Beginnings and endings
Every process is made up of multiple parts.
Everyone understands there is a process (the way something is done) to almost everything in life, both known and unknown. This is applicable to people's private lives, and obviously more formulated in the business world.
In business, the majority of these processes are mainly manual and are based on human involvement at the beginning, middle and end stages.
This also means a lot of man-hours are wasted in performing hundreds of processes that are repeated daily, weekly and annually in business.
The scary thing is people spend up to 50% of their working day performing tasks that have nothing to do with their actual jobs, but are necessary in order to perform their jobs.
Take a moment and think about all those things people do every day that they wish someone or something could take care of for them, just so they can do their actual job and be more productive.
Enter automation of processes
Look at the automation of processes. Where does one start? What process in a business should be automated first?
People's first instinct is to focus on the ones that are giving them the biggest issues; the most visible processes. Well, this is a trap... so slow down. If this is the user's first take on the automation of processes then, as is the case with anything in life, the user must learn to crawl, then walk, then run, and finally, sprint.
Take on the smaller, easier processes first, the ones where things are "relatively" easy to understand and where there are not many touch points (people and systems).
Look for quick wins! Here are some that are common to all businesses... those that everyone hates to do, hates to be involved with and those that have to be done in order to get the job done. These include expense and travel claims, travel requests and approvals, credit card applications and cancellations. The savings are evident, right?
There are more quick wins, but they will take longer to understand and create, like employee on-boarding and employee off-boarding.
Imagine that, prior to arriving at a new job, a new employee gets an e-mail with a link. The employee clicks on the link and it has a form that needs to be filled out, which s/he does and then submits to HR.
HR then enters the missing data that only this department can enter, and then submits it. The reality is this process actually triggers several other and related processes - including automatically creating the employee's logon access to the parking and building, creating his/her e-mail address and active directory access with access to the company's intranet, and even ordering laptop and software access, and so much more.
When the new employee arrives a few weeks later to begin, everything is ready to be productive from day one. And the reverse happens when someone leaves the company.
Remember to always benchmark the process in end-to-end status, and then again when it is automated.
Every process tackled can be a monster in its own right.
First, whenever choosing a process to automate, ask the team involved the following, which will result in better success rate of the process once automated, and will ensure everyone is on the same page:
* Why this process?
* Which people does it touch/impact?
* What systems does it touch/talk to?
* What is the desired outcome?
* What reporting does the company want? This is a big one. Think of the reporting from start to end and everything in-between, every touch point, system, submission, service level, metric and so much more, and what business could want to report on or see of this process - at any stage.
* What service levels are there to be achieved at every step of the process?
* What alerts must business receive (and who), and at what stages of the process?
* What bottom line effect does automating this process have on the business?
Remember, the above applies to any process and sub-process.
Next, in the process of creating the said process, get outsiders involved, people who have no business or even emotional attachment to the process - allow them to see the process, make suggestions, and even be a part of the process mapping and workshopping. This generates creative thinking, with diversification and collaboration, and this will help to close the gaps and ensure that when going into production, the process is as close to perfect as it can be.
Remember, any process will always have parts that are similar and re-usable in any other future process: enter sub-processes.
Every process tackled can be a monster in its own right. Never try and map out the entire process end-to-end, otherwise it will be impossible to get out of the defining stage. Take the process and break it up into smaller sub-processes.
These small sub-processes provide two major benefits:
* It will be easier to understand, define, map, workshop and create these; and
* If carefully created, a re-usable sub-process will have been created.
Re-usable sub-processes are going to be key to future process automation projects in being able to deliver consistent, pre-tested business, as well as user-verified, quicker to implement sub-processes that make up a new process entirely.
This means the time and effort in future process automation projects could result in a saving of anything between 40%-70% - just by defining and creating good re-usable sub-processes.
But, even when working on the sub-processes, always keep in mind the bigger process and what the company is trying to achieve.
Never try and roll-out a number of process projects at a time into production. Rather stage the roll-out in carefully controlled stages, which allows for better control and minimises business and user impact.