As companies grapple with what’s next, you still need to work on improving your current operations. To start, you’ll need an operational and capability assessment — and you need to know how to do them remotely.
Almost two months ago, most companies had never considered becoming virtual or giving their employees complete remote capabilities.
For two of our clients, in fact, the journey to remote had to be quick. One had four days — from Tuesday to Friday — to become a virtual organization due to statewide ordinances, while the other had only a matter of hours after discovering one of its employees had COVID-19. Many of you likely experienced similar shifts.
By now, most companies have worked remote for some time and are beginning to settle into a new rhythm. In that time, you’ve likely noticed a few processes you need to optimize for virtual work. And whether you’re working remote or an essential worker who remains on-site, everyone feels the need for processes to run as smoothly as possible.
In both cases, your organization needs to continue improving its operational efficiency by performing operational and capability assessments and implementing the resulting improvement opportunities with minimal or no in-person contact.
There are numerous advantages to conducting operational assessments in person. However, you can’t wait around until it’s okay to be in the office again to make crucial changes to your organization’s operations.
As with any remote capability, you’ll have to choose the best tools for your team and get acquainted with these tools before you can dive into implementation.
Pick Your Tools
There are two critical spots where you’ll need to choose the right tools for your process mapping. One is the types of tools you’ll need for collaboration, while the other is choosing from the many options to document your process.
From a process mapping perspective, it is important to determine what type of process map is the most appropriate. While most people are used to the typical swimlane process diagrams, these are often overkill in assessments, especially when capturing current state process details.
A popular alternative to swimlane process diagrams is a SIPOC. This tool allows you to gain a high-level understanding of the suppliers, inputs, process steps, outputs, and customers (SIPOC) involved in a particular process while not requiring an extensive step-by-step mapping effort.
While you might ultimately decide to dive deeper in certain areas, starting with a SIPOC will allow you to get an initial understanding of where your pain points and opportunities exist to focus your more detailed efforts (and save the associated times).
What you decide your needs are from a process mapping perspective will then help you determine the second type of tool you need to consider – how you’re going to collaborate.
For collaboration, you need one or multiple tools that not only allow you to chat and edit documents in real-time but also allow you to conduct virtual meetings and presentations you can record.
We generally use Microsoft Teams because it has these capabilities, but companies often choose hybrid options across multiple tools. Whatever you decide to use must be able to collect and organize existing documentation appropriately while allowing you to share these across all project team members.
When you’re ready to create your map, you can whiteboard by either using today’s “high-tech” tools or “old-school” options.
“High-tech” tools include Visio, Microsoft Whiteboard, and Blueworks Live, among many others. Building your process map real-time can present its challenges (your audience doesn’t want to spend half their time watching you struggle to learn a new tool). So when using one of these options, please keep in mind it will require some getting used to, and you should practice in advance.
“Old-school” whiteboarding options could mean using an actual whiteboard (if you have one) or taking advantage of sticky notes on a blank wall. Then, you can leverage the camera on your laptop to project to the rest of the project team.
If you want to keep one of these more traditional methods, be prepared to creatively maneuver your laptop to ensure everyone has a full view of the materials you’re developing (and don’t be surprised when family or pets occasionally enter the picture).
Now that you’ve completed the first step in your preparation by picking your tools, you need to prepare to assess your actual process.
Preparation is more critical in a remote environment than if you were doing so in person. Before actual process mapping sessions, conduct video meetings (for about 30-60 minutes) to reach an agreement on the scope of the effort (both included and excluded).
You can accomplish this by developing a process inventory and hierarchy, using a SIPOC diagram, or a combination of the two. A process inventory is simply a listing of all of the processes involved. You can manipulate this into a hierarchy to ensure you’re looking at everything at the same level of detail (for example, “Conduct Accounts Payable” and “Enter the Invoice Amount into the Amount field on the Payables screen” are not equals).
As you prepare, ensure all your key stakeholders have a chance to provide input, and don’t leave until everyone is clear on the scope and objectives. This step will then help you ensure you have the proper participants and related buy-in as you dive into the meat of your overall assessment.
Related to the tools again, you must get yourself (the person leading the assessment), as well as everyone on the assessment team, comfortable with the tools to be used. The leader must practice with the tools in advance, so you can focus on the assessment and not on the tools once the meetings begin.
For the project team, we recommend a brief orientation session as part of the kickoff to explain what tools they will use, how they will use these, and what the expectations of the participants are. You could potentially include the video of the woman who took her laptop to the bathroom with the camera still turned on as a great example of what NOT to do.
Implementing Remote Operational Assessments
Now that you have the tools and communication methods down, there are a few remote operational assessment best practices you should use:
- Establish a Regular Cadence
Start every morning with a 15 to 30-minute video meeting (like a huddle) to align on daily priorities and identify needed sessions over the next few days. This meeting helps to prioritize work and ensures others on the team are aware of their teammates’ needs of them.
- Create Your Map
After speaking with your SMEs, record the process in bullet format on a Word document, leveraging your prior process hierarchy or SIPOC, or both, as a starting point. Finally, translate the process to a map, which you can do via whiteboarding. If collecting pain points, have a partner document these separately as the lead person facilitates the session.
Depending on the process complexity, you can even split these into multiple meetings. For example, you can capture the mapping in a meeting, document it while offline, and then conduct reviews in your next meeting. The main point here is to talk with the subject matter experts to get a proper understanding of their process.
- Get the Necessary Buy-In
The final thing you need to do is obtain sponsor or champion approval. To do that, you should prepare a deck that includes:
- Process hierarchy
- Process scope
- Team members involved
- Process maps
- Pain point listings and groupings
- Opportunity summary (also known as the current state summary) or key changes and related value (your future state)
Your deck should tell the story of the problem, possible solutions, and the value your organization can achieve while implementing these solutions. While packaging up the outputs is important at any time, it’s even more critical that the deck tells the story and can also standalone while remote.
Improving your business shouldn’t just happen when things are going well for your organization. In times of difficulty, they can help your company operate more efficiently, communicate better and improve the customer experience.
The first step to process improvement is an operational and capability assessment. Once you do that, you can make your way toward enduring, sustaining processes that help your organization long after the current pandemic, or any crisis, is over.
Together we will get through this.
As you take common sense precautions to protect yourself, your family and your business from the impact of COVID-19, we’ve compiled some tips, tools and techniques to help you better collaborate, communicate and work from anywhere.
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Achieving process excellence is not easy and not a singular event. It’s a journey. It may take months or even years depending based on your current level of process focus and process maturity.