With a former public sector background, Patrick Parker (Director at CGR Ltd) reflects on the benefits of bringing your process flow out of diagrams & policies into living collaborative systems
Process connects the flow of data, decision making and action between people – the lifeblood of any enterprise. Process wraps around every area of your governance: audit and compliance, risks and issues, incidents and investigations, disclosure and reporting. Therefore it is critical to control that process in a simple, consistent, auditable and reportable way.
And yet, in many cases, it can be none of those things. Your teams may be able to point to beautifully crafted Visio diagrams of process flows with return loops and deviation pathways. But how do you know whether your people have seen, understood, and followed them?
Need for consistency in the process flow
How can you be confident that the right sign-off and approvals have occurred? How can you trace process history to see what was added, changed, or approved, when and by who? Without guaranteed consistency in the process flow, how can you compare the status of various records on a like-for-like basis, so that you can see at a glance how many actions are active or overdue or be confident that an action was verified before closure? If you depend on use of standard office applications for process management, there are impacts. You probably rely on hope that your processes are being followed, administration effort is higher, and data confidence can be lower. Your teams can end up in a quagmire of manual data checking, communication, and comparison to generate a picture in PowerPoint that is inevitably incomplete and lagging – hardly an ideal foundation for decision-making. I have led teams facing this dynamic in a former public sector life! They end up drowning in the ‘what’ when you need them to be helping with the ‘so what’.
Are the processes right?
And are the processes right in any case? Those Visio diagrams might be the output of consultancy where output was measured by volume and complexity. On the other hand, they might result from the extended internal debate and compromise between departments. Either way, when existing processes are lifted out of diagrams or documents and mapped into a live system, where users navigate the process using buttons based on roles and permissions, the reaction can sometimes be “that’s too complex”. In reality, the system is simply shining a light on something over-complex by design – and hidden because it wasn’t being followed. A drawing can present well in theory, but the lived experience will quickly expose unnecessary complexity.
Procuring a management system
When procuring a management system, look past the front-end gloss to the process flow – how it appears to your users, and how it is built and adjusted. This will be the arterial structure of your system once deployed to your enterprise. It should clearly and simply allow you to identify all the states in which a process can exist throughout its lifecycle from the cradle to the grave, and let you define how to transition between those states. It should allow you to restrict access to those transitions for specific users, giving you complete control and consistency in how the process flows.
It should enable the history of those transitions to be clearly displayed, giving you an audit history of the process flow and approvals. It should allow those transitions to be data entry/edit points for specified fields, giving you control over when data is adjusted and by who. Finally, it should allow those transitions to trigger email notifications, reducing the administrative burden on your teams.
In-house process control
The process flow should be something your system admin users can configure and edit in-house. It would help if you were not dependent on the vendor for changes. For example, you aren’t reliant on Microsoft Support when editing a master PowerPoint slide – you should expect the option for in-house self-help when implementing your processes in a management system. The workflow should be so easy to adjust by designated system admin users that non-technical staff can learn it within hours, and so quick to adjust that it can be tweaked and tested in live workshops. That will give you the agility to work out if a process in the Visio diagram withstands the reality of users being made to follow it.
You will need to strike a balance. There will always be a need for some top-down control when creating and applying a process. Equally, the adage about footpaths on new developments also applies – don’t lay the paths until you’ve seen where the grass has been trodden down. There is an element of needing to see how your users interact with a process before you launch it. A system with genuinely agile workflows will let you strike this balance well.
Once you have lifted your processes out of diagrams and documents into a living and collaborative system environment, inconsistency is simply not an option. Benefits then appear. You have a live picture of exactly which records are in what state at any given moment – giving you accuracy for decision-making, and efficiency by avoiding manual email chasing and PowerPoint creation. You have an audit history of process flow and approvals, which makes due diligence straightforward. You have transparency in a collaborative environment which enhances stakeholder relationships. You have automated notifications that further reduce the administrative burden on your teams – giving them back more time to help with the ‘so what’.
Foundation of governance areas
This ability to control processes clearly and simply, ideally with an engaging interface, should be the foundation of any number of governance areas – audit and compliance, risks and issues, incidents and investigations, disclosure and reporting. Process connects the flow of data, decision making and action between people – the lifeblood of any enterprise. Therefore, processes should be based on more than a Visio diagram and hope.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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