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June 11, 2021

Business Processes Broken? (Why It’s Most Likely Not a Software Issue)

by: Don Fierstein, Jason Paraiso

According to the Standish Group, 50% - 70% of projects fail to meet their objectives.  Why is the failure rate so high? While the culprits can vary, too often, there’s a disconnect between how technology is applied and the top-level business objectives that have to be met.  

While software solutions can address critical business problems, it’s vital to ensure they’re being employed to truly address the root cause of the problem, rather than the symptom. For example, while automation can help eliminate a cumbersome manual effort and boost team efficiency, it is important to have a focus on ensuring that any such improvements ultimately map to real business requirements, such as enhanced services, reduced costs, or faster time to market.  

Another common stumbling block is the prevalence of suboptimal processes. Fundamentally, these problematic processes can degrade or eliminate any of the advantages of even the best software solution. The following sections outline the key steps required for teams to improve their business processes: 

1. Identify the Problematic Process 

In this phase, we want to identify problems related to a process that does not produce the desired outcomes or that spawns other issues by its execution. 

2. Establish Goals 

Set goals that define the desired end state. These goals should help set expectations for what your organization may want to achieve through an improved process, such as increased productivity, higher customer satisfaction, or enhanced data accuracy. 

3. Include Key Stakeholders 

Identify all individuals who are involved, or should be involved, in the work process. This can include IT, finance, HR, process practitioners, and more. It is important to gain an understanding of each stakeholder’s roles, responsibilities, and desired outcomes. This set of stakeholders should form the process improvement team, and actively participate in the next four steps. 

4. Evaluate the Broken Process 

The goal of the evaluation is to identify the root cause of the impaired business process.  The team must investigate the source of failure by asking pointed questions. Following are a few examples of the potential questions that can be examined:  

  • Why is it done this way?
  • Is the work process designed to meet business needs that are no longer applicable? 
  • Have organizational changes caused unintended consequences to work processes? 
  • What have we learned from others?
  • What ideas have you seen others employ that you think might be able to help you fix your current process problem? 

5. Prioritize the Redesign Outcomes 

Outcomes will help the team focus on the right solution to fixing the broken process. Possible outcomes include: 

  • Standardizing the process 
  • Minimizing rework 
  • Reducing approval steps in the process 
  • Enhancing data accuracy and quality  

6. Map and Document the Process 

Mapping the process is the most crucial step. It allows the team to visualize the current process and the possible defects affecting its performance. This step can be performed through manual efforts, such as using whiteboards and Post-It notes, or in an automated fashion, for example, through the use of business process mapping tools.   

The goal of this exercise is to model the existing process—in its current state.  We want to decompose the broken process by identifying every step and adding as many details as possible about it. Through this effort, teams can define such details as the initiation activity for the process, team members responsible for each step, alternate flows in the process, the time/location where the step takes place, the tools used for the process, and so on. The final action is to document the process.    

7. Redesign the Process 

Based on the learnings from the prior steps, teams can begin to redesign the process. What could you do differently? Can you eliminate a step or refine the sequence of approvals?   

The goal of the process redesign is NOT to create the perfect solution; rather it is to establish a minimum viable process that addresses critical priorities. Over time, as team members gain comfort and experience with the new process, they should be encouraged to continue to look for additional optimization opportunities. 

Part of your redesign effort should include assessing whether automated tools can be employed to improve the business process. Ultimately, the outcome of this step is to create and document the new process.  

Conclusion 

Broken, inefficient processes lead to poor operational performance, wasted time, frustrated employees, and unhappy customers. To fix these processes, you need to start by creating a process improvement team. These teams then need to take a systematic approach to rooting out the causes of subpar performance so the desired outcomes can be achieved. This includes taking such steps as evaluating workflows, identifying issues, and redesigning processes. While software can help, fundamentally it takes people to create a solid solution that can be deployed quickly and improved over time.