Process Improvement in the Virtual Workplace, Part 2

In part 1 last week, I described a check request process involving several approvers and a manual workflow that relied on the company’s intra-company mail.  With employees no longer co-located in the same office building, a virtual process needs to be created.  The old process is shown below (I have spared you my bad drawing and used Microsoft Visio to create the workflow this time).

 

The natural tendency is to jump right into solution mode and start building a better process.  Try to resist this temptation.  Before getting to that point, try one more quick process mapping exercise.   This time we’ll take a step back and think of a high-level view of the basic steps or things that need to happen (sometimes referred to as a ‘functional’ process map).  I’ve also included who’s responsible for each of these basic steps and the inputs needed for that activity to occur. 

 

With these 2 views,  the team should have a good understanding of what’s really happening versus what needs to happen.  Let’s assume that the team has also discovered in Part 1 that an e-signature or some electronic approval doesn’t violate any company policy, audit requirements, or government regulations but the approval process (thresholds and who has to approve) is mandated by corporate policy.  Now the team is ready to begin brainstorming how to accomplish the basic functions described above given what’s needed for each step (inputs), who is doing the work, and the constraints on the process (i.e. policy on approvals). 

Basic brainstorming techniques should apply.  The team should generate a number of alternatives that should accomplish the basic activities and improve the key metrics identified in Part 1.  Once the alternatives are detailed, the team can evaluate each alternative based on scope, budget, and timing.  Perhaps the team comes up with an idea of creating a web-based interface with an automated workflow that ensures the request is valid prior to being submitted.  Or, the team may opt for a more cost effective option of an electronic form that can be emailed to approvers instead of relying on the company’s snail mail.  Once an alternative is selected, the team can begin mapping out the new process (yes, more mapping!).

Of course, the team will have to get approval from management before implementing.  It’s a good idea to also pilot the new process before formalizing and implementing enterprise wide.  Also, leaders should communicate and socialize the new process to ensure all impacted groups are aware and understand the new process.  If done correctly, the new process should improve organizational metrics, eliminate non value added work, make the lives of employees easier, and support virtual working. 

 Happy mapping!

– Jason

 

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