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Getting the Results You Want from Your Business Processes: Use these Rules for Rapid Results

by Shelley Sweet

Every process is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently producing. But are the current results the ones you want, or just the ones you keep getting?

One rapidly expanding software company was successful with application development for each customer, but knew incorporating standard development application would mean faster turnaround and lower costs. Yet their standard application development releases continuously had missed deadlines, unmet quality expectations and poor resource estimates.

In less than a month, the team studied current activities, designed the desired outcomes and built the new process requirements. Once implemented, the time required to process commissions with accurate results was reduced by more than 50%.

Why was this happening? The standard application development process had 4 phases, each one the responsibility of a different group with different players including marketing, engineering, testing, and operations. There was no common process that modeled the workflow, decision-making, key deliverables, and responsibilities across the company. There was no way to integrate the individuals and functions into the process in a timely fashion.

This dilemma is common today. Business processes criss-cross the company horizontally but organization charts represent vertical slices of the company. And the organizational structure controls priorities, budget and employee resources. Many companies are aware that customers benefit from cross-functional processes but they don’t know how to approach the problem.

How to Get Started

  • Select an important strategic need. Determine if the workflow process underlying the strategic need crosses organizational boundaries. (It probably will.)
  • Determine the business outcomes desired from an optimized or improved process.
  • Identify a process owner – who has responsibility for the process end-to-end. This person should have organizational responsibility for a majority of the steps in the process and be able to influence other key areas outside his/her direct organizational control.
  • Form a working team that represents key stakeholders of the process, and begin understanding today’s process and drafting an improved process.

Take into Consideration

Some Examples

In the software development example described at the beginning of this article, the Vice President in charge of standard software development and delivery determined the process outcomes, set process boundaries, and pulled together a team of 14 people from the US and Europe. In less than a week, we developed a new 4 stage process which

  • Established go/no go points with executive approval
  • Utilized a rapid prototyping method which enabled early feedback and intelligent requirements scoping
  • Built a global process which was implemented in current projects
  • And set the standard to go from 1 to 3 releases per year.

In a growing telecommunications company, there were originally over 360 sales compensation plans for the sales reps and service engineers. Multiple reporting systems and past inaccuracies forced sales reps to spend valuable time monitoring their accounts. A team was formed of compensation analysts and sales finance specialists servicing the world, and took input from sales and management. In less than a month, the team studied current activities, designed the desired outcomes and built the new process requirements. Once implemented, the time required to process commissions with accurate results was reduced by more than 50%. The capacity gained eliminated the need for additional resources to accommodate the growing sales force and transactional volume.

A cross-functional process goes beyond the organizational responsibility of one person. In order for the new process and its implementation to be successful all the stakeholders must see the benefit of making the project a priority. If they don’t, their attention will be diverted. And, it will take more than influence from the process owner to keep the attention of all stakeholders. Stakeholders must see concrete and timely benefits for themselves or have a strong corporate mandate to stay focused and not be swayed to other priorities.

Don’t forget about global and regional needs. Geographic and cultural needs introduce different issues and challenges for the process. Determine whether or not you will involve global and regional folks now or later, and communicate your intent and reasoning.

Five Ways that are Proven to Work

  • Gather disturbing customer data, financial data, and operational data early to build common understanding and raise the urgency.
  • Identify the process owner and an actual project for your first implementation. These choices indicate that you mean business. This is no intellectual exercise.
  • Review the current process and build the new process in warp speed! (I have a tested methodology for doing it in 6 calendar days!) By doing it quickly you get to implementation faster, which means improvements impact business results sooner. There is no need to take 3-6 months to build a more optimal process.
  • Develop a small number of measures (2-4) to act as leading indicators of how the new process is working (and identify problems early) and to measure the outcomes of the process against current data and your expectations. Measures provide the data that keeps us all honest.
  • Plan for immediate review and approval of the process and plan. Schedule executives to come in during the process and at the end, with the intent of giving the go ahead and providing needed financial and resource support.

Avoid these Pitfalls

  • Letting the process get too big. Clear boundaries for start and finish need to be established early on. They should be suggested by senior management and confirmed or refined by the working team.
  • Using hypothetical examples in the working team. Real data and real examples keep the group grounded and working from reality.
  • Communicating the process to the implementers when you are finished. Implementers need to be involved early helping to build the improved process, so that they will be both knowledgeable and committed advocates when it comes time to implement.

Wrap Up

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you want different results, you need to change the underlying process. Yet changing the process is not that easy in an organization, because the process crosses the corporation horizontally and the organization is organized in vertical silos.

Make the first cross-functional process improvement effort important, but doable. And you make it doable by giving it the critical success factors-identifying a process owner, getting the right stakeholders (including the implementers) together, using their knowledge in a rapid results design process, employing real data, and having a project ready to go to test the ideas in implementation. Once you implement you will more real data to see how well you did against the outcomes expected, to celebrate your successes, and to get ready for the next round.