4 steps to better process and technology alignment
A few years ago my team set a record. We delivered a CRM tool on time and on budget in 2 years on a traditional platform. Fast forward to last year and we delivered a similar solution in 2 months using a cloud based application. The great part of the cloud solution wasn't just the speed; it was our ability to bring processes to life. In a traditional platform the process is there to enable the system. With the cloud solution the system is there to enable the process.
As technology and process become more intertwined process is more important than ever. In the past, systems were costly and time consuming requiring you to document your process in detail to ensure developers could code the tool as comprehensively as possible.
Technology moves quickly these days!
This forced process excellence to be sacrificed for budget and time line because it was difficult to successfully implement a process without time and cost intensive iterations. As tools move to the cloud and become simpler to configure, iteration is quicker and cheaper so process no longer needs to be sacrificed to compensate for the limitations of expensive and complicated IT projects.
While process is still 80% of any solution the 20% made up of technology has changed from an inhibitor to a liberator. It's our job to connect process to technology in a way that maximizes results. I recommend following a 4 step process.
#1. Understand the process:
Let the people who do the work every day talk you through the process or better yet show you. This is not a traditional lean current state value stream map. In this scenario, you would select a group of people that can provide a broad view of the process your trying to improve and then interview them 1:1. I recommend this over bringing people together for a current state value stream map because it ensures full participation and will draw out the different process variations and opinions.
#2. Understand Best Practices:
Once you have a strong understanding of the process, it’s time to research best practices. Doing this will open you up to options that are beyond the thinking of those who do the work. This is important because users normally focus on maximizing the current process. This step will identify those solutions that can blow up the old process and allow for something revolutionary. Google X – a technology innovation facility run by the search engine giant - practices the 10X rule and believes that it is easier to improve something by 10X than to squeeze out another 10% of efficiency in your current process. I have experienced this many times in the projects I've worked on.
#3. Validate the solution:
Once you understand the solution you're looking for you need to ensure you can implement it. This is the time where you work through the technical challenges. It's about building the simplest solution to the problem. When you come across a technical issue that's difficult to develop you should find a simpler alternative and then validate this adjustment in the next step. This is also the step where you identify the technical people you need in the room to develop the product while you build your future state process.
#4. Develop solutions with your process experts:
Once you've confirmed the best executable process it's time to bring the group of experts together to work through the proposed solution. In this workout you should validate the current process and build and implement the proposed solution. By the time you do this event you will have spent a considerable amount of time working on the process so will understand both the current and future state options extremely well. As a lean leader it's not just your job to document the future state. You need to leverage the knowledge you gained in step 2 to be provocative and challenge the team with 10X options. You also need to leverage the knowledge you gained in step 3 to keep the group from developing a solution so complicated that it could never be implemented.
This should all be done under the belief that you will implement as much of the solution as possible while you're in the event. These events shouldn't be a "to do" list. That's what step 1 is about. This step is about delivering a result. If you have the right people in the room there's no reason you can't get it done.
Process is more important than ever. However, now you have tools to enable better solutions, faster, with less sacrifice. This will require lean leaders to have a higher level of process and technical expertise than ever before but this knowledge will allow you to implement the best possible process extremely fast.