Business Processes – Turning a Bureaucracy

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I was hired by a client who ran administration across a number of business units delivering services to thousands of customers. The client had already identified that there was a problem with processes, but had spent a year using an internal consultant getting no further than listing the well-known processes.

I worked with a program team of internal managers working across all the business units,including the central unit manager.

We mapped the process architecture for the organisation and identified the many processes that existed, then mapped processes (AS IS maps) at a high level. We selected the processes causing the most pain and developed process profiles that helped us understand all of the issues, objectives, critical success factors and other matters impacting on the likely success of redesigned processes. We then worked on new process designs (TO BE designs), at a sub-process level,.

During this phase it became increasingly obvious that the central unit was very efficient in managing processes but was following processes blindly without regard to the ease of use of the processes by its customers and staff. In fact the processes were distinctly unfriendly to the customers because the central unit was driven by a bureaucratic mindset, which considered following the rules to be more important than the quality of service, citing ‘policy’ and their governance responsibilities as the reasons for their viewpoint.

Working on the possibilities to improve the processes, the program team was able to convince the central unit manager that there was a better way and the TO BE designs started to take shape.

At the same time I had worked up a strategy that I presented to the CEO and his executive team. This was to ensure we had full sponsorship and to get a budget to acquire workflow management (BPM) software to use to implement new process designs. The budget was provided by the IT Director, who initially wanted to develop custom software for every new process, but was persuaded to accept that using a BPM package would be quicker and more cost-effective.

Once we had TO BE designs we considered how to take advantage of using the BPM package, the acquisition of which was now a separate project within the program, and came up with SYSTEM high-level designs, ready to pass to project teams as part of the projects’ terms of reference..

Once we had the target designs for the highest priority process we launched a project to work on that process. The team comprised a business manager as project leader, unit manager(s), key staff, IT development manager and a developer and myself as the BPM consultant.

Because of the overriding principles that had been laid out in the strategy the team was quick to look at new ways of how to use an online system to make the process much simpler to use for customers and staff. We turned questions on their heads and found ways to use smart forms to reduce the knowledge the user needed and the number of questions to be answered. We also targeted significant reductions in process activity durations and used reminders and escalations to move the process along.

Whilst it took quite a while and a number of iterations to complete the detailed process and system design the final process and system were well received. We conducted stakeholder consultations sessions as soon as we had an end-to-end system and we piloted the system in part of the organisation before going live across the whole organisation.

Whilst the first process was in pilot we opened up the next process project, and by the time that was half way through we opened a third process project. This way we kept the program moving and built on our success. The customer-oriented approach we had established became key drivers and pressure rose to redesign more processes.

As a benefit staff time was released to enable improved service levels in other processes and functions, this again had been established early on as part of the strategy and arose inevitably out of use of better process designs and online workflow management systems.

It is better to focus on customer service and value when designing new processes. Resource and cost savings will almost enivitably follow. But to primarily target cost savings when designing new processes may lead to reduced service, dissatisfied customers and increasing rectification costs. In the long run reputation and customers may be lost and profitability will suffer.

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