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issues found in business processes

By Peter SG Carter

What are the problems found in processes?

If all processes were perfect then process improvement would not be needed. But in general, what are the issues found in processes? What should we be looking out for? In this short article, let’s look at just a few issues which always seem to be a factor:

Process complexity

When there are too many variables in a process then the process tends to have poor quality. The variables come either from HOW the process is undertaken or how data is presented. One government organisation had a very high volume of transactions to deal with, and so had 10 teams working on processing the service requests. It transpired that none of the teams worked in the same way. Another was looking at making their payroll systems more efficient. Payroll was receiving more than 70 different types of time sheet in to the department every week. Each one of these needed the data captured on to their computer systems. The slowed the process and added a greater risk of error.

The consequences of these complexities are:

Customers are not being handled in the same way and can experience confusion resulting in lower satisfaction ratings

Error rates are high due to different data formats

Training costs are high

Employee morale is low

Unnecessary work is undertaken

In process workshops we have carried out one phrase always comes up: “Why do we do that?”. The answer is very often “we’ve always done it that way!”. This invariably leads to a duplication of effort.

Two examples:

In a hospital a process was being studied. In looking at it they followed the paper trail to see what was happening. One particular form with important data on it was always sent up to another ward before being sent back some hours later, duly signed. On enquiring why this happened no-one knew, but everyone knew it had to be done. So our intrepid consultant went to the other ward to find out why they needed the form, and what they did with it. Their answer was, “we don’t know why we get it, but as it’s an important form we hang on to it for a few hours, sign it and send it back”. 

In a local authority much time is taken ensuring data is gathered regularly to present to managers. However no-one had thought to present the information in the way that it was required. The IT department, who were quite capable of presenting data in any format, prepared the data. The manager’s secretary then spent many hours re-typing the data in the way she knew her boss wanted it.

These are just two of many hundreds of examples we could give.

Poor organisation

When imagining a factory floor, the office worker knows that there is a natural flow through the plant. Raw materials enter the factory at one end and the finished product is rolled out at the other. The floor is clean, tools are in the right place and everything required for each worker is at hand. There are no sub-assemblies backed up and stored all over the factory floor.

But you walk in to the standard office and the place is a mess. Files all over the place and people are moving around in a haphazard way. The photocopier is often tucked away, possibly on another floor and so on. No thought appears to have been given that this part of the organisation also deals in processes. When looking at the swim-lane analysis (an organisational view of the process showing the hand-offs from one person to another) of how a standard process is undertaken, work appears to go back and forth fairly chaotically. A simple review of the office environment to see the flow of work through the office can have a dramatic effect on efficiency. Once the flow in understood it is our experience that there is the motivation to make ‘efficiency’ the office motto. 

Lack of Trust

I have called this one lack of trust, because that seems to be the factor that drives people to duplicate effort. Microsoft Excel is a wonderful tool. Most local authorities I go to also think it’s a wonderful tool. So wonderful infact, that everyone in the process uses it to enter process data in to it. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are central systems that are holding the data and that this data is being entered as part of the process.

In an earlier article about business processes I mentioned the absence management process of a local authority. This authority has a centralised computer system for managing absence management. Despite the availability of the centralised system every line manager also has a spreadsheet so they can manage the absence of their direct reports. Equally, HR officers have their own spreadsheets so they can access their Performance (PI) data. Occupational Health receives all the information they need electronically, print it out and enter it on to another Excel spreadsheet. Can technology eradicate this duplication of data? Well yes it can, but it has to be trusted to do so.

For more information on about the importance of process management and the techniques of process improvement, please refer to my other articles.

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