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Business Process Tangles: An Introduction

  1. Business Process Tangles 1An Introduction
  2. Tangles are a common problem. They stop life being straightforward, they make it difficult to complete official forms, they leave you spending ages on telephone calls to poorly trained help desks that don't care about your problem, even though for the last fifteen minutes you've been waiting for your call to be picked up while listening to atrocious hold music and hearing 'your call is important to use, please hold' every two minutes. These tangles take up time, money, cause frustration but are too often part of our everyday lives
  3. Tangles are not designed, they just happen. When a small company starts producing a product and everybody in that company knows what they're doing, because communication is good and objectives are clear, customer requirements move through logically and without delay from order to delivery. For example, a fast food outlet such as Subway will take your order and provide it within a couple of minutes. Each step in the production line adds value (e.g. choice of roll, filling, topping) that you want to pay for. The capability (provide what you want) and capacity (provide it without excessive waiting time) of that process meets customer demands unless too many orders are received at once.
  4. As a company gets bigger, sells more products to more customers who want different things in greater quantities, processes may start to fail. The causes of these failures are generally invisible visible. Typically, processes are only investigated when things go wrong.
  5. Recognition of problems 5 I think that we have a problem here. Everything was fine but now: • Sales are down. • Deadlines are being missed. • We’ve spent too much on overtime. • Customers are dissatisfied. • We’re losing key staff. • Warranty costs are up. • But I can’t see what’s wrong. I need some help here old chap!
  6. Processes are like clothes - organisations can outgrown them as the get bigger. Eventually they just don’t fit an start to tear apart. Once an organisation gets to more than 150 people (the Dunbar Number) people, structural silos tend to develop and ways of working or SOPs need to be formalised, documented and controlled.
  7. When processes failProcesscapability Start up (small group, learning fast, flat structure) Growth (additional staff, procedural knowledge) Process capability meets requirements Transactionvolumeandcomplexity Process capability overloaded Tipping point Process capability failing. Profits and sales reduced Mature (clarity, agility, confidence) Process capability meets requirements Processes managed by ‘firefighting’. Starting to go out of control. Managed by firefighting and Band-Aids Required transaction volume and complexity
  8. Here’s a simple example. When one person is ordering one to three hamburgers at a time, the process works. If more than that is demanded, the process fails. But this is a simple process failure which is easy to understand and rectify. More staff could be taken on at busy times (if there is sufficient working space, equipment and resources are available for them) or orders could be limited. The choice is between increasing process capacity or limiting demand to what can be managed. When demand outstrips capacity, tangles happen.
  9. Putting it simply Pass Fail Process meets demand: Process unable to meet demand:
  10. But when more people are involved, and some of these are external to the organisation, there’s more chance of failure and its more difficult to see what’s going wrong. Poor process management can result in a catastrophic result within a system More than one thing going wrong - this is chaos. Do you remember Network Rail Engineering works overrunning during Christmas 2014?
  11. Impact of tangles can be massive! 11 • New hardware put into use without testing. • Train drivers shift periods reached maximum hours so trains abandoned. • NR signalling contractor took 10 hours to do 2 hour job due to rework and rechecking. • Inadequate risk management and contingency planning • Finsbury park not suitable for overflow. • Optimism over reality. Full report at The Guardian Sunday 28 December 2014
  12. Or just irritating 12Graphic: Sorry Love, can’t fix your boiler today. My supervisor’s got me double booked. Have to make it tomorrow. OK? No it’s not OK. I’ve had to take a day off work! And don’t call me Love!!
  13. Tangles may grow up over a long period. Sorting them out may mean changing working practices that are grown up during this time. Some people may benefit from the confusion, and the opportunities for employment and status that they provide. Ambiguity and internal politics mean that sorting out a tangle may be more than applying logic! Look at what is going on in the rich picture that follows.
  14. What happens in tangles 14
  15. Tangles may provide jobs and status for those who ‘can get things done’. This creates a dependency on these people who may then resist any change Process improvement should release people to do more important and more fulfilling work. It will be resisted if it is perceived to lead to job losses. should not result in job losses People may get benefit to from tangles. The man at the desk wants to keep his job until going until retirement, the salesmen wants to make his sale and then the job is done as far as he is concerned.
  16. Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String 16 REFERENCE: "Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String," Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 42, October 16, 2007, pp. 16432-7. Winner of the 2008 IgNoble Prize for Physics. Tangles depend on: • String length • String flexibility • Points of contact • External motion The logo of the Ignoble Prize
  17. The ignoble prize celebrates unusual, peer reviewed, scientific research. Notable winners have included Physics Category 2003 ‘An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.’” and: Safety Engineering Category Year: 1998 “for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears.” But Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String has value in understanding process tangles.
  18. Implications for business processes •String length •The more steps in the process the more that can go wrong. Motion and transport in Muda. •The probability f tangles is proportionate to length of process (number of process steps, physical distance travelled. •String flexibility •Processes must have the flexibility to respond to new opportunities demands, but within controlled limits. •Points of contact • Minimise the points of contact: reduced number of templates, forms, approvals, IT systems, tools etc. •External motion •External motion - customer requirements, new technology, legislation etc will act as agitating forces. Be aware of them and ensure that you are ready to respond to them. 18
  19. Where do you start? • Who are the customers and suppliers at the free ends of the tangle? What do customers want and what do suppliers provide? • How many free ends are there and where do they go - what processes do you need/can you use? • What can be isolated or removed as no longer needed? • What has to go from where to where? Some tangles may be impossible to remove. • Use Need a planned and budgeted approach. Throwing people at the problem may result in short term, undocumented workarounds that make things worse. • Know your stakeholders - who is at the other end of the cable? (these are the customers and suppliers - their information will inform how the process should work.
  20. Don’t feed the Tangle Monster 20 The Tangle Monster loves it when: • No one owns or maintains processes. • Processes are difficult to find on a company intranet. • Processes are only seen as requirements for ISO9001 certification, not as business support tools. • Internal politics get in the way of effective working. • Management silos prevent effective handover between processes. • Information is difficult to find, ambiguous or imcomplete. • Inadequate and bureaucratic change controls prevent controlled process changes. • Short term thinking. • Processes from acquisition companies are not effectively incorporated into the host organisation.
  21. Key points • Find and catalogue your business processes and allocate them to a process framework. Make sure there are no missing bits of the jigsaw. • Use a classification and numbering scheme which clearly defines your processes and their relationships. • Establish a process glossary - there will be various ways of describing the same process - need to standardise. • Establish process ownership and accountability. • Documented processes are tools that need to be maintained to keep them sharp. • Make continuous improvement a way of life, not just a slogan.
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