Process challenges and changes are a part of daily business life. They’re either a common part of the juggling act within a business, or a catastrophic event that has the potential to shake a business to the core. Either way, they don’t go away on their own.
When these process challenges are associated with technology, there’s often a particular reluctance to deal with the issue head on. Addressing business technology issues can be daunting, either requiring you to deal with geek-speak or the potential big expense to bring an expert in. These problems can often have complicated solutions, that feel a bit like unscrambling an egg.
We continually see businesses opt for the easier solution – work around the problem by creating another system, most likely a manual one. This lets them continue on with business as usual and is cheap and quick to implement. This can build over time, to the point where we’ve seen businesses run 80% of their processes on Microsoft Excel rather than tackling the problems with their business system. This can be because they needed an urgent, short term band-aid fix to keep the business functioning, or because they find it too hard to communicate clearly with their business system vendor.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with short-term fixes is that they often become stretched to the long-term. Once you’ve temporarily resolved your problem, it’s often forgotten and your short-term process suddenly becomes embedded in daily process life. This can be manageable if it was a one-off incident and method of managing the issue. However, if this way of fixing issues becomes standard practice, i.e. “we have another problem so let’s create another quick manual fix”, then you may be adding a significant amount of process bloat to your business. Ultimately, all that does is increase cost in the business, as well as increase the time it takes to get things to happen. Ultimately, it potentially jeopardises your ability to efficiently respond to your customer needs.
By the time you’ve realised you’re working in a business built on IT work-arounds, you might be staring down a mountain of potential change. All the big questions start to come up: Where do we start? How much will this cost? How will we know what to change? A lot of businesses get locked at this stage and fall prey to “change paralysis” and they end up spending more time talking about the need to change than actually working on the change itself.
Unfortunately, the only way to get past this point is to get your hands dirty and start the review. The simplest way to do this is to take a step back and start with a review of processes and systems. Sit key people down in a room and document what you do and why you do it, step by step. Make sure you include all the detail like “this piece of paper goes to five people and they each stamp it to prove they’ve seen it”, as these are often the key signals of a manual system that’s out of control.
Often the simple act of pulling processes apart prompts discussions about how to fix them. Making people talk about what they do encourages them to “think through the process” and self-solve the problem, finding a better way. This is the sort of environment you want to foster – a collaborative forum where people find solutions together rather than ignoring the problem. And while you won’t solve all your issues immediately, you’ll at least start to find your way through them.
The next piece of work is to understand the capabilities of the systems you’ve invested in and whether existing features or simple modifications can accommodate your needs. Excel is not the enemy, however, when it’s used as a data store rather than an analysis tool it’s easy for a business to lose visibility of data that could be critical to decision making.
Start small with your reviews and tackle your issues one spreadsheet system at a time. Before you know it there will be a greater understanding of the processes critical to the business and more structured data available for analysis and decision making.
Do you need help to get your business processes and technology back on track? Contact Business System Alchemy for more information by clicking here.
The Alchemist comes to your courtesy of Ruxana D’Vine and Michael Meryment, specialists in matching business needs back to technology.