New Ways to Think About Business Processes

New Ways to Think About Business Processes

by Grant Tate

Our normal template for thinking about business processes includes a smoothly flowing set of steps leading to a desired result or product. Each step has a specific purpose with clearly stated input and outputs.

Given that, we decide how each step should be accomplished, for instance, by a human being, by a machine, or by information technology. Manufacturing an automobile or a silicon wafer requires intricately engineered processes. Administrative processes include payroll processing or paying bills.

If there is a high volume of work to be done, such as manufacturing a half-million cars a year, everyone knows the process needs to be effective, efficient, and error-free. It’s easy to visualize an auto factory at work, or a huge headquarters building filled with administrative workers, all diligently working on their steps of a big process. Because these were important, over the years, Industrial engineers developed various tools, such as Cycle Time Reduction, designed to create or improve processes.

But do these tools apply to modern 21st-century organizations where twenty to thirty percent of the workers are remote? Can we apply the processes used while working in the big administrative building to individuals working from different locations and connected by telecommunications? How do we design work in the new environment of remote or hybrid work? Let’s consider how work gets done.

  1. Individuals, whether remote or in-house, work on their assigned tasks as part of a large process. Individual roles are set by job description or by the set of assigned tasks. Accounting processes are good examples of this. For instance, a remote team member could be responsible for sending invoices. another for receiving payments. Coordination among team members is minimal because the overall information technology system provides the linkages.
  2. The team leader determines priorities and assigns tasks to each team member. This is the choice of control freaks but is almost impossible to manage in a fast-moving, agile environment.
  3. The team leader sets priorities, and the team uses Jira or other agile methods to determine work schedules and tasks. Team members self-select tasks to work on. This methodology works well in matrix organizations and software development. Work processes are dynamic, constantly adjusting to the schedule and the tasks at hand.

If a company leader wants to increase efficiency and effectiveness by improving the company processes, then the leader must consider how the work gets done and what tools to use to reach the goals.

If the team must react to constantly changing demands, giving the members better tools, such as Jira or other agile software, would help. Cycle Time Reduction (CTR)1 would not apply to that situation. On the other hand, for the parts of the organization using more stable processes, CTR might be an appropriate tool if steps of the process consider the work capacity of individual remote workers. When designing a process using CTR, some steps might require several people working together. When workers are remote, such cooperation might be impracticable, requiring steps to be designed to be accomplished by one individual.

If an organization is seeking to improve its operations, it is important to define bottlenecks in its operations, set priorities, and decide what tools to use to improve the situation. Remote or hybrid configurations require new thinking, new approaches, and retraining of leaders and team members.

Are you ready?


1 If you need a fuller description of CTR or other process improvement techniques, please contact us.