Pursuing a Major Business Process Improvement: Reflecting on Who Needs to be Involved… and When
We’ve all heard the saying: It takes a village. In our case, it took a college. The point here is that in order for a business process improvement project to be successful, involvement from the entire organization is required. Involving the right people at the right time will be critical to move the project forward and obtain the institutional backing you need. In the end, it’s all about obtaining buy-in from the top all the way down to the functional office workers who actually do the work and everyone in between.
Some lessons learned along the way:
Establish an Executive Steering Committee
This committee should consist of the senior management of your organization. Our Executive Steering Committee consisted of area vice presidents, deans and other leaders from the campus community. The focus of this committee is to establish the goals and vision of the project and provide support needed to keep everything on track.
We found that this group should meet at least once quarterly in order to maintain situational awareness, progress and the ability to intervene when called upon. The Executive Steering Committee is also responsible for making large-scale decisions to drive the project forward or resolve major issues.
This committee should be established during the initiation process of the project or as early into it as possible. It is through the guidance and leadership of this committee that the goals, objectives, schedule and budget are identified and allocated, so assembling them early on is critical.
Establish an Operational Steering Committee
This was a critical committee and was installed with operational management; those who manage the resources doing the project work or responsible for those doing the operational work. The committee included associate deans, registrar, vice-provost, IT area managers, business analyst and the project manager. At times, others would be invited to join when specific topics were addressed, decisions made or issues resolved.
This group makes operational decisions, addresses scope changes and should meet one or two times monthly. Initially we met every other week. Once the project started to gain momentum, we switched to once monthly.
Like the executive committee, this one should also be established early on and should be flexible in membership. When a new process is started, committee members change. This group is operational and should be staffed with people who are either responsible for or directly impacted by the new process.
Establish a Showcase and Feedback Committee
This committee ended up being the most valuable to the project. This committee would meet once monthly and all other committees, stakeholders and project resources were invited to attend.
These sessions were designed to allow the development team to provide a structured overview of the work completed since the last session. The participants would all have an opportunity to ask questions, provide suggestions or give general feedback. Having everyone in the same room periodically to see what we were doing had great value in fine tuning items such as forms or workflow. An additional benefit was that these individuals were exposed to the delivered product while it was being developed. When it came time for testing and training, the individuals who would be relying on the delivered product to perform their job function were already exposed to it and required very minimal training.
This group should start meeting as soon as you have any tangible outputs from development. Remember the key to this committee was to expose them all to the new process as soon as possible and allowing everyone in the room hear what is being discussed, asked for or challenged. It is through these conversations in these settings where we really were able to get everyone on the same page and focused on the deliverable.
This group should consist of the operational staff that do the work. They are the ones that know how the process works today and are best suited to inform the team of where improvements can be made for the future. Outputs from this group are presented to the Operational Steering Committee to approve the new process and ensure alignment with scope, institutional goals and priorities as well as generally accepted best practices.
This group meets once weekly and includes the business analyst, quality assurance tester and project manager. Other stakeholders in this group consist of functional office workers, specialists, and occasionally development team members. Input and feedback from this group drives requirements for development, testing and acceptance criteria. Membership of this group was dynamic and would change depending on the specific workflow or process being redesigned.
We were VERY fortunate in that our project was staffed with a very experienced and dedicated development team. Our staffing consisted of three software developers, one business analyst, one quality assurance tester and a project manager. Other resources within IT were required to perform specific tasks. The core dedicated team was critical to our success. If you’re going to approach work like this with part-timers or individuals who have multiple competing priorities, you’ll never gain the momentum you need.
This is the team that made all the magic happen. A group of highly skilled and experienced technologists, each with a different discipline. In order for them to write the code, design the forms or configure the application, they needed very detailed specifications (requirements). These requirements were initially established within the working group, vetted by the operational steering committee and approved by the process owner(s) prior to starting any development. Despite our best efforts, the requirements can and should be expected to change as you start showcasing functionality to the stakeholders. You’ll need to keep the changes to a minimum or you’ll drive the development team crazy. Prepare to do a lot of “must have” vs. “nice to have” negotiating with the stakeholders.
At times, we also engaged with professional services organizations to fill in knowledge gaps or provide additional training to our staff. At our highest velocity, we were able to manage three separate processes simultaneously which was a great feat when you understand the size and limitations of our team!
Testing, Testing and more Testing
We cannot stress enough the importance of testing your solutions thoroughly. This involves including all stakeholders in the process being involved and knowing up front what is being tested, what are the desired outcomes and what is the criteria that will be used to designate that testing is successful and the solution can now be used in production.
Don’t expect this to be easy! User Acceptance Testing is going to drive change requests and feature enhancements. This is okay and to be expected. Taking an agile approach was very helpful to us. You will need to have a process in place to determine the priority, true need and value for accepting these requests. Conversely, for the changes that are not approved, it’s a good idea (and appreciated by the end users) if you maintain an enhancement log so that someday, if you have time, resources and budget, you can implement these changes and enhancements.
Implementing change in any organization is a challenge, and within academia, there is a general allergy to change that we needed to cure. You can go about change management in many ways, but what we found most effective was including the end users in the entire process, from requirements gathering to user acceptance testing and everything in between. This allows for people who are impacted to feel as though they have a seat at the table and a voice to be heard.
Getting their buy-in along the way—and putting the responsibility of user acceptance testing into their hands—allowed us to expose them early so they were comfortable with the new process before it was released. This made the transition easy. Intuitive design was critical as we didn’t have the luxury to reach out to every potential end user to train them. We needed to make the forms easy to use and the workflow processes as transparent as possible.
Clearly, we relied on many committees with each one having a distinct focus and responsibility and desired outputs to feed other committees and groups. This is quite a balancing act for any organization to take on, and in order for it to work, you are going to need to implement effective project management to keep everyone and everything on track. You are going to need a single individual who has intimate knowledge of how your organization works, and who knows what and how decisions are made. This individual will need to be skilled at engaging and managing deliverables and expectations from individuals above and below them in the enterprise hierarchy.
Coordination of activities, managing changes and keeping everyone on task is critical to success and having a single point of contact in the project that is responsible and accountable for these activities will increase your level of success.
You need to be prepared going into something like this that you’re going to have to juggle many conflicting priorities, coordinate resources that are already constrained with other work, communicating with multiple audiences with consistent messaging and sitting in a lot of meetings discussing, deciding and analyzing. It’s a tremendous amount of effort and you’re going to need a fully committed team to be successful.
This can and will be daunting, but you currently have the people, knowledge and skills available to do this; now it’s a matter of getting started and implementing positive change in your organization.
Check back for Part 3 of this series when we discuss establishing priorities.
Author Perspective: Administrator