Many single challenges, issues, errors or delays in business processes are difficult to pinpoint. The fixes usually are not that difficult to implement but you first have to identify the issues to be able to create an actionable plan to continuously improve the process. Process visualization is one tool you should consider.
We all want actionable items in business that are not based on guess work, and to find these pain points to fix, we first have to identify them. Here is how we at Texas Software have successfully identified and improved processes with simple process visualizations. I will also use real life client challenges we have solved the give you ideas where and how to use process visualization.
Challenge 1: Hiring process is taking too long but the client is not sure why. It’s difficult to identify main reasons why the process is taking so long. This has resulted into not being able to attract/hire or keep high quality resources in the company. Typical process takes more than 3 months from the time position becomes available to when the person is trained and starts productive work.
Challenge 2: Company wide billing rate was low. Reasons are unclear. At the same time non-billable work is increasing but people feel overworked.
With these steps you can obtain actionable data to start fixing process related issues.
1. Gather the data in a structured way.
This seems obvious. But the important part is the quality of the information. Garbage in, garbage out.
At this point companies are usually already gathering the information but it’s just not understandable or put together well enough for analysis. But the data is there.
For the HR hiring process the information is manually inputted into excel sheets. The issue here was that the data was not in a format where it can be understood or ready to be visualized. We designed a structured, more simple way to input the same information and scrubbed the existing information into structured Microsoft Online Excel sheet ready to be shared within the organization. Thats already an improvement in the process. This enabled us to design the next steps.
For the low billing rate, same principles apply. The data was hidden mainly in the personal and project wide tracking systems. Projects were monitored in excels agains thin project plans mainly in proposals. After pulling project budgets, project actuals and personal time tracking data into unified spreadsheet we all realized how much data is available but at the same time it hid really well the actual issues. But we were not sure if we had enough to make changes to the process.
2. Visualize it.
Data visualization can help in many ways to identify the pain points. You really don’t have to have a doctors degree with lots of experience in data analysis. In most cases simple graphs and timelines will identify the main pain points and help us in making decisions.
In the HR process, the visualization needs we recognized was a simply a timeline Gantt type view. The client had a baseline for how the process should go through and visualizing the data in to understandable Gantt chart with open position filter identified most common pain points. With this simple graph, they are now able to make decisions and follow progress.
3. Create an action plan.
The billing rate challenge was more complex. After visualizing the budget vs actuals in a simple stacked bar views, we recognized multiple missing data points. We needed to look at the overall total time per employee and compare that time to admin and billable client work in timeline within projects. This began to open more closely the issues in the process and more clearly identified the single issues. Most urgent issues were in the way people reported their work and project planning in the proposal phase. Many key resources had overtime, admin work and low billable rate at the same period. These new data points enabled deeper analysis and enabled more visualization possibilities. In this project we trained the client to create more visualizations as needed to identify issues.
Obviously. But the key here is to use the visualizations as a baseline point to start measuring the changes you are making. The other aspect again is to keep making sure the data is reliable. In both examples, the first key finding was to enable more accurate and more reliable process of gathering the data. Visualization showed how this can be obtained.
The second step was to select the actionable items to change to improve the process.
Third, long term goal was to automate most of the data gathering and verification of the data to eliminate time required, timeliness (speed from gathering to analysis) and errors in the process.
All this can be achieved in 2 weeks for most processes. 2 weeks.
The old Toyota Way says among other things, to go to the source of the problem to fix it. Visualization is one effective way to get to the root cause fast with continuous improvement and respecting people in the process.
We at Texas Software help clients improve their business processes in creative ways that both increase productivity and create less stress.