The Five Implementation Options to Manage the Risk in a New 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.

How do you manage the risk and uncertainty concerning a new process design? Below are five options ranging from low-risk suggestions to ones that imply higher risks.

Role-Playing, Practice, and Simulation

The least risky option is to role-play, practice, or simulate the new design. To use a military metaphor, you wouldn’t be using live ammunition in this option. A professional football team employs this option (and calls it practice) Monday through Saturday. There’s no risk in role-playing, practice, or simulation.

Role-playing, during which you send fake inputs through the process to test it, involves assigning relevant process roles to people (not necessarily team members). For example, someone might take the role of customer; another might play an order taker, and so on. The fake inputs could be orders, contracts, requests, etc. Try to make them as realistic as possible. Once the parts have been assigned, each person must play his or her role when the new process is performed.

In a practice run, the new process has been designed, real inputs are used, and the people who will actually be working in the process participate. It’s different from role-playing in that a role player might not actually perform that step when the process is up and running.

Simulation involves the use of computer software and hardware. The new process flow and key performance metrics are tested under various scenarios to find bottlenecks and other problems. Shelley Sweet’s BPM Institute’s training class, “BPM and Lean,” demonstrates both role playing and computer simulation to find process problems and test solutions. I highly recommend this training.

Role-playing, practice, and simulation have multiple advantages. First, there’s no risk. The new process can be debugged without any negative consequences. In fact, it’s advantageous to try and break the new design during these test runs. Increase the volume going through the process. Add complexity to the inputs. This way the weak spots, bottlenecks, quality, and coordination issues surface. The problems can be addressed and solved safely without harming customer relationships or creating negative consequences associated with actual process operation.

Second, role-playing, practice, and simulation can demonstrate to people the soundness of the new design. Once you have the role-playing, practice, or simulation operating properly, ask senior management and those resisting the new process to observe it. Encourage questions and comments from them. When naysayers see the new process working and have their questions and concerns addressed, they often turn into supporters of the new design.

The Pilot

The next implementation option is a pilot. During a pilot, the new design is run for real but scope of the process is constrained. For instance, you might try the pilot for one customer group, one geographic area, or one product line. The pilot can be constrained by time as well; run the pilot for six months and then evaluate its effectiveness. A pilot is slightly more risky than a role-playing, practice, or simulation because it involves real products, customers, and services. Thus a problem can have definite negative consequences.

The advantages to a pilot are several. First, risk is constrained. Pilots are closely monitored so if a problem does occur, it can be fixed immediately. Second, the people working in the pilot can become trainers as you roll the process out to the rest of the organization. Third, the pilot is another opportunity for skeptics to visit the pilot process and learn from those working in it. There’s nothing like seeing a new process working for people to change their minds.

Run New Process Simultaneously With Old

The third implementation option is to run the new process in parallel with the old design. This option is often used for software implementations. If there’s a problem with the new software, you still have the old process to fall back on. When the new process has been debugged, you can then shut off the old system.

Phase in New Design

The fourth option is to phase in the new design over time. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.) Look for logical groupings of activities that could be done together in a phase. Also, what’s the logical sequence of staging those groupings?

When one phase is successfully completed, then move on to the next one. A phased approach allows an organization to control risk by tackling the project in distinct and manageable pieces. In addition, when each phase is completed, there’s a sense of accomplishment that helps maintain momentum for the next phase as well as for larger projects.

Complete Changeover

The last implementation option is a complete changeover. When you’re sure the risk is minimal, then you should start using the new process.

It’s likely the redesign team will try several of the options when implementing a clean-sheet redesign. Initially, team members might choose role-playing. After that process has been debugged, they might try a pilot. When the pilot has run successfully for some time, they’re ready for a complete changeover.

No matter what design your team creates, at the minimum you should be able to test it risk-free through role-playing, practice, or simulation. Negotiate an agreement with senior management that a test of the design will occur as a part of your redesign effort. That way you have an opportunity to demonstrate a radically different way to do work in an environment that might otherwise be resistant to change.

Next is the actual implementation of the final design. The process improvement team will be extremely involved in this. In addition, other staff members who demonstrated buy-in to the new design and who have gotten involved via role-playing, practice, or piloting the new design will also be instrumental in the implementation phase.

The strategy for implementation is based on risk management. The team and senior management have planned the implementation strategy that makes the most sense. Once the process has been adequately tested and fully implemented, you’re ready to install process metrics and to continuously improve your new process.

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