The pressure to do more with less. The need to flex fast with change. The desire to streamline ways of working. These are some of the reasons why leaders look to business process reengineering as a means to stay competitive. Yet too many organizations struggle with where to start, what to focus on, and who to involve—and they end up with lackluster results.
Our experience collaborating with organizations to transform and improve their business processes reveals three keys to effective business process reengineering:
Let data insight be the compass
Understanding the larger context around business processes is critical to identifying improvements. This context comes from collecting data that is naturally compiled through various functional activities.
Doing business process reengineering well begins with understanding and evaluating business processes through the lens of basic principles. Think of it like this. There are three types of process activities. Inbound activities receive information or work products. Processing activities produce, service, or refine work products. And outbound activities complete or deliver work products to the next stage.
Have we identified all data collection opportunities across our functional activities to optimize our processes and improve decision-making?
Organizations can extract meaningful data across these processes to understand where—and why—breakdowns are occurring. For example, for inbound business processes, collecting data such as sender and recipient time stamps or occurrence of service level rejection rates can reveal opportunities to remediate workflows such as upstream bottlenecks.
With a data-informed view of business processes, organizations can connect the dots to see the whole process. This full view exposes root causes that must be addressed to improve business processes. With data insight paired with informed subject matter context and detailed visualizations, organizations can do so much more. They can avoid overburdening processes with unnecessary prescriptive measures and begin pinpointing transactional activities that provide existing, yet unrealized, potential to automate, downshift, or eliminate low-value work.
Uncover hidden best practices
In addition to this contextual performance data, organizations need to have the right conversations with the right people to understand how business processes are actually being executed.
When most organizations focus on business process reengineering, they involve leadership and management. But these aren’t necessarily the people carrying out the processes every day. As a result, organizations can get a textbook view of their processes, rather than an honest one.
Which employees can give the most accurate perspective on how processes are really being conducted?
This is why involving frontline staff in business process reengineering initiatives is key. This practice reveals inefficiencies that supervisors don’t know about—like the need for multiple system logins that waste time and cause frustration. By getting the frontline involved, organizations can discover organic “workarounds” that employees have developed over time. All of this offers a more nuanced understanding of business processes while creating goodwill among employees. This goodwill can help to foster buy-in to the process changes that leaders ultimately decide to make.
Think process before technology
Organizations often rush to implement a technology tool or system assuming that the investment will automatically address many of their business process issues. When it doesn’t, they’ve squandered precious resources better spent developing a resilient foundation to avoid wasteful, counterproductive rework.
The reality is that technology is never the full answer. While technology can certainly eliminate steps, alleviate redundancies, and simplify user experiences, success hinges on what happens between employees and the interface. In other words, if your technology does not work for your people, your people will work for your technology. And it doesn’t matter how groundbreaking the tech has the potential to be; the desired change won’t happen.
Are we considering specific use cases of where this technology can alleviate manual activity?
Instead, organizations should assess their business processes before making technology-related decisions. They need a view of what’s happening today and what should happen tomorrow to support their strategy and align reskilling initiatives. Through feedback mechanisms and proactive planning, organizations can make more informed decisions about where they use technology to alleviate the burden of manual activity. This prevents them from investing in a system and continuing to have the same business process problems they were trying to solve at the start.
Improving business process engineering is an art and a science. It’s a balancing act of orchestrating opposites: creating standards and enabling flexibility. Doing it well requires collecting data and acting on insights, understanding how processes are working in practice, and applying technology strategically. Commit to doing these things well and your business process reengineering efforts can position your organization to do more with less.