Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Start With The End In Mind

One should always start with the end in mind.

I borrowed this concept from Steven Covey who wrote the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a book everyone should read at some point. This is also the basis for the ever popular "gap" analysis, a technique in which we determine where we are and where we need to be. Then we look at the delta, the difference or, in the parlance of the technique, the gap and figure out how to get from here to there.

It is important to have a clear vision of where you want to end up. Another old saying comes to mind. When you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. I sometimes sense this is the way systems evolve. The planning is incremental and the enhancements are a patchwork of little improvements or fixes done over time. At the end of the day, you wind up with a quilt-work instead of a smooth and uniform process flow.

If a business process is completely manual, partially automated or perhaps broken, and there is a desire to improve service or increase efficiency, it is often tempting to take a look at a small portion of the process and address it.  We look for the major flaws or the low hanging fruit. We shoot for a quick fix, a small and easy adjustment that may improve things a lot. We move slowly and carefully so as not to be too disruptive.

While I applaud the effort to avoid having a negative impact on the business, we sometimes draw out the pain and introduce more problems than we solve. Running parallel can be overly burdensome and when only part of a process is reinvented we force people to do double or triple the work for extended periods of time.

At some point this even becomes counter productive. It can lead to more mistakes and distrust of a new process. One has to look at the total picture and decide what the ideal process would be. If we are talking about order entry, for example, ultimately we want the order to be in a specific format and contain all of the data necessary to both execute the order and collect the proper payment.

All too often the focus will be on "streamlining" by locking down one field on a form or adding some calculations and pushing a snapshot of data to some interim holding file for analysis. Eventually the order process gets modified again and the data, after it has been pulled for analysis, are changed. Without a holistic view we wind up carrying multiple versions of the truth.

Take the time to develop the end state vision first. Then, work your way back to the beginning of each process and make sure you fully understand the flow of the data from start to finish. Change the entire process and find ways to phase it in that minimizes the need for parallel operations.

One more old proverb comes to mind. It seems there is never enough time to do it right the first time, but there is always time to do it over. Let's identify the ultimate destination up front, chart a safe and direct course from here to there.  Let's not wind up beached in a sand dune or dashed on the rocks.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC