Why understanding your processes is vital

Good process analysis is rare in many organisations and specifically focussing on data based decision making. For me I will always be a process geek but not many people are these days. We live in a world where Agile, Lean Startup and Design Thinking are the sexy topics and people have forgotten about good old Lean Thinking (the birthplace of many modern methodologies like agile).

I am not talking about mapping processes here I am talking about analysing processes to solve problems i.e. the first port of call for dealing with problems is to look at what (specifically not who) caused them. Processes underpin everything we do even requests for new websites(see below). For me any change project or work with any existing processes and its improvement starts with understanding what is going on right now. Before you consider User Needs(unless you already understand them) you should first understand what is causing the issues for users in the current process. This will inform your early user research and hypotheses for testing. Have a look at our blog on why 2019 is the year to get serious about your processes for more info.

The whole GDS process started with bringing together multiple Government websites into a single website to make it easier for the users. I have worked on many Local Government projects where the default answer to a problem is we need a new standalone website to handle the ‘problem’. When you actually sit down and look at the problem/solution they are looking for it is always not a website. Why do we (or some of us at least) think that a standalone website is the solution to a problem given the GDS work and why do we in Local Government build so many different websites? it would be great to know how many websites the average LA publishes and I definitely don’t see a higher number as a positive.

A great example of this is an authority looking at recruiting more Children’s Social Workers. For context those who are not aware of the problem should understand that a high pressure role in helping to try to safeguard children is not an amazingly big draw. Would you like a role where you will be paid ok but work in an environment where a mistake(or more likely failure in the system) could lead to a death? Add to this the fallout with the Baby P tragedy where both the Social Worker and the Senior Manager were publicly vilified by the press to the point they had to move out of their homes before anyone had investigated why it happened.

This team came forward with a solution. They needed a jazzy new website to attract social workers to the authority. All of the context obviously meant there was a shortage of social workers in this sector and that recruiting was hard. The team had a really attractive page on why you should want to work in the Local Authority with lots of benefits(they did a great job of selling their area/authority so much so I didn’t recognise it from the organisation I was working in!). The page had huge amounts of hits and tiny conversions (people who completed the CTA(Call to action) i.e. contact us/apply).  They wanted to drive more people to apply and a better website was the answer, obviously, digital is the new black.

It was a really quick meeting but in that meeting, using lean techniques I could quickly recommend not a new website but a change to process. By understanding what they wanted to achieve and by looking at what they did right now it was obvious. Understanding what they needed did require the application of the 5 whys to understand that actually the symptom solution (a new jazzy website) related to the actual cause of recruiting more social workers being a priority and converting more people on the website. So now I understood the business value and could use that to dissect the current processes delivering the user needs.

Understanding the business outcomes then led me to investigate the key hypothesis – Why are people not converting? Why are people not filling in the online form? Clearly people who have gone to this page and bothered to read it are already a long way down the ‘sales funnel’. They are engaged users looking for your product i.e. they have gone to a page that says ‘Why be a Children’s Social Worker with x Council’. The page content is good(to the point of painting a glorious picture of a less than glorious location) and there was no surprises in there that would lead to drop off.

We looked at the user journey for the prospective social worker. A page of good content giving me lots of reasons to apply. I don’t want to generalise but I will Social Workers are people people. They connect and interact with people by training and vocation. The next step of the process was to contact us, why not do it when you are clearly interested? Well our chosen method of contacting us after that initial lovely page selling why was to ask you to complete our form. Doesn’t sound too bad but when you consider ‘our form’ was the standard corporate job application form!

So this led the conversation onto why it was like this currently. My first challenge was why can’t we have a simple form – Interested? Give us your name,phone and email in this form? We cannot do that as we can’t recruit Social Workers without them filling in a full application form and doing appropriate checks. The existing process paradigm was holding them back. My challenge back to them was you are not recruiting Social Workers you are trying to get them to take the next step after looking at your page. As people people prospective new candidates are more likely to convert after a conversation (I am sure but not proven) but anyway wouldn’t you prefer more people who look at your page actually get in contact? Recruitment comes later and obviously checks and balances have to be done but you are bidding for scarce resource in a competitive market (other LA’s and private sector). Get their contact details and talk to them!

The result of that was no new website to solve a problem that did not exist and a very fast low difficulty change that would address the real cause. I guarantee that without me applying this thinking to the problem the result would have been a new website and the resultant costs with no change in outcomes. That did not need me to be there to apply this it just needed a different approach to problem solving.

#notdigital

I strongly believe that Digital solutions are a key enabler of new services fit for the internet age. Quality human centred digital services is the standard most customers of Public Services expect based on the way we consume private sector services. I have major problems with badging transformation as digital as this is not an outcome. For a start digital is so intangible and broad as a heading. It contains a range of definitions from encompassing practically everything we do or it is just websites and online forms, therefore it is so broad that it doesn’t have much consistent meaning to anyone.

What is more with digital from a customer value and business value perspective, it is not a statement that relates to an outcome or an identifiable user need. No customer/user ever said I want this thing to be digital. They may say I want to be able to access this service easily online but the service is the outcome not the digital. inevitably with Public Services especially at a local level we cannot offer a digital only service. If we look at a change from the business side I don’t believe there is many Chief Executives asking for digital services or at least even if they are they actually are looking for more cost effective ways of delivering services and maintaining service levels against the backdrop (not backstop!) of reducing budgets year on year.

Look in the middle at the people delivering services and question yourself