged so quickly, then where did the misconception that “process improvement is lengthy” come from? It is true that business process improvement efforts can spin their wheels when stakeholders insist that there is nothing wrong or when clear goals aren’t forthcoming from management. However, these issues can be easily navigated. Leaders interested in process improvement need to identify when the proper conditions are present (or create those conditions) for a process improvement effort to take place. Wherever those conditions exist, process work can truly be a quick-hit, high ROI proposition.

Even if conditions are not appropriate for the future-state, the mere step of evaluating and understanding your current-state is a valuable investment on its own. Although understanding your current-state can take a variety of forms, it is most often measured in terms of weeks as opposed to months. Documenting the steps and controls that exist within a process allows for the creation of a future-state process map, a valuable tool for managers, process participants, trainers, auditors, customer service representatives, consultants, and anyone else who would need to understand what you do and how you do it. Often, the simple step of setting a process down on paper can impact the effectiveness of that process by calling out pain points and quick hit opportunities and highlighting the necessity of adopting a standard execution method.

If you are facing process challenges with limited resources, then you should consider taking steps to evaluate and understand your current-state before contemplating the future-state. Doing so can yield a wide range of benefits including a foundation and knowledge that can provide big returns in short time-frames and can keep your process from turning into a process for the organization.

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