You need to act on the cause not the symptoms – process thinking

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You need to act on the cause not the symptoms – process thinking

  • Process analysis

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 if digital transformation wins their hearts and minds?

I really don’t think it does, even in the most bleeding edge organisations where digital is a major driver I would still say digital is not a vision or a strategy it is a key enabling function in the delivery of services. Being more digital or user focussed will never be an outcome that resonates with your stakeholders. The outcomes of those behaviours will be.

My other challenge with digital is it makes for more of a dividing line between the projects and the services. More digital is more specialists changing our processes to make them digital. We need to be breaking down organisational silos with multi disciplinary teams solving problems not reinforcing them. Organisational buy in to change is another critical success factor in projects this isn’t helped by running ‘digital’ projects with those geeks in the corner (me included).

I think it is high time we start to frame our conversations about change differently without Digital as the focus.

Events, networks and mapping

I am a dirty supplier in a world where public sector workers are (rightly in my opinion still sitting partially on that side of the fence) of software and service suppliers in the GovTech market. Lets be honest we all have been left dealing with a solution that promised the moon on a stick and what you got was a turd on a massive telegraph pole. By that I mean solutions promising everything, in a really easy, low risk way and delivering really cumbersome solutions in an overly complex, inflexible and not user centred way that maybe even caused more work for you and definitely costs.

I see creating a better way of being able to understand suppliers who deliver outcomes and building better relationships as something that really needs solving #fixtheplumbing. I have ideas on this and have tested them with some of you users already and the response is really positive. Hopefully I can pull together a beta this year and get something out for people to use after some more user research! My point here is that not all suppliers are b@stards!

This part was supposed to be about the sexy agile hammer so back to the point. I have done a lot of events and there are 3 that we keep supporting year on year (and they support us by helping us engage with users). In no particular order the are

  1. Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum
  2. LocalGovCamp
  3. UKGovCamp

They all offer excellent content and most importantly are free to the attendees. It helps they are also reasonable for suppliers too! They create great networks of people and I always learn lots at these events. All of these are events we have gone to from the very start of our company and continue to now. Give them a try as an attendee and if you are a supplier and not there why would you not attend events like these where people are really keen to hear about new innovative solutions?

UKGovCamp was just over a week ago on Saturday at Ministry of Justice. We have not yet got a central government first user yet despite over 25 other Public Sector bodies being users I was really keen to try to understand why? As is normal for these things as a supplier especially one that had agreed to meet up with 3 different people about some collaborations I only got to see a couple of sessions one by the wonderful guys from Satori Lab on networks and another session by @jonodrew on Wardley Mapping (a topic I have wanted to get an understanding of for years) I was absolutely gutted to miss Mapcamp last year (this year it is a must for me).

Have a look at the content of the sessions here using the We are Convivio app. I wish I had got to more sessions really wanted to go to weeknotes amongst many others but its great to be able to look through the notes of the sessions thanks to the camp maker not takers.

I got a great introduction to both of those topics at the event and they were top class sessions to attend. It is great to meet some people properly for the first time(in the pub!) and to continue some of the twitter conversations. It is amazing who you meet and even just virtually connect with as a result of these events so many leaders in their field gathered together in the same space is awe inspiring.

As a process geek I have been intrigued by Wardley Mapping for a long time and wanted to understand the role it plays in the improvement journey. The session and conversation led me to look to study it further and was pleased with the open nature of the methodology and the wide range of guidance available as well as a community of people on twitter and slack ready to provide advice. Just follow @swardley on twitter for lots of daily tips, opinions and examples. I am studying it and following the guidance of just doing some of it to cement that. At the moment I see it as a strategic tool to help facilitate decision making around strategy, policy and architecture an I already identified a couple of instances where it would be of use for customers we are working with.

The power of the virtual networking was highlighted to me on the Sunday by a star struck moment on twitter where @swardley followed me, liked and even retweeted talk about super connections! So my experience of UKGovCamp was to get to learn about two topics that directly relate to what we do and how we can help customers deliver better faster and higher benefit change, I didn’t know either were going to be on and over the space of 2 days I went from knowing nothing about Wardley Maps to being connected to the inventor (as well as many other experts who all kindly offered guidance for learning).

Make sure you talk about these things and what you learn back at work because it is getter harder and harder in the Public Sector to attend these vital events.

Sexy agile hammer

I love all the great stuff that GDS and central government do around agile there are great resources too numerous to mention individually but have a look at the GDS blog as a start point. My only real criticism is that the stuff that is talked about most is the sexy agile stuff and not necessarily some of the real rigour that is applied to deliver in this way. The work is clearly being done evidenced by many conversations with expert practitioners but isn’t really talked about that much. There is a distinct feeling if you listen to GDS that Agile is tool to fix every job.

There are many other disciplines to deliver change and some of the less sexy rigour stuff GDS do like the performance platform and spend controls as key controls to support better change are the types of things I believe is the foundation to delivering GDS style change in organisations new to these approaches. Other disciplines involved in the process like Lean are occasionally mentioned like in this page about Agile Methods this is an ironic title given that Agile as a methodology was born out of Lean principles .

Our key challenge to answer was why we had not had interest yet from central government. My gut feel and previous conversations was that it was all the focus was on Agile. During many conversations the quote that sticks in my mind is that:

‘GDS have a habit of hitting every problem with the agile hammer even if there might be a more appropriate tool in the box’

The other thing we learned was that DWP and HMRC are doing some excellent work with Lean in their departments. So I ask here if anyone from either of those organisations (or actually just anyone who would like to do lean/continuous improvement better) would like to hear how they can do lean work even better please get in contact and have a look at our earlier blog on the subject and what we offer to help you save time and create better outcomes faster.

On the subject of what methodologies should you use for tackling problems @swardley twitter feed was fantastic for me on Sunday with this gem see below. Obviously I am biased in having a passionate belief that good continuous improvement of processes and even process discovery is a vital part of successful change. It fits in as a vital tool in the toolbox but is not the only tool to consider using when delivering a task great to see such an eminent thinker in the field talking about similar viewpoints.

Agile Lean Six Sigma Wardley Mapping

So why do processes and process mapping/discovery make such a difference?

If you are looking at changing an existing process or even tackling a problem with an existing service then I believe the first thing you must do is understand your current As Is process. By doing this work and doing it well you will gain a deep understanding of what is going on and why. This output will facilitate many of the subsequent elements of the change delivery process. As Simon Wardley shows in his diagram if a capability is new or very early stages of development then Agile maybe is the right tool. Most processes I work with in Local Government are not new and the existing process understanding is a great start off point and often one not currently documented and analysed.

I would suggest there are many different ways to run workshops but I am fairly confident lots of current ways are sub optimal in terms of an approach. There are some key things I would make sure I do to get the best out of my process workshops

  1. Ensure the Process Owner is engaged and participants are briefed on what they are there and empowered to do
  2. Map the end to end process and value stream together not a silo of the process
  3. Capture the detail(including times/costs and metrics) of the process and your improvement ideas/challenges/failures in the current system
  4. Focus on the customer value of your product/service
  5. Ensure process actors(people who are doing the day to day work) are in the room who know how the work is done for every element delivered (all departments represented) including service
  6. Get a room for the workshop with the space and resources you need
  7. Allow enough time to capture this in detail(the shortest workshop I would do for a small process is 1/2 a day most processes are normally a day
  8. Share back with wider stakeholders and seek their input
  9. Go to the Gemba and check your understanding
  10. Get sign off by process owner/s
  11. Complete the work in short cycles – do not let this work drag on realistically with a couple of days effort and maybe a week elapsed time it is possible to capture even a large process in detail

Benefits of process mapping / discovery

Completing this discovery work should now give us a strong foundation to take the next steps forward and to support other elements of the change delivery process. Capturing this key information gives me a number of outcomes that helps us deliver better.

  • We will have talked about the customer value within the process and captured what we believe it is
  • We have a process that is now mapped in detail and understood
  • We have all process actors engaged in the sessions understanding the process and its challenges
  • All process actors will now understand the end to end process including upstream and downstream elements from their role
  • We will have identified areas of improvement where processes are passed between departments
  • Normally we will have found some redundant tasks that are just being done because ‘we have always done it that way’
  • We will have identified other areas of the process where waste is creeping in to the system
  • We will have identified areas where things could be automated or removed
  • We will know the metrics of the process and understand the cost of delivering that process
  • We will have a signed off baseline for the process
  • We will have ownership of the process from the people doing the work
  • We will have identified why users are experiencing certain things prior to the user research
  • We will have started to identify some hypotheses that we may wish to research with our users
  • We will have a clear idea of what potential there is to improve this process and whether we should continue to the next steps
  • We will have some ideas about potential solutions to some of the problems

Not bad for a couple of days effort. And a great launch point for any change large or small, project or BAU, legislative or politically driven. Lean or more importantly your improvement processes are vital, not much is written about these in a Public Sector context and we intend to change this. We are even are looking at an improvement event cross public sector later in the year. For us our key focus is that we are #notdigital and we are looking at #outcomesnotoutputs i.e. it is as much about doing the right things than it is all about delivering all things faster and in a more agile way.

Process understanding helps us check that the user needs deliver business value and that helps us de-risk the work we do and make sure we do the right things better.

Hopefully you are convinced enough to be interested in learning how to do it better if so contact us we love to talk about this stuff as our customers will tell you. If not please carry on and I will share a few more real examples of applying or not applying process thinking and the impacts.

Contact us for more information

Data Protection (GDPR now) breach! Quick find out who is to blame.

blame lean

A great example of a number of challenges with traditional ways of addressing problems and why a process thinking approach is a great tool to utilise where a problem has occurred in an existing process is a data breach that occurred in an organisation where I worked. It wasn’t my traditional role in process improvement/discovery I was actually involved as a union rep for a person. This is probably the most rewarding process discovery I have done in my life.

Pascal is a fellow process geek and I learn a lot about how process improvement is done using our software in the Netherlands (happy Neil?) and around the world. He is an absolute guru and we have great process geek conversations (we also do actually occasionally have some fun to but remember to a process geek process conversations are fun!). During one of our conversations about how to implement improvement he mentioned the simple test of organisational culture he does to see how Lean the thinking and more importantly culture is in the organisation.

The simple question they ask is this ‘When a problem what is the first thing that would get asked? Is it who is responsible for this problem or what went wrong in our process to allow this to happen?’

This question is a simple binary choice and in H…(only joking Neil @ox1digital!) the Netherlands this works for them. The first option is the blame culture and the second is obviously a more mature culture valuing investigation, data based decision making and respect for your people. Most organisations are somewhere on the continuum between those 2 points. I came back and started to talk about this and apply it in the UK and I actually found another option even less evolved than the bottom of the standard test. For this to work in the UK there was unfortunately this even lower level that I have seen and experienced first hand in numerous organisations.

The change I needed to make was to make the answer a choice on a continuum between three points. From bottom to top these were:

The simple question they ask is this ‘When a problem what is the first thing that would get asked? Is it, who am I going to blame for this problem, who is responsible for this problem or what went wrong in our process to allow this to happen?’

The new bottom answer related to organisations (or just parts of them as culture can be very different in different silos) where the culture was so toxic that people would be pushing someone in front of the bus. This example is a practical example of this culture in a small part of an organisation and the real impacts of that.

I will try to do this in some sort of chronological order:

  1. Early in the day I get a call from a distraught person saying the have had a letter from HR talking about maybe gross misconduct etc.
  2. I go straight down and talk to the person to understand. The person really thinks they will get rid of them and a couple of conversations with their manager hasn’t helped that feeling (but there is history there). Obviously I try to reassure them and we discuss the problem. He worked in post and printed a letter posted to each employee at home. 2 letters during enveloping (or at least part of them) had got mixed into a single envelope. This happened within days of the letters being sent immediately that a complaint from a member of staff had been received. It was even more serious because National Insurance Numbers were on the letters.
  3. To me it didn’t seem too bad in terms of the person and their liability. On checking their part of the process the machine only counted output letters so the check was we printed x letters is there x letters in envelopes this obviously would not pick up 1 sheet being mixed up. I was deeply concerned we had decided straight away that the liability had been traced down to the most junior member of the process value stream and just the last person to touch it. Last click attribution on google analytics doesn’t tell the full story why would it on a process? By now I was confident it was not as serious as they had portrayed it and was confident enough to tell him not to worry I would investigate and sort it out and come back to update straight away.
  4. So I looked at the entire value chain and the value they were trying to deliver and the process they followed. The value they were trying to achieve was to ensure staff details were up to date by sending a form to say this is what we have is it correct? These letters were to be produced and sent to staff by the print room. they were to be sent to their home addresses by print services. Everyone had to fill them in to advise any changes to details. Potentially this was for some national data matching requirement up the tree.
  5. For those that have process eyes you have probably spotted a few challenges and I would argue that almost the first piece of information about the system reconciliation process was enough to stop this alone, but the next level of detail really helps us understand where the problem occurred and it wasn’t at the end of the value chain.
  6. The first challenge is why the letters we sent home rather than as they had with a number of things previously distributed them through managers. The answer to that one was because they didn’t trust their knowledge of the right line manager or that they would distribute them correctly.
  7. Next question was about whether that was sensible. The data they were trying to ratify was really name and address(most other details are kept up to date) to make sure it was up to date. The most likely change is address as name probably was notified to the council to update their email. That is not to say they were joined up enough to connect the email change to HR. This meant by default they were sending out sensitive details where they knew the very ones they needed to capture were the ones whom by default wouldn’t receive the letters i.e. they had moved.
  8. Final point was the National Insurance Number. Given all the above failures to put more sensitive data on the letters was ridiculous when hardly anyone (or even no one) will have changed NINO. This made it a worse breach that had put the member of staff in an even worse position.
  9. To bring it to a conclusion it took less than 2 hours and 4 conversations to understand all this yet it had been done. Someone had been blamed without even a rudimentary check of the cause not acting on symptoms.
  10. So 2 hours later I went back and told them it was sorted don’t worry at all. I went to the AD and went through the findings and explanations. They immediately said they would send another letter to advise them of no action. I said great and you can go and apologise in person for the wrong of threatening their job wrongly. They did to be fair and I don’t know the final part of the story. I am pretty sure though that as the blame actually moved further up the tree nobody was treated in the same sort of way (nor should they have been).

The reason this is my favourite process discovery is the impact for the person. They were given a letter effectively threatening the sack and they were petrified. 2 hours later they had an Assistant Director apologising face to face and withdrawing the disciplinary. I still see the person now and he always thanks me for this and it had such a big impact for his life I didn’t do anything but ask the question why a few times before leaping to conclusions its a skill yes but it can easily be taught.

continuous improvement lean

Process map end to end not in silos

Whenever mapping a process I find it is always best to map the end to end process with all the process actors in the room together. This enables everyone to get a shared understanding of what is going on and also will identify waste in the current system and potential areas of improvement. Mapping/improving silos of a process is a sure fire way to not deliver results.

Mapping in silos can easily identify savings in one area at a cost to other areas up or down the value stream. Improvement delivered in every area of the silos does not relate to necessarily seeing the total of those benefits overall. Often dis-benefits will outstrip any benefits and the net effect of the multiple changes will definitely not equal the total benefits identified in each silo.

A great example of this is a waste services project (one of many) I have been involved in. There was a major change going on in waste and it had to be delivered in a ridiculously short time (as is normal for delivery projects as the time gets eaten up earlier in the process getting sign off or procurement). It was a central transformation team run project with multiple business analysts working on and across the multiple value streams. There was a large high level business case based on high level assumptions and the work was happening to find the actual savings to justify the business case.

There were numerous examples of a lack of process thinking in this but this one relates to one particular value stream the ever popular missed bins. We got involved with weeks to go live to deliver the new digital processes (our first involvement to date). The first proposal was to change the way the crews work by using in cab technology and a change to task and finish working to allow bins missed to be collected by the crew that missed them on the day. Obviously a change to working conditions is a massive change but this would allow them to take a lorry off the road the dedicated missed bins lorry and large savings.

Easy to deliver from a technical perspective and so was the second change. The second change was to reduce missed bins calls they would change the time customers could report online or off to 5pm it had always been a bone of contention in Customer Service allowing reports on the day they had been ‘missed’ (i.e. the lorry may be late or changed route). These were are our requirements and the developer and I thought them through.

I walked back through it a bit like this:

  • Me – So you are changing the crews work routine to do the missed bins on the day?
  • BA – Yes
  • Me – You are also making customers only be after 5pm on the day?
  • BA – Yes
  • Me – Given the fact crews finish by 3 or 4pm and the change to reporting after 5pm how many missed bins do you think each crew will pick up per day?
  • BA – ……….
  • Developer – (stifling laugh)
  • Me – I am going for none
  • BA – ?
  • BA – Oh I see!

In no way is it the fault of the BA. The conditions and process they were given to follow was fundamentally flawed. Trying to run multiple improvement projects with multiple BA’s across multiple overlapping and interlinked value streams is the problem and not considering the entire end to end processes and their connections. It has to happen sometimes that at that point you can only improve systems in 1 area (e.g. you have just bought a new system and you are implementing just in 1 area like customer service). This is not a reason to ignore the benefits of mapping and understanding the entire value stream. You will undoubtedly find things that can be improved for other areas of the value stream that require no technical changes as well as identifying potential improvement areas for future iterations.

People

Its about people, processes and data #notdigital

This example is about delivering change and iterations. We worked with a streets service to migrate their existing mix of legacy forms and apps to a new digital platform and processes. There were hard deadlines due to removing existing systems due to the business case. The ‘process analysis’ had been going on for months and hadn’t involved the digital team delivering the solutions.

Due to many changes to the way of working and much hard work by the team we got things live and up and running in the new system and the legacy software retired for them. We did a lot of engagement with the managers and some direct with people delivering the services. We engaged with the users as these were key people who would be the eyes and ears on the streets and reporting using our forms they were also going to be using the process for their work tickets.

One of the greatest digital engagement sessions I have delivered was to the operatives at their depot. We were there to tell them and show them the great new digital online reporting services they could use to report anything and that they would get their work tickets in. It started well with no wifi in the depot so we presented digital with printed screenshots of the new easier website! We then talked about it being a beta and they could fill in the online form and they told us there was only 1 computer all of them could use and it had been broken for months. Ok lets carry on ,this should be better, you can report anything as you see it when you are out and about online on your phones. Answer – we have nokia 1 (or earlier!) we can phone, text or play snake!. In terms of phoning we can only phone our supervisors(who we need to sign off decisions) but actually we can’t because they are regularly unavailable due to meetings.

Best demo ever! Ok so why can you only call your supervisors? Answer – someone once rang a porn line running up a massive bill (kind of shows how long ago I mean who calls a porn line these days! 😉

Ok what happened to them? Answer – they got sacked. I would argue that there are more appropriate controls than to remove the use of the valuable work tool in their pocket like limiting monthly bills or blocking certain numbers. Ok that sounds mad to me but lets move on we live in a world where everyone has there own mini computer in their pocket masquerading as a phone. Ok but you can use your own mobile phones and use our service if you have data its free and doesn’t use a lot. Answer – if we are seen touching our phones in the work day it is a disciplinary. Oh FFS who has actually looked at the net effect of all these processes together? Who considered the interwoven processes and the actual outcome. I would estimate the cost to the organisation of these control measures massively outweigh by probably 100-1 the cost of a months phone bill off £1000 (if it was more than a month then its a problem with the process monitoring bills anyway).

Anyway during the process of decommissioning the old systems it became very apparent that tickets weren’t being closed. No one closed them on completion lots were updated but not closed. If anything it was a missing part of the existing process that no one had responsibility for closing. What this meant was there was a culture of not closing/updating tickets. Not surprising maybe given the tech in operatives hands. This is important because of what happened next.

We didn’t have detailed requirements from the Business Analysts we had to be pragmatic and build something better than what was there already. We didn’t have any details on the benefits of the changes proposed as the key benefit was removal of old system licences. The requirements weren’t at the right level of detail so when they came to the team to deliver we effectively had to gather the requirements. Building bespoke solutions requires a granular understanding of the process to hand craft it anything less than this leads to ever increasing rework in relation to the diminishing quality of requirements.

The first and second iteration of the processes went live and led to backlogs in the service. Delving into the numbers it was clear that 2 things had occurred a small increase in reports due to easy and promoted digital service and a continuing lack of ticket closure. Tickets were left open and crews were sent back to the same things that they knew they had done already. As a team we cleared up the data and wanted to get some changes made to ensure tickets got closed. The service area were not particularly engaged with the corporate transformation project they felt it was being done to them.

As a service the service management blamed a single failing the fact that all tickets went to a single group tray and that supervisors had to click one answer to say who as a supervisor was responsible for this (based on area). Literally 1 click in an online form. We took the challenges to board to ask for more work on the supervisors using the system properly but unfortunately despite using data based evidence the board was more inclined to accept the anecdotal evidence that 1 click stopped the process working.

The net result was we spent a couple of months accelerating the development of the location based auto allocation, testing it and deploying it to live. So we went live and a month later we were in exactly the same position of significant backlog and open tickets. Clearly looking at the process the symptom being presented was not the cause but we did not look at the cause. The problem was people and even a rudimentary investigation of the process would have shown this. The net result was to delay the benefits and use precious resources to not solve the problem.

A basic piece of process discovery done once well would have saved numerous amounts of rework. I am not a fundamentalist in terms of approach, I am a complete and utter pragmatist. Good continuous improvement culture is not the solution alone, but it is a critical part of the end to end improvement process. Different processes and changes require different approaches all working together to deliver better outcomes for the business and customer. Design thinking, QI, Agile, Lean and Lean Startup plus many more all have a role in delivering real outcomes for customers/citizens/patients. Getting the improvement process right is the most important factor.

I need a new digital ……….

continuous improvement

Often projects come forward with an idea of the solution specifically where you are rolling out new digital tools. It is really important to have a clear approach when dealing with new requirements. I was working with an organisation where a number have projects had been undertaken as part of the initial roll out of a new digital platform. The initial projects had suffered from the normal problems with requirements. They had been captured a long time ago and had taken a long time to pull together. The requirements and processes were captured at too high a level meaning that when the build was ready to start significant rework was required to get the right level of detail and there was no real identified benefits.

I had become involved to help get the project and approach on a solid footing and to have a process and tools for supporting the discovery and improvement of services prior to making new digital services. This particular requirement came in for the procure to pay process and the requirement was for a new digital form as there were problems in the process.

So we applied the new way of working and the first action to looking at the new online service was to understand the current process. So the digital analysts spent a few hours mapping the current process with the process actors who do the day to day work. Through that process it became immediately clear that a new digital form would not address the problems. The current form was an excel spreadsheet and the presenting symptoms were that people did not fill them in correctly leading to delays in payment and rework.

The actual problems with the process had far more to do with the way the work was done not the initial form. It became apparent we could easily improve the excel sheet to ensure significantly more complete forms were received and this would have a minor benefit. The problems did require the users to fill in forms better but much more waste was in the system caused by the current process. Electronic forms were printed out with multiple copies (1 to work on 1 for our records) the records were there as the processing of these was split across 2 teams and each was keeping duplicates in case the other ‘lost’ or didn’t process the cases.

There was most of the 8 wastes of Lean identified in the processes Transport (2 teams worked in different offices and required regular movement between the 2), Inventory (printing and filing duplicates to ensure a case is not lost), Waiting (significant lead in times in the process related to multiple waits as case passed between departments), Over Production (more checks and balances than were necessary), Defects (significant rework due to too little information and poor process) and Skills (failing to train and develop staff to understand their role in this key process).

It would have been easy to create a new form but we didn’t, we understood the problem first and we came up with a series of recommendations to smooth the end to end process and remove the numerous sources of waste. Historically the change would have been actioned prior to any investigation work. If the same level of understanding was gained(and that couldn’t be guaranteed) it was only gained much later in the cycle probably when more resources had been used in building out a new form.

These types of change and improvements aren’t the sexy stuff. You know anecdotally that you have saved significant time and money but because you have not done the work it is not very visible. This type of work helps you de-risk projects and avoid doing unnecessary or waste work, in any project under any methodology I would argue that the process discovery is vital knowledge everyone should be gaining. Ironically avoiding problems doesn’t get the credit it deserves as nobody felt any issues solving a problem after its happened always gets the team a lot more thanks and is far more sexy.

Have a look at the way you do things and how you understand what is going on right now with your processes. You can improve the way you do this very simply and de-risk the work you are doing as well as ensuring the customer and business benefits are maximised. Make sure you are acting on the cause not the symptoms and don’t build to address user needs alone you also need to ensure those user needs will deliver customer and business benefits.

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