There is nothing wrong with an individual fix to your business problem. But, sometimes, a collection of perspectives can help you navigate unseen complexities to find the best solution possible.
Some things are simply better together. Like a PB&J sandwich, where each ingredient has a unique appeal, but together those ingredients make a wonderful symphony of components that perfectly complement each other.
In the first blog of our three-part series, we will examine how people, process and technology approach problems with our unique perspective. Each of these capabilities can provide excellent solutions to difficult problems. Each will also approach the same problem with a slightly different perspective. However, combine these three offerings and, much like a PB&J sandwich, the outcome will be a wonderful symphony of components that perfectly complement each other.
Gaining Perspective of the Problem
See if this scenario sounds familiar to you, as we will address issues we commonly see across various organizations and industries.
A mid-size company requires employees to enter forms into a database as part of their regular workflows. The company has five locations and an employee at each who scans forms and saves them to a shared file. Later, another employee enters the data from those forms into a database. This database holds all the information for the company – serving as a hub for all company reporting.
One day, the CEO hears about issues at the senior management team meeting. Jim, the data entry team manager, is frustrated and says, “When did we decide the robots were already taking over? They’ve messed things up, and my team is doing twice the work in clean-up. Even worse, this is right in the middle of our busiest time of the year.”
Joining in Jim’s frustration, Nancy, manager of the analytics team, says, “At least you have robots to do your work for you. My team can’t create or analyze any reports. Our numbers are all over the place, and we can’t do any forecasting for next quarter.”
Terry, Manager of Operations, chimes in with, “I don’t trust your data anyway. All our forms are customized to each location, and whatever data we do get is outdated because of all the hoops we have to jump through to get things uniform.”
Let’s rewind a few weeks to untangle the narrative and gain perspective.
One day, the CEO of this company decided to implement robotic process automation (RPA) to replace the manual data entry process for these forms. The company’s IT team took on the task, built the bots and released them into company data form workflows. As with most IT teams, they already had several other initiatives that held a higher priority. This meant the IT team didn’t have a lot of time to focus on a proper change management plan, so they sent a few emails to communicate the change and posted information on their SharePoint site.
Now, let’s fast forward again to the senior management team meeting where Jim, Nancy, and Terry are quite upset. The CEO says to the group, “Look, folks, we need to get this stuff handled. Who can take the lead?” Crickets.
With further discussion, the CEO understands everyone already has numerous other projects and initiatives and the work they do to keep the company moving. Adding another critical project to the list only makes the senior leadership team more uneasy. Jim couldn’t even finish his PB&J sandwich he brought for his lunch (see what we did there?).
This scenario highlights what might be all too familiar to you. Multiple teams struggling to align with new implementations. This is when an outside viewpoint can help transform business operations to work together more smoothly. We’ll focus on how three different consulting areas – people, process technology – would approach this problem with the CEO.
Let’s break down each perspective.
The Organizational Change Management Perspective
Our ears immediately perk up when we hear things like “We can’t do our jobs,” “This is not a good time,” or “When did we decide this?” These expressions typically mean a gap in communication, leadership misalignment, a risk of users adopting new tools or processes, or overall frustration, anger or confusion among employees. When people do not feel they have been a part of the change or that the change is happening “to” them instead of “with” them, new behaviors indicate resistance to the new “thing,” whatever that may be.
We’ve all heard the “Why do we have to change? We’ve always done it this way,” line numerous times, and we’d be lying if we said we could make every single person happy when introducing changes to the way they do their work. However, by being thoughtful about how new processes and technology impact people and by working directly with end-users to understand their perspective, we can develop solutions that most people are willing to adopt. The key is to understand what helps and what hinders someone from being effective at work, and then involving them in the design and implementation of solutions that are wanted, needed, and supports optimal performance.
The Process Improvement Perspective
We tend to get all giddy when we hear things like “customized,” “outdated information,” or about the “hoops” folks have to jump through to do their job. These phrases typically mean there are broken processes that are painfully annoying for front-line staff. Think of the cliché pebble in your shoe, or when the seal on a fresh jar of peanut butter breaks before you can open it.
We also see companies make a lot of customizations without looking at the entire value stream (the end-to-end process and relationships within the process) or without understanding what those customizations will do to other teams or departments. These same customizations typically translate to little standardization, which means variations in processes.
This is usually bad from a business perspective because a customer experience, product or service will vary across the business. When you talk about standardization, people in the business get a little nervous. Images of drone humans doing the same thing over and over again come to mind. However, the goal of having a repeatable process isn’t to micromanage or take freedoms away from staff, it’s to ensure the business delivers the same excellent product, service or experience to every customer, every time.
Also, if processes are manual or time-consuming, we know we need to dig deeper into those processes to understand the work better. Keeping all that in mind, think back to our example company trying to solve problems with only a process framework – they left out some important pieces that a technology team, specifically a data and analytics team, would have been better suited to help solve.
The Data and Analytics Perspective
From the technology perspective, it’s easy to see how a hastily implemented automated process could gum up data or reporting pipelines, especially if a company implemented it in a silo. We get excited about executives and companies being able to make data-driven decisions. We know there are mountains of work that go into architecture, engineering, cleaning and visualization before anyone sees one beautiful report that helps them make one important decision.
Automated solutions like RPA (but also including things like AutoML) are especially dependent on the “bones” of all of the architecture and engineering that support them. If we were helping to address this problem, we’d key in on Jim’s assertion that RPA messed up all of the prior reports. Perhaps the bot isn’t tuned to store data in the appropriate format, or it’s accidentally putting data into the wrong fields. Maybe there are nulls where there weren’t any previously. Our job is to pay attention to all of the technical details to ensure the end result makes sense. We also make sure all of the behind-the-scenes work required for the end result is high-quality and efficient.
But, we also have to keep in mind that all output is for human use. Data doesn’t exist without humans to generate it or consume it. Pipelines have to match processes, and results have to make sense to people, otherwise, all of our technical tinkering is meaningless.
Tie it Together
Let’s address the burning question you’re probably wondering: which approach is the right one? Allow us to use a consultant’s favorite phrase – it depends. To bring it full circle, it’s kind of like a PB&J sandwich. All of the ingredients are great alone, but sometimes you need the sweet and the savory.
The tricky part of solving complex business problems is, typically, there’s no one correct answer. Sometimes it isn’t just one ingredient (or offering) that hits the spot and solves the problem. Each offering – people, process and technology – approach the problem from a slightly different perspective. None of which is the wrong perspective. It’s simply a different view of the problem. When we combine these different views, we can see the problem in its entirety and develop a solution that considers the whole problem. This approach allows for a truly transformational solution that will help your business better achieve its goals.
The world of business is constantly changing and evolving. Each day there are new and unique challenges presented, most of which have several “correct” answers. Suppose you’re trying to solve a complex problem in your business. Why not examine the issue from several different perspectives, so you can get all the correct answers to solve the problem?
About the Authors
Joel Longanecker is a Senior Operational Excellence Consultant for St. Louis with expertise in process improvement, business strategy, and has a Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt. He managed teams in the restaurant and healthcare industries for seven years before moving to business consulting. He enjoys hiking with his wife and three dogs or playing basketball and soccer with friends (when there isn’t a pandemic that ruins everything).
Becky Gandillon is a Data & Analytics Manager for St. Louis with expertise in data storytelling, data strategy and visualization. She worked in the healthcare industry as a biomedical engineer for eight years before making the jump to full-time analytics work. She and her husband have two daughters (ages two and four), and she spends some of her free time analyzing and predicting crowd patterns at Disney World.
Olivia Kopicky is a People and Change Manager in St. Louis with expertise in change management and user experience. She has worked with clients to realize their strategic business vision for over 7 years. Outside of work, Olivia enjoys cooking, spending time with her three dogs, and is preparing for her first child in June.
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