Part 1 – Don’t map and improve parts of the end to end process

Don't map in silos

This is a very strange blog to write for someone who always recommends organisations map and understand their processes and look to improve them prior to looking for any technology and other solutions. Here we are asking you to consider not applying mapping techniques and continuous improvement. This has nothing to do with the tools you use it is purely about approach.
Don’t get me wrong I am not turning my back on my belief in the power of applying lean thinking to our processes, merely I am trying to encourage you to learn the lessons from many ‘failed’ improvement projects and programmes.
Practically every organisation we talk to in the public and private sector is trying to improve its processes. The drivers for improvement are different across the public and private sectors but the approach and outcomes are the same. We need to deliver more for less. We need to either grow our company or meet increasing demands with reducing resources or sometimes a combination of both.

We still believe in process mapping and process improvement but we want everyone to do it in the best possible way.

Why are you telling us to stop, have you gone mad? I thought you loved process mapping and improvement.

Here we are talking about a very specific set of circumstances around the approach to mapping and improvement that can only ever deliver sub optimal results. Having worked in organisations, as an improvement coach, as a consultant and lately as a supplier of improvement technology we have engaged with many organisations who have adopted this approach before realising its drawbacks. If you want to build a strong improvement programme you really want to get the foundations right.
As an external supplier we are rarely engaged in projects or programmes that are going well. We normally become involved because a project is not going well and maybe even close to being deemed a failure. There are a multitude of reasons for this but today we tackle the one that is very common and also almost certain to not deliver the results you expect or need. We are really lucky to be able to engage with so many organisations delivering improvement we are able to learn from many people’s experiences. This is a critical building block of any successful improvement strategy, programme or project.

What is it that you are talking about?

The internet is a wonderful place for resources but there is an awful lot of clickbait out there. By now I would be wondering if this was worth continuing to read or if it is just clickbait. So, I guess we best get on with it!
There are really 2 types of approach I would argue and demonstrate cannot be successful without some extreme good luck with other random factors turning in your favour (in which case it wasn’t actually your improvements delivering benefits anyway).

Approach 1 – Mapping and improving silos of an end to end process

This is a very common approach. I think it relates directly to how departments are managed and the targets they have. Each department involved in a process is very likely to be managed by different individuals. Regularly those individuals report into different senior managers. Each department has its own targets and outcomes it needs to deliver. Delivering those will define a manager as successful.
Processes cross multiple departments and often will not have a clear process owner i.e. someone who is responsible for ensuring the end to end process is delivered. When this is the case improving the end to end process can be an acrimonious and difficult process with each responsible manager chasing different business outcomes. Even perception of what customer value or needs are in each department can differ.
All of this may well contribute to why many organisations continue to try to make life easier by looking to improve the processes only within departmental silos. I think there is a clear logical argument why this can never deliver success. If you are doing this in your organisation please STOP WASTING YOUR RESOURCES.
Another driver for adopting this approach can be things like digital transformation or customer service improvement projects. These by their nature can isolate one area of the value stream/end to end process and seek to apply improvement there often in isolation.

Approach 2 – Mapping and improving an end to end process but in silos

This second approach is a variation on the theme, but this time you might think you have solved the first problem but in reality, you have not. We have mapped and modelled hundreds if not thousands of processes in our time. The most important element by far from a learning perspective is the capture of the As Is process (the current state). We believe the most important people to be in that workshop or workshops is the people doing the work. They have the most to give and the most to learn from the knowledge of how the end to end process currently works across silos.

This approach is all too common in our experience is to look to improve the end to end process. The knowledge and understanding of the end to end process is only gained by the business analysts. The other drawback of this approach is the lack of buy in by the stakeholders. Because they have not seen or understood the end to end process, they cannot help shape the solutions and nor are they very likely to buy in to the end results. Have a look here at how Toyota develop capabilities and focus on learning (this is hot off the press and the first time they have covered the topic also it was tweeted by Daniel T Jones)

Let’s look at process mapping and process improvement in silos in more detail

Any mapping and improvement lean projects or programmes will generally be looking to deliver improvements and outcomes based on a purpose and an understanding of the customer and business value we need to deliver. We will then create the conditions where our people can look at the process and seek to deliver it in new ways removing waste along the way. If you want to understand more about the principles of lean have a look here or if you want to understand more about Purpose, People and Process try this blog