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Using Observations to Identify Outdated Processes

The previous issue of the Outdated Process series was dedicated to the challenges inherent in identifying outdated and inefficient processes.  

One simple but powerful tool to tackle this challenge is the use of process observations – a systematic exercise where consultants observe a process (or some part of a process) as it is being performed by an employee, with the purpose of gaining insight into the structure of the process, evaluating its effectiveness, verifying its standards and volumes, and validating whether it achieves the intended value creation.

Observations can be extremely effective because a properly conducted one will always find something about a process that can be done better or more efficiently. But what is the best way to set an observation up?

Observations Can be Effective

Observing operations is one of the most powerful exercises an organization can undertake, and for executives it is one with a high rate of return.  Post-observation feedback that Trindent has received from our client executives after delivering our findings, includes phrases like “eye opening”, “I had no idea!”, and “I should have done this long time ago”.

Observations are at the heart of in-depth analysis when working towards business process improvements, and are frequently the only way to obtain information about a process.  No system or report can adequately capture behaviours or performance variability.   Observations should always be one of the first steps to identifying and streamlining outdated processes.  

Obeservation, however, will not yield much insight into a process if it’s not set up correctly.  Observations can be effective, but only if they’re done right.

When Observations are Effective

There are several conditions that need to be met for an observation to be effective in identifying process flaws:

  1. They need to be targeted.  A properly conducted observation should generate a lot of detail about a process, but if the attention of the observer is divided between multiple processes, that level of detail will invariably go down. The rule of thumb should always be that one person should observe one process at a time.  If multiple processes need to be observed, they should be very similar in scope.
  2. They need to be structured.  In order to yield insight, observation must be done in a structured manner and follow whatever the framework of the process is.  Simply recording what is being observed isn’t enough.  The process needs to be actively assessed and the observer needs to be aware of what they are looking for.
  3. They need to be designed based on an analytic approach.  The choice of what to observe, when to observe it, and what needs be recorded should be dictated by an analytical approach, such as the proprietary framework for process analysis that Trindent Consulting uses in their engagements.
  4. They need to be recorded.  The wealth of detail obtained from an observation needs to be recorded in a structured manner so it can be analyzed in combination with other observations related to the process.  Failure to record the right details can significantly diminish the value of the exercise.
  5. They need to be sufficient in number.  There should be enough observations performed to get a good understanding of the whole process under investigation.

Ensuring that process observations are optimally set up to capture the insight required for a proper analysis, will bring the maximum return on your consulting investment.  Click here to read more about how the Trindent Consulting approach to effective process observations can assist your organization.

In the next issue of this series, we will explore why processes cannot be analyzed separately from the systems and behaviours associated with them.