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Process Doc Opportunity #6: Bad Inputs

Seeing and Fixing “Garbage In” So Your Process Works as Intended

In order for a process to function as it was designed, as it was intended… it MUST be provided all the inputs it requires to be successful. The notion that “garage in” yields “garbage out” is not a new idea. But it is remarkable how often we have become so accepting of this very situation.

That is why Orion includes some level of systemic analysis in any process documentation or process improvement assignment. The analysis can be as simple as a SIPOC diagram or as complex as a full-on System Map. If your process is the black box in the middle of the business system, then we need to understand the quality of its inputs… lest we create a more efficient system of converting bad inputs into unacceptable outputs.

We often think of inputs as information or materials we receive from external suppliers. However, bad inputs from internal suppliers – such as upstream departments or management – can just as easily undermine a good business process.

In the diagram above, Department B and Department C both crunch numbers. The leaders of Department B make sure their staff members use methods and formats which best meet regulatory requirements. Department C uses time frames and formats that best meet customer needs. That requires non-value-added data conversions and sometimes leads to confusing or inaccurate reports. As a result, Department C deals with many customer complaints. However, the root cause of the problem is not within Department C’s processes; it lies in the upstream handoff from Department B.

The company can solve this problem in one of two ways:

  1. Create extra subroutines (and costs) within Department C to make sure the data conversions do not create customer problems.
  2. Fix the handoff – the root cause of the problem.

Too many companies choose option 1. Why? Because they focus on the procedure at hand but did not consider bad inputs that may be undermining the process.

One of Orion’s hospital clients was struggling with wait times for an MRI appointment. They could stretch multiple weeks, even though on paper there was more than enough machine capacity to meet patient demand. It is easy to get caught in the trap of focusing on what happens inside the Radiology Department. What can we do to increase patient throughput? Can we cut out some steps inside the room?

While the hospital was able to find minor improvements within Radiology, it turned out the delays were the result of a mixture of upstream input problems. One example: If you are taking an MRI of a small child then you need to use anesthesia because it’s highly unlikely a six-year-old will lie perfectly still for 20 minutes. However, if the Scheduling Department did not make it clear to the parents that their child should not eat for three hours before receiving anesthesia then Radiology gets a bad “input.”

In this case, there is a significant delay (and machine downtime) while we wait until the young patient can safely receive anesthesia. The hospital eliminated more than 80% of the scheduling delays by resolving this and other input issues.

Bob Boehringer: Cost of Bad Inputs (Vimeo)

One of the most challenging handoff failures Orion encountered was at a financial services company. The handoff was not between departments, but between the customer and the company. The financial services firm needed customer data to do its analysis and make proper investments. In this scenario, the customer was actually a key supplier.

However, multiple customers routinely submitted incomplete data or data that included figures from the wrong date range. Rather than “inconvenience” the customer, the firm tried different solutions over time. These included assigning staff to scrub the data, creating computer programs to identify and correct mistakes, and calling customer staff members to fill in the blanks.

None of these Band-Aids were completely effective… and they consumed both time and money, costs that were not passed along to all customers. The firm finally decided it had to impose a standard electronic format for customer data. Rather than inconvenience to customers, this led to better service, stronger relationships and a better profit margin.

Resolving input problems leads to better business process performance and can also improve cross-functional teamwork. So, before you dive into the black box and start mapping your process, create a SIPOC or System Map so that you understand how inputs are influencing the outputs your process creates.

We hope you enjoyed this blog series. For more guidance on process mapping and analysis, check out 10 Tips for Business Process Mapping.

To learn how to create a System Mapping, click here to consider Orion’s 45-minute webinar.

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

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

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