Analyze Workflow by Walking Around: Process Outside the Conference Room

Get out of the Conference Room

Is your team meeting soon to develop some workflow models and take on the task of redesign and improvement? Good. Start in the conference room and then hit the floor. Don’t come back till you can answer some mission-critical questions.

When you meet in the conference room, you have a few objectives.

  1. Make sure you have the right team in place.
  2. Determine which processes you’re going to evaluate.
  3. Determine where, in the broader context, they begin and end.
  4. Be able to describe why they are important to visualize, evaluate and improve.
  5. Assign roles based on subject matter expertise. If any roles and responsibilities remain unaccounted for, add strategic members to your team.
  6. Know in advance what variables and factors you want to observe for and evaluate and keep an open mind – who knows what you’ll find in practice “out there”

Walk the Workflow

Your best view or perspective of the workflow in question is precisely where it unfolds. On the floor, as they say. Bring a pad, scripted questions, a sense of wonder and a stop-watch.

Don’t hover. Pull up a chair, make sure your staff know why you’re observing and take copious notes. Draw the work you are observing.

Ask a lot of safe questions.

  • You need to understand the lag time, lead time, bottle-necks, and decisions
  • You need to see for yourself why people are using the work-around’s they use.
  • This is a time to for open-minded observation so resist the compulsion to judge. You rarely get to see work performed in this manner so don’t shut people down by acting parochial or draconian.
  • Just watch and learn.
  • Don’t offer insight and solutions at this stage in the process improvement.
  • Watch how work transfers from one person or unit to another.
  • How does physical space impact time and quality?
  • Are business rules known and applied?
  • Do the people doing the work in question understand what the key performance indicators (metrics) are?
  • Are people relying upon accurate and timely source-data and information?
  • Are systems and IT supporting the flow appropriately?
  • Ask people to time themselves only after you ask them to estimate how long an activity takes. The difference may surprise them.
  • Ask about their contingency plans. “What would you do if…?”
  • Ask them what they think the quality concerns are.

If you remain appreciative in your inquiry and genuinely curious about their work, your team-mates will be forthcoming. Of course, it helps a lot if your likable and sociable. Likability makes a great lubricant in process improvement!


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