Honey, I Shrunk the Processes!

Amit Mathur

So, processes being shrunk??? How does this happen, why should it happen and what benefits does it bring? Process drill-down, end-to-end models, value chains, these are the words that you will find in the handbook of any BPM-driven organization. It reads well, it’s good jargon and even the clients love it. In my experience, when organizations embark on an improvement initiative, it stems from an organization transformation initiative, value chain efficiency or a process redesign effort. However, one thing that is common across all such initiatives is change management.
Have you ever wondered why process change management is so difficult and expensive? In any process change initiative, there are several elements that need to be effectively managed to extract the full benefit. Depending on the quantum of change there is a need to connect and engage across several levels such as function owners, process owners, practitioners, and across other functions like Supply Chain, Customer Management etc. The management of various connect points results in the entire initiative being costly as well as time consuming.
Here is the depiction of an end-to-end employee expense reimbursement process - a typical change management effort would require us to engage with every functional area.
How can we reduce this cost and effort? Well, if the cost is on account of several processes that need to be changed and several functions that need to be engaged then we must find a way to rationalize these two elements. How do we do it? Pretty simple. Shrink them. Obviously. Here is how we do it. If, instead of managing processes as a flow or an end-to-end, we break them up and shrink them to something that I call "Nano Processes".
A Nano Process is a process breakdown where we decompose the process to a level where the activity performed is clearly defined along with the technology used and the people (roles) required to deliver the activity. The Nano Process allows an organization to break down their entire operations into several bite-sized, self-contained and complete processes. Any change that needs to be made by the organization, can be linked to the impacted Nano Processes. So, instead of managing change at the process / function level, we manage change at the Nano Process level. We touch only the impacted roles and technologies affected by the change. There is a thin line between a Nano Process and a Sub Process. A Nano Process is self-contained and can be picked for change in a modular manner with all the impacted people, process and technology components. A Sub Process is a process decomposition as well but in most cases is not self-contained and is a modular form which can have links / impacts to other areas that will need change management if that process is changed.
The single most benefit that we can get by designing the Nano Processes is that once a process is broken down into a series of Nano Processes we create a Nano Process map and showcase the comprehensive technology and people roles along with each one of them.
Now, if we need to do some change management, we can easily define which all Nano Processes need to be touched, what parts of the overall process does it impact and only involve those Nano Process owners in the change management process rather than everyone. We also have the ability to focus on just the parts of technology that might need change and the roles that might need alterations.
Let’s take an example, employee expense reimbursement is one of the key process in any organization. In the image below, you can see an end-to-end process from A to B for expense reimbursement. You also see how process transverses through different teams, people and systems.
Now, for any change in the expense reimbursement process, in a traditional model, an organization would need to modify the entire process.
The following functions would review the end-to-end discounting process from their perspective, provide inputs, rewrite the process, validate and implement the changes:
Organization workforce at different career levels (Employees), Technology, Local Account Team, Central Account Team, Training, Change Management, and there maybe more…
Now, assume that same organization was a Nano Process-driven organization then we need to involve the same functions but we only want them to review the impacted Nano Processes rather than the entire end-to-end process. Not only this, only the relevant technology and people components will be reviewed. In the given example, the employee expense reimbursement process is divided into a 6-step Nano Process which I think has logical start and logical end with definite roles and systems involved. The Nano Processes are named as:
  1. Expense report submission
  2. Expense report approval
  3. Expense accounting approval
  4. Expense accounting reimbursement
  5. Tax and transfer payment
  6. Expense accounting payment
The aforementioned 6-step Nano Process is a breakdown of expense reimbursement process right down to the last breakable point where it is an activity associated and identified with the technology required to deliver it and the people role(s) to execute it.
So what is the difference?
  • Only part of the process is reviewed and changed rather than the entire process
  • Nano Process owners and the change management RACI are pre-identified so only the right people are pulled in
  • Changes to technology can be focused rather than extensive
  • The change itself is much faster and lower cost, giving the business a competitive advantage
  • There is a great opportunity to create cross-functional SWAT teams that will make decision-making and change implementation
One key thing that we need to keep in mind while on a Nano Process journey, we do not need to go about this journey blindly. There will be situations where a process breakdown might not clearly define into Nano Processes or might break the intended outcome for a process. In these situations, we need to review the breakdown.
In conclusion, an organization, if it embraces the Nano Process culture, can create a great opportunity to be nimble, cost-effective and focused. It can define ownership to the last level and ensure that the organization generates the maximum value for the client by affecting effective change management. An organization can use Nano Processes to launch products faster in the market, settle claims faster, and decide on loan applications more effectively. The key to making it happen is top level sponsorship, empowerment of the Nano Process owners, creation of SWAT teams and bringing the process, technology and people aspect to work like clockwork.