|Posted on August 17, 2010 at 3:14 PM||comments (0)|
Identifying, analyzing and making changes to business processes takes time and effort, and incurs expense. Changing how things are done impacts roles and responsibilities and can trigger employee resistance. Before embarking on process reviews and changes, it is wise to consider the types of benefits you might gain.
Each organization is different and the actual benefit numbers will vary, but below are some common benefit areas to be aware of and better yet to plan for.
Revenue generating benefits. These are opportunities to change current processes and practices to directly or indirectly increase revenue. These benefits are often the hardest to achieve as the changes needed usually break current mindsets and can fundamentally change roles and responsibilities. They often also have the highest payback. Here are some examples:
These are just 3 examples. What examples can you imagine for revenue generating process improvements in your lead generation processes, your product placement processes or your sales processes?
Cost saving or cost avoidance benefits. These are process and practice changes that allow you to remove costs from the organization or to delay or avoid new expenses. This is where process improvement efforts are often focused. Every organization should be looking at running as efficiently as possible. Remember though that no organization has ever cost-cut their way to roaring success!
Here’s some benefit areas to look for:
Risk reduction or risk reaction benefits. There is little doubt that this is a growing area of process work. Benefit areas include:
The ultimate benefit to risk reduction or being able to react to a realized risk, is maintaining the organization’s reputation. Fines can hurt but rarely kill an organization. But if customers, clients or funders lose faith in your ability to provide the product or service they expect, you may never recover.
Process review and redesign to build in the needed controls, checkpoints and governance are often required. The trick is to balance the cost of the process work, and the ongoing execution of the changed processes, with a realistic assessment of various risk scenarios actually happening. It is far too easy to paint emotion-laden pictures of horrific happenings that sway leaders to build in process controls that are just too heavy and ultimately hurt the organization’s ability to run efficiently. Worse, processes heavy with rules and controls are the ones people most often don’t follow, defeating the purpose of the process work in the first place. In some cases it is better to have a process to react to a risk when it happens than to have a heavy process that tries to eliminate or reduce the risk.
Measurement benefits. Process reviews and improvements provide an opportunity to define and build in key metrics for processes. It really is true that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. More importantly you can’t improve if you don’t know how things are currently working. Having the ability to measure current reality sets the stage for continuous improvement. As with process work to reduce risk, it is necessary to carefully assess what needs to be measured and ensure it can be done efficiently without adding unnecessary weight to the process. Beware the seemingly endless human desire to create and consume statistics whether they add real value or not!
Process review, analysis and redesign work can and must result in benefits that surpass the cost of the work to change the processes. Make sure you are looking in all the right places for benefit opportunities.
|Posted on July 3, 2010 at 5:00 PM||comments (3)|
Has anyone else noticed that asking “why” has become a problem in our corporate/organizational world?
The parents amongst us remember well the phase our children went through when they asked why constantly. Sure, it could be a bit annoying at times but it also marked that very special time when we knew they were trying to understand how their world worked, what the rules were and where their boundaries were. In short they were learning. Many of their “why” questions forced us to rethink what we take for granted. I know some of those “why” questions left me wondering “why” as well.
As business has moved faster and as the economy has tightened, far too often those that ask the “why” of something are seen as nay-sayers or as people getting in the way of getting things done. I see it as a symptom of the lack of thinking happening in too many organizations. Taking the time to think things through is seen as “so yesterday”. The mantra seems to be “do, do and redo”.
I get it – agility is good, doing something is often better than doing nothing. Though I take issue with the idea that thinking about something, asking “why”, and digging for root causes is doing nothing!
Doing can be a way of thinking if we keep “why” in our vocabulary and treat our early doings as learnings and evolution. But even then there needs to be the freedom to ask why:
I now have to coach people to not ask “why” directly but rather to rephrase to “can you help me understand”, “what about this is concerning”, etc. When did we become such a defensive culture? We think of the business world as logical and rational, as strong and assured – yet nowhere is the simple question of “why” so frowned upon. No where else does it create the same level of defensiveness. Why?
For sure, those asking why must be respectful of the ideas and needs of others. “Why” should never, ever be an excuse for a personal attack. Asking why should always be about gaining understanding, about wanting to make things better, about wanting to surface any issues that could get in the way of implementation success.
I challenge all of us to get better at asking why and at accepting “why” questions. Why questions are not about tearing down proposals or plans, they are about gaining understanding and clarity; about exploring the edges of ideas or the core of how things have always been.
I challenge all of us to use “why” questions to uncover inefficiencies, easily avoidable risks, learn how others see a situation and to generally improve the success of our projects and businesses.
Hey, why not?!
|Posted on May 25, 2010 at 12:32 PM||comments (0)|
The previous two posts (Technology’s Role Part 1, Technology’s Role Part 2) have been exploring the role of technology in building process and people capability. This final post of this series looks at the role of technology in building leadership capability.
As with process and people capability, technology plays an enabling role. But that role is not as obvious and is fraught with more risk and is frankly harder to do well. Let me state upfront that technology enablers cannot make a bad leader good or a great leader significantly greater. Yet there is still some magic available when done well.
Improved measurement and decision making
Leaders must make decisions like the ones below:
A leader’s day is made up of a series of decisions whether they lead a fairly small business unit or an entire global organization.
I’d be the very last person to take a certain amount of intuition out of decision making, but decisions that are based on having good metrics and data, properly analyzed and balanced with qualitative factors are better and more consistent decisions. They are defendable and explainable which is a tremendous help when asking people to make changes.
Decision support systems through to complex business intelligence systems (BI systems) can help leaders make better and more consistent decisions. They can enable a leader to have exactly the relevant metrics and facts in front of them when needed. They can combine facts and trends and offer analysis far faster than us mere humans. They can weed out the data that is not relevant or not terribly important for certain decisions helping us be more focused in our decision making.
The risks are not in the systems or technology itself. In order to be effective as an enabler the technology needs:
Technology applied incorrectly here can actually make decision making worse, can have leaders buried in too much data and basing their decisions on the wrong information. Even when applied well it can result in leaders relying too heavily on the data and not balancing data with real-world observations of what is happening in their organization and with their customers.
In short the organization must embark on some thinking about decisions and decision-making processes in their organization before running down the technology implementation path. In this do and activity based culture we live in, thinking time is often considered a luxury!
Summary: Technology and Capability
Technology can and should be used to help build people, process and leadership capability. What matters is how it is applied. Technology is not, nor will it ever be, a silver bullet. Understanding what your organization needs; its goals, its employee skills, its strategies, its products, the decisions that need to be made etc is hard work! That hard work matched with effective use of technology will be rewarding. Anything less than stepping up to that hard work is like taking a cut flower, shoving it in dirt and hoping it takes root. On rare occasions it works, the vast majority of time it looks good for a short time then wilts and dies. Except that technology is typically a lot more expensive than a cut flower!
|Posted on May 18, 2010 at 10:19 AM||comments (0)|
Having worked inside IT and consulted with many IT and business leaders, I have to state upfront that I am a fan of technology. Some would say I’m borderline geeky! I believe that every organization and most business functions need technology to reach their potential.
Technology can create whole new industries and change the fabric of business.
But mostly, it doesn’t. Doesn’t improve things as much as expected, doesn’t change the way organizations run and doesn’t live up to the hype.
Technology’s role in building process capability
A poorly designed business process automated by technology is just a poorly designed business process that may execute faster. Automating existing processes without a good look at how they can be designed to use fewer resources, produce better products, improve customer service or retention, increase fundraising success etc is just leaving money on the table. You must have a clear picture of the goal of the process and how that goal helps the organization.
Technology’s (hardware, software, networks or infrastructure) role is to:
Technology plays an enabling role. A very important role but not the only one. People have to execute the process. Leaders must oversee the process and support the people executing it.
When process improvement projects are called technology projects (because they happen to be implementing a new system), they are set up to produce subpar results. If the “project” is just about the technology without considering the people needs and skills and the leadership requirements, the “project” is building a one-legged stool. There is no balance and it will not work well.
In the next post I’ll explore technology’s role in building people and leadership capability. As with building process capability there is promise, yet too often it is unrealized.
|Posted on May 7, 2010 at 12:08 PM||comments (0)|
External pressures like recessions, new competition or new regulations force you to look at your products or services and the processes used to deliver them. You move into improvement and change mode because there is no choice.
But when things are going well, the external world isn’t knocking hard on your door and no one in the company seems to be complaining, it is so easy to sit back, smile and enjoy. That is certainly understandable and maybe, for just a short period of time, a necessary rest period for the organization.
Do not rest for long! You have been given a unique and precious opportunity to examine your business, to do what I call the Reality Review.
What is this?
A Reality Review is a brutally honest assessment of the current state of your business or some piece of it. Here’s a sampling of the questions for a review:
For a key business process:
A Reality Review can also take a look at your people management, performance management and leadership strengths and weaknesses.
The point is to take the stance that good can always be better. In fact it is often also true that good can hide pockets of bad.
Why do a Reality Review?
Beyond assuming that you want to know what is working and what is not, here’s a list of reasons that all have bottom line impact:
How do you do it?
You can and should gather some statistics. I would certainly want them as part of the overall picture. But too many organizations get buried in the “data trap”, arguing about which data should be collected and what the results of the data collection are actually saying.
More importantly, statistics are a passive review. A true reality review requires something far more active. Consider:
You, or a small project team needs to get out there, live it, see it and experience your processes as your people do and your products and services as your customers do.
An active review does not have to take a lot of time, though it does require some planning to ensure the time used is effective in discovering the reality of your process, service or product.
A side benefit to this active observation and review is that you will discover data points to track that will end up making your statistics much more meaningful in future. A quick story to illustrate…
A few years ago I worked on a project that was focused on streamlining system interactions for several hundred customer service assistants across the country. The project team spent time sitting in regional offices getting a first-hand view of how the existing systems were used. While in these offices every team member watched the computer network go down unexpectedly, often several times a day. Input data was sometimes lost and the interruption time to restart and get back on track was several minutes. There were no help desk statistics to show this was an issue. People had given up calling to report something that no one seemed to do anything about anyway. The project team put some simple code into the new system they were delivering to track when the system did not close cleanly and were able, over just a few weeks, to statistically prove the network problem. The problem did get fixed and tracking was put in place to ensure the systems really were available and reliable on an ongoing basis.
Make Reality Reviews a part of your culture
You do not have to wait for down time to do a Reality Review. Every project has the opportunity to embed active observation into its work. Not only will the results of that project be improved, you will continually find areas for improvement.
You will build leadership credibility. Your people will feel like they are really being listened to and consulted about the direction of the company.
No one should bury an organization in constant change and knowing when to act on improvement opportunities is key. But go ahead and be the restless leader. The one who can take pleasure and pride in what has been accomplished while still looking for opportunities to further grow organizational capability.