In my four years at Cloud for Good, I have had the benefit of participating in every stage of implementing new solutions for organizations. I have seen projects go perfectly without any snags (I really mean it) and I have seen others that hit a few snags along the way. It is hard to say that one culprit was to blame for those snags, however, more often than not, a less than perfect project was usually a symptom of a larger illness – Business Process Amnesia! If you have ever been asked, why do you do something a certain way, and answer, “that’s how we have always done it,” then you have Business Process Amnesia! Don’t be too frightened though, it can be remedied and you are not alone. Most organizations experience some level of Business Process Amnesia. It is especially common in small start-ups and nonprofit organizations.
So what is the cause of this illness? Causes can vary, but usually it is because these organizations have been reacting to meet constituent needs. These quick reactions and decisions gradually developed into veiled processes and then just like that, it was the law of the land. These processes should undergo routine vetting, in order to make sure your organization is performing at peak effectiveness. When starting to evaluate your processes start with a simple questions.
Why is such a loaded question, isn’t it? It can open all kinds of hidden doors within an organization. “Why” is always the most important question when vetting a business process. If you do not know why, then you will not be able to determine if the process should change, stay the same or be removed all together. To help here are examples of a few answers I have received when I have asked why:
- We needed a way to document everything
- The system forces us to do it that way
- It was the best way to do it at the time
- A grant requires we do it that way
- I don’t know, it was like that when I started working here
All of these are acceptable answers, except for one. Which one do you think it is? Kidding aside there is no one right answer to why, but knowing helps set the foundation for the remainder of the evaluation. Now that you know why you have this business process you can decide if it is time to vet this process. For some processes the vetting will end right now because your hands are tied. For example, if the process is grant driven or required by a specific contract you will not be able to remove it. But make sure to pay attention to these potential one-off processes and make sure they do not get folded into the overall mix. On the other hand, processes that you have complete control over are ones that can pass through the next step of vetting.
Who does the process impact? Who are the stakeholders that should contribute to the evaluation of this process? Stakeholders can include external constituents, members of leadership, volunteers, and staff. Anyone who is either involved with the completion or effected by the outcome of this business process is a stakeholder. It is important to know who is involved so they can participate in the evaluation of the process. Leadership might know why a process is in place, but staff will most likely be able to provide more feedback on how successful it is in practice. This is when you will learn about the work-arounds, hurdles, and/or the successes of established business processes.
What focuses on what impact does your process have and what steps are involved in the actual process. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Trust me it isn’t. The what can vary based on who you are talking to and it is important to establish process visibility and documentation so that everyone in your organization knows the process. Now that you have the why, the who and the what, it is time for the stage that will probably take the majority of your time to complete.
How does the process get completed? How can it fail? How long does it take? How much does it cost? How are other similar organizations doing it? How can we make it better? These are some of the questions that will need to be answered when evaluating your current business processes. Usually, these are the questions that require professional assistance from organizations like Cloud for Good. However, you don’t need to wait for that partnership to start working on evaluating your processes. The why, who and what should be cemented before you start asking the how questions. How questions will also be where the processes will most likely find opportunities for change. If you know why you are doing something, who your stakeholders are, and what you are doing, then how questions can focus on establishing or reinventing business processes to achieve the why.
Some additional items to consider:
Frequency – Try to evaluate your business processes at least once a year. Even if you don’t plan on making changes it is great practice to make sure that your organization has a fresh understanding of why things are done a certain way.
Rate of Change – Don’t feel like you must upend everything because a business process needs to change. It is perfectly fine to carve things out in chunks. Focus on mission critical processes and work your way down.
Fear – So this one is a little ominous but don’t be afraid of change. The best organizations in history are successful because they embrace change. People, processes, technologies, and even missions change.
Technology – No, a new shiny system or solution is not the answer to broken business processes. It is a tool you can use to improve or implement new business processes. If you are looking to implement a new system then you should leverage that opportunity to implement improved processes as well.
Collaboration – Embrace Governance Boards. The old adage of too many cooks in the kitchen is just no longer true. Work together when implementing changes to processes because more often than not, it will affect the lives of all your stakeholders.
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