For anyone that’s participated in an enterprise-wide transformational project to fix a particular set of business problems, they’re probably loosely familiar with the idea of “People, Process, Technology.” Through this three-part series, I highlight what I believe are the key components of each, in order to provide a high-level framework to internal client teams as they organize and prepare for change. The output of this series will help internal teams demystify “People, Process and Technology” and drive successful delivery of value-add solutions.
"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."–W. Edwards Deming
The business problem has been identified and the right internal team (See Part 1 here) has been carefully selected to deliver the necessary improvements. Without a doubt, there are already people on the team that are researching solutions and ready to get pricing information on these solutions. Unfortunately, by jumping into the discussion of solutions, the team have missed one critical component – the need to clearly define the current business processes associated with the business challenge. Technology enables the process – if one doesn’t know what process is being addressed, the technology that is ultimately chosen as the solution will be at high-risk to end up underutilized or “on the shelf,” struggling to provide real improvement or insight to the business. Having worked with dozens of large enterprise clients and looking back and realizing that maybe two of them were really able to articulate their process, I think there is some room for improvement here.
Too often clients jump right into how they think the problem can be fixed without really appreciating the impact of processes on the output. For example, with finance, sometimes we’ll hear things like “our planning process takes too long”… but this doesn’t tell us much. Is this related to the budget process, long-range planning process, monthly/quarterly forecasting process, formatting the visualization/reporting, etc.? There are dozens of reasons why “things take too long,” but first, identify and agree on the specific processes that need addressing.
Now that the process has been identified, we can capture specifics. This can be done through asking a series of questions (see ‘tips’ section below) and sometimes it helps to work backwards from the final output of the process: Who is involved? Which functional areas? What are dependencies across teams? Over what timeline (days, weeks, etc.)? What is the output? What are the challenges?
In terms of planning or analytics, it’s important to capture the data flow: What are the source systems of data? What are manual feeds? What are integration methods? How is the data transformed/calculated/forecasted? What is the frequency of the process?
Now that you’ve captured the current state process and analyzed it: Should it stay the same? Does it need to be adjusted slightly? Or are there fundamental organizational changes that need to happen in how this process is performed? Getting some executive review/involvement here is also key. For example, maybe the new CFO wants to completely change the current monthly forecast and move to a true rolling forecast – this would be pretty critical information to consider in the ideal future state and how it relates to technology.
In your new world, will all the source systems stay? Will a new technology replace others? Are we looking for improvements in processing time, and if so, does this mean we should look at our future state process again?
Look, this doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, but capturing these flows with some directional accuracy will go a long way toward ensuring the right technology will deliver the necessary improvements.
Tip for Capturing Process Flows: Block out a day, bring in the key team members and resources. Find a space that has a big whiteboard and bring in a big pack of post-it notes and colored markers. Use the post-it notes to capture steps and use the whiteboard for drawing arrows. After this is captured properly, have someone put the final versions into Microsoft Visio, so it can be printed and shared.
Capturing the current and future state process flows is a worthwhile exercise for any business looking for improvements. Reducing cycle times, modeling change, improving calculation speed and getting the right information to decision makers faster is becoming essential in the digital age; however, without considering process, one risks adopting a technology that, in the pursuit of speed, has a laxative effect on the organization and ends up under-utilized.
From experience, documenting these processes and flows does not have to be a resource- and time-intensive activity. And getting this directionally correct will go a long way toward ensuring that the technology will align to your processes and ensure the group has the best opportunity for real improvements and driving insight.