People, process and technology are all important elements of your organization’s success. Combining these elements, however, is the key to building better, comprehensive business solutions. We explain why in this blog.
Some things are just better together.
Peanut butter? Great. Peanut butter and jelly? Match made in heaven. Peanut butter and jelly on bread? Boom. We often take that third ingredient, the bread, for granted, but without it, you have a mess on your hands (literally). With it, you have a portable vehicle of deliciousness.
Alone, all these ingredients have moments when each shines brightly on its own. But sometimes, you need sweet and savory delivered on a couple of slices of perfection. Who’s having PB&J for lunch now?
In consulting, this is also true when solving complex problems for our clients. We’re better together. In this guide, we’ll talk about how people, process and technology can combine to provide your business with a complete solution to your most complex problems.
We’ll focus on three consulting areas: organizational change management (people), process improvement (process), and data and analytics (technology). Again, alone, each offering can do wonders for your organization and make complex or challenging problems easier. However, combine the three, and you’ll arrive at an even stronger solution that will truly transform your business. Let’s dive in.
The Problem: Siloed People, Processes and Technology
See if this scenario sounds familiar to you as we address issues commonly seen across various organizations and industries.
A mid-size company requires employees to enter forms into a database in 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.
Gaining Perspective of the Problem
The story began when the company’s CEO 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 left the IT team without much 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 alongside the work they already 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 the PB&J sandwich he brought for lunch (see what we did there?).
This scenario highlights what might be all too familiar to you. Multiple teams are 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 change management (people), process improvement (process), and data (technology) consultants would approach this problem with the CEO.
Let’s break down each perspective:
The Organizational Change Management Perspective
OCM seeks to identify what helps — and what hinders — someone from being effective at work. Ineffectiveness may result from a gap in communication, leadership misalignment, the risks of new tools or processes, or overall frustration, anger, or confusion among employees. Once the OCM team has identified the causes, they work with employees to design and implement desired solutions that support optimal performance. This helps people feel they have been a part of the change, rather than the change happening “to them” instead of “with them.
The Process Improvement Perspective
Process improvement analyzes the entire value stream to identify places where standardization, automation, or other improvements can help employees be more efficient. Often, process improvement experts will identify customizations that employees have built over time. While customizations can solve specific problems, they usually come at the expense of standardization.
Standardization is important because it ensures that customers have a consistent experience and that they receive high-quality products or services every time. Unfortunately, employees may balk at standardization efforts because they interpret them as micromanaging or taking freedoms from them. A great process improvement team will dig into each process to understand the work better and show employees how standardization and automation can save them time and frustration.
The Data and Analytics Perspective
From the technology perspective, hastily implemented automated processes can gum up data or reporting pipelines, especially if a company implements the new solutions in a silo. Data experts take the time to build the architectural and engineering “bones” that support technologies like automation.
The D&A team’s job is to pay attention to all the technical details to ensure the result of that automation — whether it’s a product or a report — makes sense. They make sure all the behind-the-scenes work required for the end result is high-quality and efficient. However, they also must remember that data is useless without humans to generate or consume it. Pipelines must match processes, and results must make sense to people. Otherwise, all our technical tinkering is meaningless.
Combining People, Process and Technology Perspectives to Discover Solutions
Let’s address the burning question you probably have now: Which approach is the right one? Allow us to use a consultant’s favorite phrase – it depends. To bring our story full circle, it’s kind of like a PB&J sandwich. All the ingredients are great alone, but sometimes you need the sweet and the savory.
The tricky part of solving complex business problems is that they rarely have one correct answer. Sometimes, there’s not simply one ingredient (or approach) that hits the spot and solves the problem. Each offering – people, process and technology – approaches the problem from a slightly different business perspective. None of which is wrong. Each simply presents a different view of the problem.
When we combine these different views, we can see the problem in its entirety and develop a cross-team solution that considers the whole problem. But rather than jumping to a quick fix, we always advise clients to be deliberate about making sure we don’t repeat mistakes or assume the appropriate solutions. This is the perfect use case for a coordinated discovery effort that will lead to a more effective delivery of the solution.
Only by involving people, process and technology perspectives will your team successfully understand the situation to develop the overall best solution to implement. As a group, they can understand the people and processes at play, evaluate the current state, and identify any potential pitfalls. They will put together a thoroughly thought-through and actionable project plan to deliver a cross-team solution by working together.
Let’s take a closer look at two phases of problem solving — discovery and delivery — and how multiple perspectives are better together.
The Discovery Phase
If you have never participated in or seen a discovery phase to set up a solution delivery, let’s first explore what it is and how it benefits the outcome of the eventual project. Discovery is all about learning. The best solutions come from a complete understanding of the following:
- What is happening?
- How is it happening?
- Why is it happening?
- Who is impacted and how?
Not answering these questions could yield a solution or product that’s a poor fit for your needs.
During any discovery effort, you need to embed a small, cross-functional discovery team into the midst of the folks who experience the pain of whatever problem you are addressing. The discovery team should be insatiably curious about learning why things operate as they do, capable of examining the problem from many angles, and ready to form options for resolution in an inclusive way that creates buy-in.
By building rock-solid relationships with key stakeholders and difference-makers, the discovery team can bring the rest of the organization along on the journey as it conducts interviews, digs into the data, and works together to unearth exciting and effective solutions.
Returning to our example, the CEO had decided to adopt RPA for very solid business reasons – employees were spending too much time with manual data entry, costing the organization time, money, and employee morale. Unfortunately, her business perspective, while completely valid, did not include how the change would affect her people and processes.
She was seeing the problem only through the technology lens, and even that view was not complete. It failed to account for the technology team’s backlog, which led to poor communication with the people affected and little attention paid to the processes the new technology would change.
Discovery would have provided an opportunity to document these facts and consider how to manage them. This phase is a time for fact-finding by people with fresh and diverse perspectives, and it’s a time for brainstorming and creative thinking. By the end of this phase, the discovery team would have better understood the business and understood the challenges ahead. Along the way, they may have even discovered other issues contributing to the original challenge they set out to solve.
People, Process and Technology in the Discovery Phase
Throughout the discovery phase, change management professionals will focus on the people and their experiences within the organization. The goal is to make sure they have a clear picture of how the company’s operating environment, people and culture intersect with the specific planned changes (and vice versa). So, as they plan implementation, they set the organization up for increased adoption and buy-in.
As they do this work, they will work with the process improvement team to understand, from the people doing the work, what is going on today. They typically do this by joining the stakeholder interviews to understand where processes have opportunities for improvement. These interviews and observations may seem unnecessary, but doing it establishes an essential foundation for building the future state.
The data team members also help reach the future state by conducting or analyzing quantitative research that compares the current state with potential outcomes. Or, they could examine any relevant data architecture, data flow diagrams, or data management structures in place.
Without the context of people and processes, knowing how your data flows and how you store it provides only a blurry view of the real picture — only presenting some numbers to describe why any solution is the best one generally doesn’t wow stakeholders or get widespread buy-in. When people interpret and fully use the numbers, magic happens.
People, Process and Technology in the Delivery Phase
Businesses in every industry around the world have made the same or similar mistakes. Why? Because complex business problems are complex. Often, folks come to the table with one piece of the puzzle and set out to solve a complex problem without understanding the whole picture. However, when you combine capabilities, you come to see more than one part of the whole.
When we enter the delivery phase of a multidisciplinary project seeking to solve a complex business problem (such as the problem in our sample scenario), the goal is for the people, process and technology capabilities to come together, share perspectives, and develop a cross-team solution with each business perspective in mind. The magic happens when we take our different perspectives on the problem and what we learned during discovery and then use those perspectives to build and deliver a rock-solid solution together that transforms the business.
However, while each practice has its own expertise, it must have a common focus – delivering a quality product, whether it’s a technical solution, a process improvement, or a little of both. Combining different skills under a common focus starts our journey toward business transformation.
In the delivery phase, the change management team, with input from the process improvement and data teams, will build out and execute actionable plans for how to communicate and train as well as manage resistance, create a network of change champions, and encourage strong sponsorship from leaders.
Collaboration with the other teams is absolutely critical. The change management team will confirm what mindset shifts and behavior changes need to happen to successfully implement any process improvements or technical changes the company wants to deliver. Meanwhile, we’re also developing and executing the actionable steps to reach successful adoption during the rollout.
The team’s role in documenting the current state prepares the process improvement team to understand business requirements, gaps in the current processes, and where we need to focus efforts during the delivery phase. Working with the change management and data teams in the delivery phase, the process improvement team begins to build the future state of the business, providing the team with a picture to work toward.
Part of this effort will naturally focus on improving processes, whether through traditional process improvement efforts (for example, removing wasteful or inefficient steps) or by working with the technology teams to build better solutions. Additionally, documentation and standard operating procedures for the new processes will be important to help avoid “tribal knowledge” in the future state.
Delivering a rock-solid, cross-team solution is the bread and (peanut) butter of technology teams, but they can’t do it without the help of the change management or process improvement teams. Data will analyze, architect, build and test the technology component of a robust, high-quality solution, whether it’s new kinds of customer-facing software, elegant data-warehousing solutions, complex integrations between disparate systems, analytics that help you visualize what’s going on in your business, or automations that help free up your people to do the things they do best.
However, humans are messy. We generally need some technological guardrails to keep things functioning as they should. That may end up being an automated process, a new data infrastructure, a transition to the cloud or a new organizational design supported by follow-up surveys or tracked and analyzed KPIs to determine effectiveness and impact. You could even need a new set of processes for a call center with dashboards to help visualize how certain metrics trend after the change.
But without people to manage it or use it, it won’t be worth anything, no matter how cool it is. Data means nothing in a vacuum. A data-driven mindset without context leads to poor decision-making.
Combining your data and analytics with the context of people and process encourages success. Doing any without doing all three is like removing a leg on a three-legged stool. You’ll build something, but it won’t be stable.
A Holistic Approach to Discovering the Facts and Delivering Solutions
As we said before, the tricky part of solving complex business problems is, typically, there’s no one correct answer. Like when you’re trying to hit the elusive “spot” in your appetite, sometimes it’s not one ingredient (or solution) that hits the spot and solves the problem. You need something with different ingredients that solves your complex craving. Say, a PB&J, perhaps?
Just like a PB&J (last PB&J reference, we swear), each capability – people, process and technology – offers a slightly different perspective to solve complex problems. Each approach focuses on different pieces of the puzzle. When we combine these different views, we can see the problem in its entirety and develop a cross-team 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 presents new and unique challenges. Now more than ever, it’s important to use different perspectives to solve these challenging and complex business problems. A true business transformation will never happen on its own, nor will it happen with only one perspective. When we take a holistic approach to solving complex business problems, that is when we begin to achieve true transformation. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: some things are just better together.