Making Music or Just Playing Songs
Last week I met with Ellen, a potential new client. She is the Director of HR for a modern healthcare organization. Their people were bright, their teams were cross-functional, and their systems were cutting edge.
Although they had cross-functional teams, and saw great benefits from having them, they did not know about cross-functional business process management.
Later that evening, my husband and I were talking about when he played the clarinet in grade school. One year their new band teacher told them it was time to “learn music and not just play songs.” That got me thinking about Ellen – when you’re playing songs, you go by what you hear and a vague sense of what the musical notes mean, but you don’t have a crisp understanding of the timing, the key signature and the dynamics. And when that is the case, you have to rely on someone else to tell you how to play or to sing the music for you to copy… And that person might not have it right.
The analogy to business process management for this healthcare organization is strong. This young sharp company with passionate teams is playing someone’s songs but they don’t know the music. To bring their business into sharp focus they need to:
- Know the core cross-functional processes that provide value for their customers
- Define the requirements of those processes
- Make their processes stable (repeatable and reproducible)
- Identify process metrics: stable processes can be measured (If your processes are not stable the numbers don’t really mean anything)
Some of what they will get from these efforts:
- Definition of what each process needs to be successful
- Leading indicators that alert management to potential problems
- Stable processes that all stakeholders (most importantly customers) can rely on
- Metrics that can be relied on to inform good decision making
- The ability to more accurately forecast
- The ability to influence or have greater control of the market in which they operate
- Greater customer focus and satisfaction
- Defined roles and responsibilities
- Team and workforce engagement
Done right, they will be singing the praises of cross-functional business process management.
Ellen mentioned to me that she had been working on implementing an organization-wide learning management system and that it had been quite a challenge capturing the information needed for the entire company. They began with solution implementation in one department and saw some moderate success. The problem was that they started by designing for that one department and the related approach and work products were not a good fit when they attempted implementation for other departments.
Had Ellen first taken an organization blue print and defined their core cross-functional processes, she would have captured all related stakeholders, roles and responsibilities for each process. This could easily have been translated into skills and competencies needed to perform their jobs. Further, the definition work at the front end would have allowed her to see the differences across departments within the organization and consider how that might affect the design and ultimately implementation of the new system.
Ellen shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Many organizations have suffered the same set-backs by not fully understanding their business processes before moving forward to automate.