“Stepping” Up to the Plate
Staircase diagram: Ideal tool to eliminate, consolidate and prioritize processes
About ten years ago I was involved in an 18-month project to redesign a company in preparation for the acquisition of a new IT system. The company had done massive process documentation as part of the As Is phase, and the time had come to develop the To Be design. As the team was mulling over the best way to fit all the processes together in the new design, a thought hit me:
Forget doing these things efficiently… why do we do some of this at all?
That was the day the Orion Staircase Model was born. We created a series of questions –asked in a specific order, like “steps on a staircase”– designed to determine the reason for existence of each process. After making the determination of why each process was performed, a corresponding potential test was identified to determine whether the process should continue to exist.
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For example, one step on the staircase is asking if a process exists for legal reasons. If so, then the only path to removing it would be to get a law changed… no doubt a slow and time-consuming process with a low probability of success. But that doesn’t mean it should never be undertaken. We worked with a pension system once that provided a death benefit of anywhere from $500 to $2,500 (depending on years of service) to the survivors of a member who passed away. The law that drove this was passed in the 1970’s, and the point was to pay for the funeral. Noble purpose to be sure, but the amount had never been changed to reflect inflation. Forty years later the amount wasn’t even enough to pay for the flowers. In addition, the law dictated that unless otherwise specified the amount had to be evenly distributed among all survivors. And if one couldn’t initially be found, then nobody got paid until he/she was located. In light of this, the company was paying two agencies to track down beneficiaries. Making it even worse, the company could tell survivors that a payout was coming, but couldn’t tell them how much it was. Imagine waiting months while a firm tracked down one of your five brothers in Madagascar to learn you were getting one sixth of $500. The money being wasted on this process was in the millions of dollars annually, potentially making it worthwhile to challenge the law.
The staircase diagram uniquely positions companies to identify inefficiencies like the above. In the world of 2020 where change is being forced on companies at a pace faster than ever, it is inevitable that some of your processes have outlived their usefulness. This is the tool that can help you identify and dispose of them.And how did the afore-mentioned redesign turn out? We started with about 150 “major” processes. After using the staircase diagram to eliminate and consolidate we came out of the looking glass with 63. These were the processes that were kept as part of the redesign in preparation for automation.