Open Mind Essential to Workflow Improvements

Closed Mind
I once watched a manager plow through a workflow telling the folks in the room “this is really how it should be done.” Sadly, she didn’t actually deploy the workflow or process in question. She did manage the team though and relied on antiquated knowledge to render her workflow diagram. You can imagine how excited her team was when she shared her Visio diagram with them the following day.

This business of managing workflow and business process management–particularly in service settings–is not quite the exact science it is on the shop floor of a mature manufacturer where engineers are trained to map activities and dependencies. Applying BPM and BPA tactics in services, retail, and administrative settings requires a wide open mind. Things are not always as they may seem.

Know Their Work-Arounds
If you’ve ever run a department of people charged with administrative duties like processing claims or providing customer service, you know that staff use their systems and training AND they adapt to circumstances constantly. Thank goodness they do (most of the time). These “work arounds” will eventually have to be accounted and the bad ones will get weeded out. It’s true that some can spell the difference between success and failure. Your job is to figure out what people are doing to succeed, how they do it and why?

Cultivate and Keep An Open Mind by Going with the Flow
I think it’s a good idea to step back into the process, into the flow yourself before attempting to map anything out in a workflow or BPM environment. If you manage people and you are expected to describe the current or “as is” state and the systems and information your people rely on, go back to the process and run through it for a day or two. Sit in their seats. It’s not enough to observe it by walking around and not enough to say you measure it as a supervisor. Walk through the entire process for 8 hours. This is especially true if you’ve been managing people for more than 6 months. I guarantee you, something has changed and you’re unaware.

Create an Open Space for the “As Is”
If you are the kind of manager that harvests current state workflow and business process by inviting your line-staff to the conference room and lighting up the white-board, that’s great. Just make sure you keep the initial discussion open and safe. People will only share their secrets and tips and cheat-sheets with you if they know they won’t get in trouble. Your job, at first, is not to describe what is right. It is to describe what is.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Seek the truth in describing what is. If your people can’t get answers or are frustrated with their peers in an other department or are making their own reports using the wrong data, find out. Make an inventory of all of what is going on. Not just what you want to hear. Trust me, everybody will want to tell you exactly what you want to hear. This is like science and therapy in that you can construct the experiment to create the results you are looking for and it’s real easy to impress the person asking the questions.

Swap Facilitators
If you’re daring enough to expose your department to your peers in management, then swap teams. Invite the manager from another department to facilitate the mapping of your workflow and go facilitate her group in return. That way, you’ll reduce the tendency to formulate concepts too quickly; you’ll foster a safer, more candid environment; and you’ll learn something about dependencies in the process.

Just remember to ask the people who know…the line-staff who execute everyday and understand that the current state of workflow is not supposed to be pretty. It’ll improve!

Thanks for listening.

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