Tuesday 15 February 2022

Sequence of actions in the design of Project processes

The Project Process design should be carried out in several stages. Over the years, we have defined these stages as follows: mobilization, diagnostics, construction of a new process and implementation. To put it more simply, you can call the stages as follows: "Organize the work", "Find the right direction", "Come up with a crazy project" and "Make it a reality".

Organize your work. 


The first step is to bring together the people who will create the new process in the enterprise. Let's be clear right away: process design is not a single race. If you try to get down to business on your own, you probably won't be able to properly isolate all the steps in the current process. But more importantly, without the help of colleagues, it will be very difficult for you to design a new process. Here you need as many ideas as possible, and you need a whole team of specialists who would evaluate these ideas, argue, choose the best of them and create the most winning combination. There should be two types of people in the team: insiders and outsiders. Insiders in our case are people involved in the process and familiar with its features. You really need people like that. Insiders know the clients well, they know many of the pitfalls that may come across in the process, and they instill confidence in everyone else on the team. However, if the team consists of only insiders, you can only count on an improved version of the process that currently exists. These people have managed to get used to the old process, they have invested too much in it to completely abandon it, and they are also unlikely to be able to come up with something completely new. Therefore, together with insiders, outsiders must work in the team, i.e. people from the outside who have never participated in this process. Even if they don't understand anything about it at all, there's nothing wrong with it. An intelligent person who came from the outside is able to introduce a new stream, offer fresh ideas, ask naive questions to which there will be no answer. He, unlike insiders, has absolutely no attitudes as to how exactly this whole "should" work.

The size of the team depends on the size of the company and the complexity of the process. For a large enterprise, seven people plus or minus two will be enough. If you make the team larger, it will become too clumsy, and if there are fewer employees, they may simply not have enough strength to implement the planned projects.

Sometimes specialists are included in the process design team only for a while. 

This is fundamentally wrong. Such team members have to constantly carve out time for one or another thing, daily problems do not allow them to focus on new tasks, and employees are literally torn apart. Such teams rarely succeed. Of course, you will need convincing arguments and considerable tact to tear these people away from their main job, take them away from their superiors and provide them with full employment in a new place in the design team. But eventually everyone will realize you were right.

Don't take anyone on the team. You need talented and smart people.

Such work requires analytical skills, the ability to see the process as a whole, while managing its individual sections, a real team spirit and a willingness to think outside the box. It is better to make the team as heterogeneous in composition as possible. Gather employees of different specializations, with different education, life experience, position in the company. When you take a person in a high position to the team, keep in mind that he can, unwittingly, instill fear in the whole team. You know, how does it happen when the boss appears in the doorway and all the subordinates fall silent? When such different people start working as a whole, it inevitably leads to conflicts, but such conflicts are a wonderful thing. If they are curbed and directed in the right direction, you can get a real release of creative energy, which will lead to a new understanding of the processes. And then everyone around us will say, "How didn't we think of this sooner?"

Find the right direction. 


The second step is diagnosis or, as we also call it, the search for direction. At this stage, it is necessary to study the existing process and understand how well it meets the needs of customers. We have already said that the easiest way is to depict all the stages of the current process on paper glued with tape to the wall, or to draw a scheme in the form of swimming lanes. Whichever way suits you, it will be the best. The main thing when diagnosing the process is to identify what exactly your customers need and what their needs it cannot satisfy. This is called "hearing the voice of the customer." And whatever you think, rest assured that buyers are probably not too happy with your service. The most successful attempts to restructure the process are usually made in response to customer complaints or even in the event of a refusal to cooperate. Remember what happened to Andren Aerospace, about which we wrote in the introduction? One of the main customers of the company decided to break off relations with it, and only after that the management realized that it was time to rebuild its workflow.

Employees who get into the team will already know a little customers, have some experience in this field, but you do not know how correct and complete this knowledge is. So take the initiative yourself. Introduce team members to customers, bring customers to your office or vice versa. Ask clients what they are not satisfied with in your work. There's a great way to find out. Ask one of your employees to go to the board and write what they think customers want from the company. When he is done, ask one of the customers to go to the board, and let him emphasize those points with which he agrees. It is possible that the results will amaze you!

Here's how it usually happens. 


A sales employee goes to the board and writes on it something like: "You want to get high quality products, on time and at the lowest price."

Then a customer comes to the board and starts saying amazing things: "Yes, we want to get the products on time, and often this does not happen. We are even willing to pay extra for you to deliver the goods regularly."

The management of one organization we worked with boasted that the company always fulfills its promises on delivery times. But when we asked one of the customers about this, we received an unexpected answer: "The promised delivery time can be two days, or maybe three weeks. The company always fulfills its promises, but the fact that the timing can vary so much, it is difficult for us to plan our own production. It would be just fine if the company made the delivery times about the same, whether it's two days or three weeks – it doesn't matter, as long as they don't change from time to time. Then it would be easier for us to plan our work."

Many managers are confident that their company has excellent relationships with customers. But here the situation is about the same as with relations between people. Time passes, and we begin to think that we know the needs of buyers perfectly, we do not even doubt our rightness, and the opinion from the outside does not interest us. Instead of trying to find out and understand the problems of customers, we just try to sell them a product faster.

If you want to create a really effective process, treat your customers carefully. Don't think that by writing down their complaints on paper, you'll accomplish your task. It is not enough to write down, it is necessary to understand what exactly does not suit them. And it's much more complicated than that. As Mark Twain said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one." Once you understand your customers' concerns, you'll be able to articulate them concisely and succinctly, rather than just rewriting word for word.

Come up with a crazy project. We intentionally called the project crazy. 


That's because now the members of the process design team can unleash their creative imagination and discard any limitations (primarily those associated with the old process, i.e. with the structure of the organization and the usual order of its work). It's time to get to the bottom of the design principles.

Let employees argue, come up with solutions and put them on paper. They will have a lot of questions like: if you add a new stage to the process, how will it affect the final result? Who should be doing this, why him, where is it going to happen? Team members should forget about the departments of the company and their purpose. This method of analysis is a thing of the past. Now the main thing is to find good performers and do not forget that in order to improve customer service, it is necessary to change the process radically. Of course, first of all, you think about customers, but we must not forget about the interests of the business: the personnel of the enterprise should have enough experience and resources to make the new process profitable.

Usually, at the end of this phase, the team moves on to simulating a new process. Modeling is a kind of rehearsal, during which team members, as well as all employees of the enterprise related to the new process, go through each of its steps, identifying the most significant problems and shortcomings. At this point, the new process doesn't affect your customers yet. You're unlikely to be able to try out the software you're going to use, unless it can't be enabled in demo mode, where data can be entered but can't be sent anywhere. The first rehearsal is usually conducted by the team members themselves or participants in the new process. 


However, please note that for the second and all subsequent times the new process should be tested by those employees who will work with it in the future. The goal of simulation is not only to check whether the process is functioning correctly. It allows you to know whether your staff is sufficiently trained and whether you are measuring performance indicators correctly.


It is here that all the shortcomings and errors of the process, including very serious ones, will surface. But there's nothing wrong with that. If the leader has prepared his people well, then such problems should not frighten them. 


On the contrary, employees will be happy to detect the shortcomings of the system in time, because this is a great opportunity to bring the process to mind without waiting for its launch. Just a warning: you may have a desire to skip the modeling stage, especially if you are out of schedule or exceed the planned budget. Do not succumb to this temptation, otherwise you will have to regret it: you can not only harm the quality of customer service, but also completely ruin all your work on the implementation of the process in the organization.

Make the project a reality. The last stage is the transfer of the new process to the real conditions of the enterprise. Now it really includes both employees of the company and customers. 


First, you conduct experimental tests. Unlike simulation, which took place in complete isolation, during pilot tests you work with real goods and materials, with real software, if it is ready for use – in general, everything becomes real.

There are several approaches to conducting pilot tests: 


you can choose one customer, one product or one sales location. But we immediately warn you: experimental tests are not an occupation for the faint of heart. The leader of the process is like a father waiting for the birth of his child. What if his child turns out to be ugly? But as long as you're doing the test, you have nothing to worry about. If your brainchild is not as perfect as you expected, you can fix it before you show it to the world.

Before you begin pilot testing, communicate your intentions to all customers who are involved in the new process. It is best to invite them to observe your work during the modeling phase and explain what they should expect in the future. Of course, even after that, you may encounter misunderstanding on the part of customers, but it will be much easier to eliminate it. It's like getting in a car and adjusting the seat on the go or adjusting the mirrors – mere trifles compared to, say, a punctured wheel that needs to be replaced immediately.

During the tests, you will, of course, carefully study, measure and support all aspects of the new process with all your might. 


This is normal: the more attention paid to details, the better. 


The main purpose of pilot tests is to understand whether it is possible to achieve the goals with the help of the implemented process. To do this, you will have to constantly measure performance indicators. It is unlikely that you will be able to achieve the goal immediately, but if the measurements do not give the numbers that you expect, then you need to urgently stop the work. Go back to the starting position, check whether the process is built correctly, see if the performers do what is required of them. 


It is necessary to find the root of the problems and put everything in order. If you're lucky, the measurement results from the start will be exactly what you expected. After some time, when the process becomes stable, and the indicators approach or at least tend to the target values, you can relax a little and take measurements less often. 

Be prepared for unforeseen situations, for example, you may see an unexpectedly high rate of customer activity. In this case, take a break from the measurements and make sure that your process can cope with the new volumes.

From now on, you'll gradually implement the process further: include new customers, new production and sales locations, and eventually it will become the main process in your organization. But it's too early to relax! Do not forget that when planning a new process, you started from the old processes that operated both in your enterprise and in the companies of customers. Your next step should be to change these basic processes, which in turn will entail the need for change in the new process. You will again have to go to the board, draw diagrams and improve the process. We only dream of peace!

Process design is just the first step toward improving the efficiency of your organization. But a lot will change in the lives of the people involved in the process. They will have to learn to work differently – now it is the performance indicators, and not someone from above, who will set their direction of movement. In the next chapter, we will examine the indicators that play a key role in the successful construction of processes.

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