Creating the “To Be” Process

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Principal, Value Creation Partners
Daniel J. Madison is a principal in Value Creation Partners, an organizational consulting and training firm. He focuses on helping clients increase value through operational improvement, organizational redesign, lean six sigma facilitation, and strategic planning. Dan regularly teaches courses on Process Mapping and Analyzing and Improving Operations through the University of Chicago, University of Tulsa, University of Calgary, and California State University, East Bay.

One way of building To Be processes is to start with the ideal. The ideal stretches the organization to achieve results and execute far beyond the norm.

A powerful example of working from the ideal can be witnessed at Toyota. This company has a vision of an organization, process, machine, or person that:

Is defect free,
Can be delivered one request at a time,
Can be supplied on demand in the version that is required,
Can be delivered immediately,
Can be produced without wasting any materials, labor, energy, or other resources, and
Can be produced in an environment that is safe physically, emotionally, and professionally for every employee. *

It is this vision which drives (pun intended) Toyota to design and create processes that are world-class. Toyota assembles the methodologies and tools to move towards their vision (called True North). This collection of tools, methodologies, and vision is called the Toyota Production System or more commonly known as Lean.

Does your organization have a compelling vision which can act as a compass for your process redesign?

Another approach to creating a “to be” process is to use process design principles. Process design principles are distilled learning’s from world-class organizations. We find which principles to use from what is “broken” in the “as is” process.

In my last article, I mentioned five lenses of analysis that can be used to diagnose an “as is” process. One of the lenses was frustration. We simply ask the people who work in the process, what if anything, frustrates them as they do their work. Often these frustrations link to design principles. For instance, imagine someone sayin, “What frustrates me is that the document has missing, incomplete, and wrong information.” The design principle that addresses that issue is “bring downstream information needs upstream.” There are two ways of applying this principle. First, if the process deals with routine, non-complex inputs, then we go to the appropriate person upstream and use check sheets, templates, and training to ensure that this person captures what the downstream person needs. However, if what is moving through the process is complex and ever-changing, then a different approach is required. Here we need to move the downstream person upstream so that they can talk directly to the source.

In my book, Process Mapping, Process Improvement, and Process Management, I list and discuss 38 design principles. For this article I am going to talk about just a few.

The most important design principle, which to applies to all processes, is “design the new process around value-adding activities, not around job titles, departments, nor location.”  Value-adding activities are defined this way. Is the customer willing to pay for it? Does it transform material or information into something the customer wants? If you answered “yes” to either question, then the step is value-adding. Usually in a process, there a just a few value-adding steps. We find those steps, pull them out of the “as is” process and then try to design a new process that is as close to pure value-add as possible. At this point, do not get bogged down into who will do the work. Just create the flow. When you have designed a flow that is as close as you can get to pure value add, then you can discuss who should do each step.

When you look at your process, ask if the inputs naturally cluster. Often the clusters are complex and simple. If your process has naturally clustering inputs, then you should design a separate process for each cluster. We are unwinding “one size fits all.” At the beginning of the process, insert a decision point that transfers the input to its appropriate process. A simple example is the two checkout lanes in a supermarket. One lane for large number of objects. This lane has a checker and a bagger. Another lane is for a small number of objects, and this lane has only a checker. We also see this principle in emergency rooms where the patients are triaged by severity of the condition.

A common frustration for customers is being transferred from person to person when there are questions or requests. The design principle that deals with this problem is to “create a single point of contact.” The single point of contact can be a person, a web site, or data depository.  If the single point of contact is a person, generalists often perform well in that role.

Finally, how many times have you witnessed information technology being applied to a broken “as is” process? The result is often marginally better and sometimes even worse than before technology. Millions of dollars were spent, days wasted, and we still do not get the result we hoped for. We do not want to pave a cow path, which is the equivalent of laying technology on top of a bad process. The design principle is to first diagnose the “as is” process, use other appropriate design principles, best practices, and then have a conversation with the IT professional. This conversation centers around design principles and best practices. Then the IT person discusses current technology capabilities and future technology capabilities. From this discussion, a new process is designed.

Creating a new process is like baking a cake. We need the right ingredients. The right ingredients for designing elegant processes are:

  • What is wrong with the current process
  • The design principles that apply
  • Best practices from companies in our industry and outside our industry
  • Creativity
  • Technology

By combining the above into an integrated solution, you can dramatically reduce cost and time, while boosting quality and service. Ultimately you will please, and perhaps delight both customers and employees.

*Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, by Steven Spear and H. Kent Brown, Harvard Business Review, 1999.

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