Going back a good few years there was a guy I worked with who decided to become a cheque for the day.

This chap stapled a cheque to his shirt as he wanted to understand the flow of dispatching a refund to a customer. He stood at a desk for over an hour until he got ‘picked up’ and keyed into the system, and then being whisked down to the mailroom to wait to be bagged and couriered across to another office, in a different county, where further admin (mostly checking) took place.

The flow showed that the cheque was handled by an admin team, 2 mailrooms, and travelled a total distance of 30 miles before being collected by the Royal Mail (or whomever) a day after.

The guy was discovered many weeks later in the banking system, but he’s never been the same since.

So, what did this exercise conclude? He found that there was an unnecessary waste in the process that could be eradicated with relative ease, which would improve the flow, get the cheque to the customer faster and reduce the cost.

At this point, you can be forgiven for thinking, why? Why did a company implement such a poor process flow?

Poor process flows are rife. They may not have been rife, to begin with, but over time processes change and are not always reviewed.

To help you identify poor process flows in your organisation, I have listed out 5 contributors, which in my experience, cause a lot of pain for the customer, internal and external.

Poorly defined or badly implemented Process Ownership

Where Process owners are not defined, agreed or even known (yes, some people don’t even know that they own a process), then there is no one responsible for the management of that process.

A Process owner must be a subject matter expert and in a position where they know and feel how the process is performing. The Process owner can communicate effectively with other teams who influence the process (or are a recipient of the process), and they engage well to change and have a mindset for improvement and implementation.

Not documenting and reviewing your process

You’ve heard the saying “you can’t see the wood for the trees”, right? Processes are kinda the same. If you haven’t seen the process in action or don’t have the process documented, how do you know what’s happening and how good it is? More to the point, how do the Users know what the process is to follow?

Like the ‘cheque man’, you don’t really know what’s going on in a process until you walk it, observe it, measure it and document it. Then have agreed periods where the process will be reviewed to identify any natural deviation that can creep in. Having a process drawn out on a wall with a group of people huddled around plotting the value and non-value added activity, is vital to its long term success.

Silos

These things are real bad. But what are they? A silo could be described as a couple of things:

  • Where multiple teams are involved in a process and each one contributes to the overall outcome, but these teams don’t work as ‘one’. Instead, they operate their own SLA’s, they are quite happy to pass work back ‘over the fence’ if it’s wrong, and they have very little consideration to the poor customer who just wants their product.
  • Playing ‘ping-pong’ with the customer. For example, A customer may reach a contact centre, and the contact centre is trying to field the call out to a department. Department ‘A’ says that it isn’t for them to deal with as the customer has brown hair and they only deal with customers with blond hair. So, the contact centre phone through to another department but they won’t deal with the customer as they can only access records for customers who live in the North of England and not the South.

Silos cause so many problems for the people who work the process and the poor customer is the one that generally gets forgotten about. They create hand-offs and internal ‘siloed’ SLA’s, which totalled up exceed the customer’s expectation and cause all sorts of arguments and ill feel across the ‘not a lot of value’ stream.

Complexity

Some processes by the very nature are complex, but there are many processes I have reviewed that are unnecessarily complex. So, what are the contributors to a complex process?

  • A complex process may have a network of separate steps or relationships, which somehow relate to each other and create an overall system. Each stream within the overall system must operate in harmony with one and other, otherwise, it will fall apart
  • Process variation. So, for example, a non-advised telesales agent has different products to inform the customer about. Each product operates differently, and the agent needs to use different systems in order to explain each product. In this case, the process isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just a company has a complex suite of products that need to be accounted for.
  • Lots of manual decision making. I have seen plenty of process flows within an abundance of diamond decision shapes, that reflects where a person needs to decide based on criteria set by the business. Often this criterion isn’t clearly documented or readily available, and it’s only a matter of time that the person will make the incorrect decision.

Systems that don’t do what the process requires

Great news! We have won a new client. They are not the same as the rest of our clients, but they will bring us a load of new customers. The bad news is that we have an inflexible system that costs us millions of pounds to change, so, unfortunately, we cannot adapt the system to meet the new client requirements. Therefore, we need to be creative and implement some workarounds that will see us through until we get funding for a new system.

5 years later….

  • Increased headcount by 15% to absorb the extra handling time that the workarounds have created
  • Incurred over £100,000 in operational losses due to ‘human errors’ (they weren’t really human errors though, were they)?
  • Complaints about this client are 25% greater than any other client
  • People “dread” taking calls from these customers in fear of making a mistake and ruining their quality score, which impacts their sales bonus.

I hope you’ve found this read both useful and enjoyable and will help you in your improvement journey.