How you can improve services through design and modern software?

digital age
ID 94305978 © Wrightstudio |

Andrew Sandford, Director of We are Lean and Agile, explains how modern software can help you understand and improve your services in the digital age 

I agree with Grace Hopper that “the most dangerous phrase in any language is – we have always done it this way”. She was a truly inspirational person in early computing and accumulated 40 honorary degrees across her career. This phrase is also pivotal when looking at processes and service design in your own organisation and no doubt your business analysts will be busy removing these tasks and improving your processes.  

Something that happens less frequently within our improvement programmes is us actually looking at how we deliver improvement across the organisation. Agile and design thinking have come in and are delivering better ways of implementing solutions and of understanding our customer needs. Fundamentally, the way we have understood existing and designed new processes have not changed in many years. The process involves lots of workshops, sticky notes, write-ups, delays and transferring information from one format to another.  

With modern ICT services and Agile delivery, your process improvement approach also should be delivered in a user-centred efficient manner to ensure your business continues to thrive (or even exist).   

The legacy approach to improvement  

There is a standard way of understanding and improving processes through workshops. Often your analysts will host multiple workshops with stakeholder groups. During these workshops, your analysts capture processes and other information mainly with sticky notes, brown paper and flipcharts. These workshops are used to capture an understanding of the As Is process and opportunities for improvement. Following the workshops, your analysts need to find the time to write all this up and transfer the maps and ideas into other tools like Visio or a BPMN modeller and maybe Word and/or Excel. This takes a lot of time generally and delivers little value in terms of outcomes.  

Following the As Is work there may be a sign off process requiring a report, or the analysts may continue and produce a To Be version of the process. Ideally, the analysts work with the original stakeholders to redesign the process again utilising sticky notes etc during the workshops. Again, lengthy write-ups follow and more in terms of elapsed time. Following this, some manual work needs to be done to identify the benefits of change and potentially the business case for change.  

So, what are the issues with that? 

The first challenge with this process is how manual and time consuming it can be. With modern Agile delivery practices solutions can be delivered fast, time delays mean that not only are you achieving benefits slower but also that services may well have delivered some of the proposed improvements by the time you complete your improvement designs. You are also consuming a large amount of your analysts’ time in doing low-value transfer of data. 

If you have delivered the workshops with individual stakeholder groups from across the process only the analysts have studied and understood the end to end process, missing the opportunity to spread the knowledge.  

Stakeholder engagement and buy-in can be hampered by this process also. The sheer time to deliver an outcome disengages stakeholders. The processes the stakeholders mapped and the documentation that comes back to them after the workshops look completely different (e.g. sticky notes vs process maps). The traditional method can make it very much feel like something that is being done to us rather than with us.  

Most importantly, the benefits identified are calculated manually and have no real connection to the process maps themselves. This means the inevitable changes and updates in the designs need to be manually reflected across into the benefits. Benefits tend to be calculated at a high level as calculating the true cost of a process with often a hundred steps can be immensely complex. 

Finally, process maps are often done just for a project and are then shelved or left to get quickly out of date. Due to the stakeholder engagement issues, there is not much ownership in the business or use of the outcome process maps. The transition of the new service into live use can be more problematic if your stakeholders are not engaged in the change process. 

What can be improved about that? 

Processes and sticky note exercises can be captured and projected live in workshops saving the analysts 30-40% of their time not doing write-ups. 

Representatives of all stakeholders of the end to end process need to be in the workshops together to share understanding and identify more improvements.   

Processes can be shared for wider feedback and collaboration immediately after the workshops in the format the stakeholders are familiar with, this means more collaboration faster giving better quality outcomes. 

Process maps and models contain more than images of a process. Processing time, lead time, waiting time and fixed costs are captured in your maps along with a multitude of other statistics. This means you can calculate the cost of your As Is process and To Be versions and generate the benefits profile directly from your maps. This not only saves more analyst time but also gives an accurate benefits calculation and some powerful analysis tools to help identify improvements.  

Your ‘To Be’ process map can be published to a digital process handbook and feedback allowed to ensure maps are not thrown away at the end and also supporting the identification of more improvements supporting the continuous improvement cycle.  

The tools are so user-friendly that someone who has not done any process mapping can learn in a day and map like a pro. This enables process improvement to be embedded in the service areas and becomes part of the organisation culture as well as increasing ownership. There are many other benefits on top of these.   

Why don’t you already know about this?  

We have only been in the UK for a couple of years. The tools have been used in Holland for over 15 years and 33% of public sector use it over there. It is 50/50 split for users across the public/private sectors including some companies big and small, including Schiphol Airport, Bavaria Beer and the Dutch Post Office. We have over 30 predominantly public sector users in the UK including the City of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Exeter Councils. 

We have a free month’s trial, so the question has to be why would you not want to take a look?  

Please note: this is a commercial profile

Andy Sandford 


We are Lean and Agile 

Tel: +44 (0)1803 424 050 


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