The first crucial tactic is to ensure that the paper trail is closely followed. The end-to-end journey of a business document is a reflection of how well your people, processes and technology work together. If the paper trail is modelled into the various stages of a document’s journey, it can highlight areas where further controls, data capture or innovation is required.
It can also highlight any stages that are at risk from human error or inefficient manual processing. For example, I was told of a purchase order process discovery where POs were being duplicated because there was no centralised recording (even on paper) of who had actioned the incoming document, spread across five reviewers.
Following the paper trail is simple to do and can be as simple as a bullet point list, flowchart or swimming lane chart. The main idea is to capture information flow to/from the document and identify who’s involved within the paper trail.
Understanding the communication lines is another vital tactic which focuses on how people communicate with each other at various stages of the paper trail.
Current office technology includes real-time chat, screen capture, screen-sharing, video-conferencing in addition to email and document sharing. Is it possible that any one of these media could be duplicating, confusing or delaying the paper-trail process? Is the pattern of communication structured or ad hoc? Are the people sending messages aware of whether their audience has received and actioned their message or not?
This tactic requires a little more nuance because it involves soft-skills of human behaviour, communication/messaging, and media of communication. For example, is email the most effective way to review a sales order which has gone wrong, or is face-to-face communication? Is a PO being authorised by a person who has no budget responsibility? Understanding the lines of communication is going to be vital to understanding how your processes can be tailored to the people who will use them.
Finally, it is important to question everything. Brian Dickinson in Analysis of Everyday Things warns us to “be careful what you perpetuate” when we copy outdated processes into new systems without any form of innovation or improvement. To avoid this, question the purpose of everything, no matter how trivial or mundane.
When assessing the feedback, filter out the reasons that are not aligned to your process objectives, cultural standards or any other metric you aspire towards - these are the immediate hotspots that can be worked on. However, go back and review the answers that did not get filtered out and see if an old process had simply been ‘perpetuated’
These three tactics are simple and easy to action straight away on order to make immediate gains. As tactics, they can be incorporated into any training programme with little resource required.
Going further, the systemisation of any business process requires regular review, and the tactics above can definitely assist with that in their own right as information gathering tools. They can also prove useful when used alongside business modelling such as Lean Canvas or even an ERP requirements exercise.
The three tactics form a simple method of evaluation in your organisation without getting bogged down in project methodology or expensive consultancy.