Aligning Processes and Systems II – Reprise

Posted by Andrew Bartolini on January 14th, 2011
Stored in Articles, General, Process, Technology

More on the universal challenge of properly aligning processes and systems…

When you talk to procurement organizations large and small about the primary challenges that impede that group’s ability to “take it to the next level,” certain common themes rise quickly to the surface. We’ll talk about a few over the next couple of articles and the strategies that leading CPOs employ to overcome them. Here we start with one that remains near the top of the list in good times and in bad: the misalignment of systems and processes.

I believe this problem has impeded the adoption of supply management solutions by enterprises and I know this problem has impeded the overall adoption of supply management solutions by users within the enterprise. One process design approach that creates this challenge is when project or process teams dream big and aim to play big with dynamic, robust but overly-complex designs; designs that look good on paper but when viewed through the looking glass out in the field are well-beyond even the best intentions of the practitioners, the doers.

The second approach (and, there are more than two) to process design that is designed to fail is the approach that lacks any contemplation of change management support and new process training. In this instance, the final process that is mapped in the solution may be modest and seem reasonable on paper to the design team (and third-party observers). But, it is my experience that moving legacy, off-line processes into an online application is viewed by many, if not most, practitioners as a huge and disruptive change. And, it is the underestimation of the amount of change management that will be needed that ultimately defeats many process automation initiatives.

Ironically, the final process may not differ by significant degree from the defined process – you know, the one found in the process manual that was presented to each employee on Day 1. You know, the process that was never really discussed and never really followed. Where is that manual now? Try the bottom of one of your lower desk drawers, under those expense reports and the benefits policy docs from the last three years…. Even if the process has been discussed and followed, in this scenario, problems can still arise because most practitioners, intentionally or not, put their own unique signature on the work that they do and the processes that they follow. In an environment where a process-focus does not trump all (and that is most environments), there tends to be huge variance in the degree that the standard, legacy processes are followed. Not by design and there’s usually an absence of malice – it is just difficult to track and understand the offline process that someone is following because there is no visibility (This is one reason why you wanted to automate in the first place). But this means that the final, automated process is generally viewed as “new” because in reality, it is new to the practitioner.

A few ideas in how to avoid the misalignment of systems and processes – (1) Get the process right before thinking about the technology by laying significant groundwork, involving the doers in the design and vetting the design in the field (2) Never lose sight of the process objective (what you are trying to achieve by doing the activity in the first place) and take a “results first” focus on process design (3) Understand that the success of the initiative is probably more tied to success in change management than in getting the design ‘right.’

Finally, I think it is very important to really do your best to take a hatchet to the process as often as you can throughout the Design stage. Whenever there is a pause in a design session or the design process, take a step back and swing that hatchet. Cut some steps, review, repeat. Then do it again and again and again. You probably won’t go too far. And if you realize that you did cut too close to the bone, you are better off adding steps back after the fact, than pushing an unwieldy process on the unsuspecting masses.

I recently had lunch with “friend of the site” and procurement leader, Roy Anderson, and although we didn’t touch upon processes and systems this time, I am reminded of other conversations where he has shared his very straightforward take on process design – Simplify, Eliminate, and Automate. Simplify the process, eliminate the valueless (i.e. eliminate the process that doesn’t make sense at all) and automate the mundane. Sage advice from a true leader.

How have you avoided the misalignment of your systems and processes?

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