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Process Doc Opportunity #1: People Variation

Finding Your One True Process

People variation at IRSThere is an old joke that if you don’t like what you heard from the IRS, call back in 15 minutes and see if you get a better answer from a different representative.

Most organizations do not have the regulatory complexity that may cause output variation at the Internal Revenue Service but we frequently see different people executing the “same” process in different ways in all types of organizations. I do not mean stylistic differences like you pick up the phone with your left hand and I pick up the phone with my right hand or Representative 1 responds to email inquiries first and then voice messages whereas Representative 2 prefers to mix it up. I mean significant differences in workflow, methods or emphasis.

How does this happen? Partly, it’s just human nature. We instinctively want to improve the things we do. Can I find a quicker route to work? How can I be more consistent shooting free throws in basketball? Can we get the kids out to school with less chaos in the morning? At work, this typically means coming up with ad hoc ideas to deal with bad inputs or to alleviate specific customer complaints.

Different managers and different process performers will put their own spin on how work “should be done.” When a new employee comes along, they will learn a customized version of the work processes from their mentor. Within a couple of years, there can be numerous unofficial versions of any given work process. All are well-intended, but collectively they often undermine both your organization and its customers.

In the following fictitious example from a financial services organization, two customers contact the firm because they think there was an error in the interest calculation on their most recent statement. In each case, the Customer Service Rep creates a record in the CRM and sends a message to the testing department. Here is where things diverge.

Testing Rep 1 uses the standard process that requires multiple validations using the firm’s ERP system. Testing Rep 2 employs an Excel macro workaround she developed a few years earlier. On the maps below, you can see the critical process differences highlighted with starbursts. Map #2 has fewer steps for the Testing Rep. The Excel macro is “unauthorized.” (Note: This is surprisingly common in companies. Team members will often resist giving up their workarounds and special programs, even after a technology upgrade is implemented that would make the workaround obsolete.)

Flowcharts: People variation in business process

As a result of using the macro, Testing Rep 2 needs an additional inspection point. She can’t risk an error slipping through. She must also make manual entries into the ERP and manually contact the Customer Service Representative when the question is resolved. These manual operations may introduce errors or delays.

So, does that mean Testing Rep 1 is doing it “right” and Testing Rep 2 is wrong? Maybe. It is more likely that Testing Rep 2 and other colleagues have added value to the process in different ways over time. In environments with limited process management (i.e. most organizations), this added magic gets trapped in a less-than-optimal process flow and is not shared with other people who are executing their versions of the “same” process.

A collaborative process documentation project brings all that magic to the surface, while revealing inefficiencies and inconsistencies. By working together to create the “one true process,” your organization can establish its own best practices and base all future improvements on that agreed-upon standard.

Want to learn more? Check out Bob Boehringer’s video: Repeatable vs. Reproducible.

Click here to learn more about Orion’s Business Process Documentation Services.

Click here to learn more about Orion’s Process Mapping training options.

Next: Process Doc Opportunity #2: Customer Variation

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