As mentioned in Crisis, Chaos, Panic, and Its Corollary, I had an opportunity to do some software consulting this past month. In the prior article I discussed the lost productivity resulting from poor communication.
Here, I want to talk about organizational effectiveness as relates to having defined processes.
A major manufacturer, like many others, has a parts catalog for it’s distributors, dealers, and customers to use. One of the Top 3 complaints about the parts catalog has to do with its content quality.
Their part catalog isn’t materially different (from the consumer perspective) than any other you’ve seen at an appliance store, auto parts store, or the like. You have illustrated images (think of an exploded assembly view) with a related parts list underneath.
No rocket science here. This sort of thing is fairly common. You have a navigation tree along one side of the screen; the image taking up a chunk of the screen; and, a table of parts above/below the image. Two good examples are Kenworth’s part catalog (no login required) and John Deere (shown as an example).
The basic quality issues included parts not having a call out number (to relate to the parts list); incorrect logos (Acme logo on parts when BigCorp should’ve been there); blank images (with parts still being shown); and the like.
One of the key questions asked in a review meeting was: who released these catalogs into production? No answer came.
Over the course of a few meetings I continued listening for process queues. How were things initiated, tracked, logged, revised, or released? The answer was…there was no process. It was all seat of the pants, ad hoc, depending on team members to keep track of individually. And, the effect was poor final output quality.
The problems may or may not seem obvious to some readers. Suppliers provide the manufacturer with the content. Sometimes content is missing, in error, or has other problems to be resolved. Along the way, work continues forward and the prior exceptions are never fully resolved. Now, do this across hundred, thousands, of documents. In short, without defined processes, mechanisms for tracking work in progress, anarchy reigns and things flow through the cracks.
For many of us, personally or professionally, there are areas where anarchy reigns. How about you…?
Fortunately, this sort of situation is precisely why there are workflow solutions (e.g. document management, AR/AP, healthcare adjudication, etc.). A workflow solution does just what it sounds like: It allows you to take an understood process (for almost any repeatable process you have in mind) and use technology to automate and enforce its execution.
For instance, the workflow for catalog content authoring (at a minimum) might look like this:
Each workflow solution is unique to the individual organization. Yet there are basic components shared across common tasks, like authoring data. In the workflow above, the basic steps are:
- Initiate: Formally identify the start of each parts document;
- Authoring: Assign to an individual for content to be created;
- Review: Assign to a (identified by role) team member for quality check; return to Author if corrections are needed;
- Approval: Automated or manual task recognizing completed document;
- Release (to Production): Final sign-off on parts document;
- End: Formal close of process
Workflow systems allow multiple versions of each document to be stored (need to revert to an older version?). They also log each transaction as it occurs, as well as what the current ‘state’ of the document may be. These last two are important: Now we can answer the question, “How did this get released to production this way?” Equally important, now we can run reports showing us individual document status, preventing things ‘falling through the cracks.’
One alternative that companies try, is to throw more bodies at the problem, approve more overtime, or the like. One obvious drawback is the much higher labor cost$$. Less obvious, having more eyes on a problem does not guarantee complete coverage across the many thousands (depending on your situation) of documents being processed.
If your own processes are suffering consider looking for tools to help. Perhaps your examples include making sure invoices or purchase orders are properly handled, or healthcare claims are getting submitted. Perhaps you have business processes not being consistently followed. Or, perhaps you simply need to get a better feel for your business, so you can figure out where improvements may be needed.
Don’t let anarchy reign. You may just find your team(s) appreciate the help.
(Photo credit: Jan K.)