Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Process Approach

Now this is one of the most useful tools I have come across as a manager. I've used it on a regular basis, from taking over a team in turmoil through to simply thinking through how something should work within my existing environment. I first discovered the Process approach in the appendices of the ITIL Support Services book. As per usual I took it out of the ITIL context and applied it to my own immediate needs.

The Process approach is a simple diagram that identifies some of the high level considerations behind identifying and defining the processes that you may need to work with at some point during your career. It is in no way a substitute for more robust approaches such as Six Sigma, or even Lean Six Sigma. In fact I often use these more robust methods when I have the luxury of time on my side. The Process approach often acts as an input to these more robust considerations.

The Process approach introduces the three core considerations in process design; that is process control, process flow and finally process enablers. By focusing on this approach you will ensure you:

1. Consider inputs and activities beforehand
2. Measure and steer process development/improvement effectively
3. Assess the success of the process and confirm if your needs have been met

As shown in the diagram below each of these sections contain two to three further points.
Process Controls

Often overlooked in process definition is the concept of controls. This includes clearly defining what the process is meant to do, who is accountable for making it happen and how you are going to measure the success of the process. In ignoring this people jump straight into the process flow which may work in the short term but will cause the process to atrophy over a period of time. By focusing on and defining the following three points first you will improve the chance of process success.

Process Owner - This is the person (preferably defined by role) that is accountable for ensuring that the process is running effectively and all those responsible for acting/working with in the process are doing exactly that. In addition to this the process owner would take on the role of periodically reviewing the process they own and driving continuous improvement.

Process Goal - What exactly are you looking to achieve through defining and implementing this process. The goal should be referred back to during the development, the defining of the performance indicators and the ongoing management of the process.

KPI (Key Performance Indicators) - These are the quality parameters and metrics relevant to the operation of the process at hand. Examples may include speed and quality of processing, number of rejects, deviations or even knowledge accumulation.

Process Flow

This is the meaty part of the approach where you actually get to do stuff such as define the activities, flows and all that sort of wizbangery. This is in fact what everyone charges into. My advice is don't, at-least get some of the Process controls defined. Once you have done this you can start to play with the process quite effectively.

Inputs (& Input Specifications) - This will seem blindingly obvious, but as you go through this you will successfully define 80% of your inputs up front. Whilst working the process you may identify one or two additional items or specifications. If it is a physical process you are defining the input's may be easily identified. e.g. building a table. This can be considerably different when defining a knowledge based process. You will find that you may refine the specifications as you proceed. Interestingly considering the inputs may start to help you define some of the resources you need to consider in the process enabler section.

Process Flow - The core activities and subprocesses that make up and represent the core output of using the process approach. Writing good process is key. Some reasons as to why you would create a process flow are:
  1. Describe how activities are being done
  2. Identify where modifications to an existing process might best be made
  3. Investigate where problems might occur
  4. Identify how, when, or where we should measure an existing process to confirm the process goal
  5. Process flows Aid in driving continuous improvement
Teaching yourself how write a good process is critical here. Here are some basic guidelines to consider:
  • All process maps start with identifying stakeholder needs and end with satisfying these needs
  • Use either Horizontal or vertical swim-lanes to represent areas of responsibility
  • Align activities to area of responsibility by placing in the appropriate swim-lanes
  • Use standard symbols within the Process Flow
Output - This is the final part of defining the Process flow, and is representative of the outputs that are required to meet the overall process goal. These could be stand alone products, resolution of customer issues, or in-fact inputs to another process. The key thing to consider here is that the outputs are most probably closely tied to the Process Goal as well as being one of the key performance indicators, both of which have been defined in the Process Controls mentioned above.

Process Enablers

This final section of the Process approach has most probably been taking form as you have defined the elements of the previous two sections. It in fact is representative of all of the supporting components of a process. These may take the form of an individual role within and organisation through to a piece of mechanical or technical equipment. These two categories become key when starting to implement the process you have defined.

The process enablers consist of the following two categories:

Resources - This is anything from a request slip (piece of paper) through to an computer based system to manage the process. Any physical resource required to support the process is defined here.

Roles & Responsibilities - Roles may be anything from a machinist, call centre agent through to a management role. It is at this point that you detail the role and some of its primary responsibilities.

How to use the Process Approach:

As stated above this is not a completely robust approach and definitely does not substitute for more in depth methods when you have the time. I have traditionally used this within groups when I need to get some quick re-mediation work underway, or to provide one of my team members with some initial guidance on process implementation.

A common way for me to personally use this approach is as a bit of a brainstorming tool, either individually sitting on a train, at a coffee shop, or during a facilitated session with my team. This initial work often forms the basis for more detailed work to be carried out. On other occasions when coaching graduates or wishing to empower team members I have simply walked them through the above diagram and then asked the individual to go away and define the process.

Once you have finished considering the elements within the process approach and put them into your preferred medium - be it a populated diagram through to a powerpoint following the same structure you can start to identify the tasks or activities that need to be undertaken to make the process a reality. It is at this time that the process approach becomes a real asset as it gives you a sound medium for communicating to all of the participants involved with implementing the process.

One further perspective to this is that the process approach can help you achieve a standard documenting approach that can be used as a central point or method for communicating the way things are done within your group. Something which can be an absolute asset when moving on from the role and handing over to your successor.

What next/if/else?

Feel free to copy the above image, or make your own. The process approach is actually a public domain item, as much of the information provided within the ITIL framework is. It is a very simple tool that can you provide you with some tremendous outcomes when used properly. I have used this method a number of times within my career with considerable impact. It allows you to achieve some quick wins using an approach that provides sustainability of process into the future.

I hope you have found this post of interest.



No comments:

Post a Comment