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Process Doc Opportunity #5: Handoff Issues

Identifying Points Where Teamwork Fails

In business, a “handoff” occurs whenever the workflow, data or a work-in-progress passes between individuals, departments or external entities. On a cross-functional process map or swim lane chart, this occurs whenever the process flow (arrow) crosses a horizontal line.

Flowchart with handoffs

As illustrated in Jordan Smith’s blog, the quintessential metaphor for a handoff failure is the dropped baton in a relay race. The dropped baton is a catastrophic failure from which no track team can recover during a competition.

Most handoff problems in business are not catastrophic. Indeed, they often go unnoticed by management. It could be as simple as work sitting in the proverbial inbox. Or data that needs to be reformatted due to different standards in adjoining departments. The latter example not only causes delays, but it opens up the possibility of errors during the unnecessary conversion.

In the example above, five handoffs are noted with red circles. For this Hiring Approval process, two of the handoffs proved critical. During the first handoff – when the line manager submitted a Request to Hire form to his executive – not understanding the executive’s decision criteria often led to insufficient justification. As a result, an important hire could be disapproved.

The second troublesome handoff was between the HR Manager and the Recruiter. The Recruiters supported multiple functional departments and were not given any sense of the relative urgency for each hire. Thus, the process could stall for weeks before the Recruiter began work to get resumes so the company can fill a critical position.

Bob Boehringer: Why Handoffs Fail (Vimeo)

Orion had one client that was rolling out a new software solution to its salesforce. This company sold and serviced Point of Purchase (POP) credit card devices, the ones you swipe or tap or insert your credit and debit cards into. Their primary customers were mom and pop independent convenience store owners.

The goals of the software investment were to:

Clearly a win-win scenario that would make life easier for the customers and generate more revenue with fewer hassles for all parties. But…

Each store had a unique set of IT configuration requirements. Those requirements needed to be identified upfront so the POP devices would be properly configured before being shipped. If the device wasn’t properly configured, store owners would call customer service to complain that the new device did not work. Since the call center rep did not have eyes on the ground, figuring out what was wrong could be difficult and time-consuming.

Therefore, it was incumbent upon the sales staff to invest their time in gathering all the information required when they were closing the sale at each store. Over the years, this company developed a “sales driven” culture. The sales staff focused almost exclusively on sales and relied on support staff to clean up the details.

The new solution required a change in sales staff behavior, but sales management neither provided adequate training nor enforced the change in process due to their fear it would negatively impact sales. That resulted in a bad handoff between sales and the POP configuration team. The sales team continued to do a great job selling. The new software solution was technically a great success. However, due to this bad handoff, the new solution was rolled out with a dramatic “thud.”

The cost and time savings did not materialize. The need for the sales support staff was increased rather than diminished. The new software solution still had great promise, but that promise would not be realized until the handoff was fixed.

When analyzing a process map, each handoff is worthy of inspection. These are spots where performance improvement opportunities may be found. They are also good pulse points to monitor both operational performance and cross-functional team effectiveness.

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Next: Process Doc Opportunity #6: Bad Inputs

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