The mistake of studying people and not processes

Opportunity 47One of the obvious places to look for opportunities to improve is to study a process within the organization and see if you can make it better (simpler, faster, or less expensive in some way). The key to doing this successfully is to think about the process as a whole and not fixate on the individuals working within the process. It’s harder than it sounds because there is a natural tendency to map out a process and then very quickly move to studying what people are doing within the process. One of the reasons for this is that people often don’t really map out a process. They may create a wall map of activities within a process but they don’t study the actual process itself. Usually the telltale sign of this is when you see a process map that has activities posted but no volumes and no associated cycle times. Thoughtfully analyzing the process is an important first step before studying individuals.

If you take for example an accounts receivable (AR) employee, you could break down their activities in fairly fine detail and determine how often they do certain activities and how long those activities take to do. You could observe the individual and perhaps come up with some clever ways to change the activities or develop some new tools that help make the job easier and enable them to process faster. These are all good outcomes but it’s entirely possible that you overlook the actual process and miss some larger opportunities.

Studying an actual process requires a certain mindset that keeps your focus on the higher level process, before you get into the weeds with what people are actually doing. Sticking with our example, studying the AR process properly would mean understanding the following:

  • What are the types of AR and what are the different value streams they need to follow? How does the volume split between these streams?
  • What are the cycle times through the process? Can they be reduced?
  • Why does the AR process exist at all? What is the source of the work? Can this be influenced to reduce the volume?
  • What are the triggers for action and why? What policies determine these triggers? Can the policies be changed?
  • Where are the hand-offs in the process? Do they need to exist? Can they be reduced?
  • Who does what activity? Should they? Should fewer or more people be involved?
  • Can work be sequenced or batched differently?

These are only some of the questions that could be examined. But all of these questions come before looking at the actual activities of someone processing a late account. Changing the process inevitably affects what people do, or how often they do it, but keeping the analysis at a higher level is a better place to start.
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