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Podcast Season 3 Episode 3 – Business Process Management, Improvement, and Automation – The Process

April 09, 2020 | BY: Neosystems
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In this episode we as the question, I want to improve and automate, now what? Find out more about how to prepare for automation as well as the process such as creating project charters, workflow workshops, process information gathering, requirements documentation, and change management across the entirety of an engagement.

Transcript

Erin Keating:
Welcome to Neocast. Join us each week as we discuss challenges in government contracting, strategies and solutions for your businesses. We’ll dive into managed IT, cyber security, workforce advancement, and much, much more. Sharing is caring and we’ve got top-shelf advice to help you navigate today’s biggest challenges. Let’s get to it.

Erin Keating:
Okay. Welcome back everybody to season three of Neocast. This season we are talking to expert Marty Herbert, who is the Practice Lead for Business Process Improvement and Change Management within NeoSystems. Marty, welcome back.

Marty Herbert:
Thanks, Erin.

Erin Keating:
Thank you. So we’ve already hit some topics here, episode one and two covering the basics. Going into a little bit more about what tools you can be thinking about. In this particular episode, we talked about wanting to go into what are the next steps, how do we prepare for automation now? How do we gather the information and documents required for doing this type of work? How do we roll out automation to employees? Thinking about pilots and training and all sorts of things. So I know we’ve got quite a lot to cover in this particular episode and we’re excited that in episode four we’re actually going to bring on an additional colleague of yours to further talk about all of this. I’m very much looking forward to that. But let’s go ahead and dive in today to catch people up on what we need to be looking at next.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah, definitely.

Erin Keating:
So, again, last time we talked about business process improvement and management and automation, we talked about what it looks like and how things are changing from a work perspective right now. What else have you seen and heard that seems to be driving business process improvement at this particular time?

Marty Herbert:
It’s been kind of crazy. Really we’ve had a lot of conversations, especially over the last, I’d say two, three weeks, where really when we start to talk to some prospective clients and things like that and really just things that aren’t reading, whether LinkedIn, or pick your favorite social media. What we’re hearing a lot of now and reading a lot of now is that people are doing work in a way to just make it work. And I’m hearing that a lot.

Erin Keating:
I bet.

Marty Herbert:
And so, why is it that you’re doing it that way? “Well I have to make it work. I have to make it work. I have to get it done, I have to get it done.” Most recently, actually talked to a payroll manager about a process that she’s following and she was talking about how it’s all set up. And really what is it that you’re doing? And it really just made my mouth drop. She said, “I don’t know how it’s all set up. All I know is that I have to do something a certain way to make sure that everyone gets paid.”

Erin Keating:
Goodness gracious. My layman’s mind says, “Yep, I’ve heard that before. I’ve said that before.” But particularly for the work that you do, what is so troubling about statements like that?

Marty Herbert:
Well, it really highlights what I’ve seen as an overarching, common theme from a lot of different areas. People are ready to do what they have to do. Look at our situation right now. Everybody’s ready to do what needs to be done to get the job done. And I totally get that. It’s a great and noble concept. But, with a lot of the industries that we deal with, things like a GovCon, healthcare, especially healthcare right now. But you think about those areas of business that need to keep some level of compliance and that kind of thing. When someone says, “Well, I just have to do it in a way that makes sure it gets done”, that flies in the face of efficiency, effectiveness, that kind of thing. And it just makes it so that it’s that much more difficult to know what it is you’re doing.

Erin Keating:
Right. And nevermind compliance with any kind of regulations that are out there in your industry. So, what does that matter to your worker that’s in the trenches? If they do things the right way, if they’re just getting things done?

Marty Herbert:
For those people that are down in the trenches, those that are doing the work, it doesn’t really matter, but it does. So human capital in general, just people in general are focused on getting the job done. And really, as a manager, as an executive, that’s what you want. You want people to get the job done. However…

Erin Keating:
Productivity. Being productive.

Marty Herbert:
Exactly.

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
Exactly. Exactly.

Erin Keating:
We measure productivity. Yep.

Marty Herbert:
Right. Right. Every time you turn around it’s how productive are you? How billable are you? How much are you serving the client and those types of things. And it’s great, but as you move up in the organization, you start to serve two masters. You start looking at, “Well great, I got to get it done.” But you also have to get it done effectively. Get it done efficiently, get it done making profit. And you run the risk of really getting shut down if you’re not compliant. You run the risk of just spending too much if you’re inefficient, if you’re ineffective. It just makes it overall harder to run the business in a way where people are just “trying to get things done.”

Erin Keating:
So I know that we’re not necessarily focusing on compliance today and it’s a little tangential to what we’re talking about, but at the same time when you hear stuff like this, what should someone considering business process improvement do with this information?

Marty Herbert:
You’re right. It’s tangential. It really is beside the point, but it also is the point all at the same time. Because there’s compliance, and people have highly regulated industry, but at the same time, whether you’ve got compliance issues, or not, regulatory issues or not, you still have to be in a system for your business and your business processes where you are in control, where you are effective. And from a corporate mindset, you just have to have a system that works.

Marty Herbert:
And it really should be in that same conversation again, regardless of the regulatory burden. Part of my background, I’m former DCAA, and those who are in GovCon who are listening, take that for what it’s worth. But, I would hear something like, “Oh well I was just getting it done.” And the first thing that would come into my auditor brain at the time was, “You have an internal control problem.”

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
So from a business process improvement perspective, it really overarches things like this. We ask more questions and that’s really the first step or improving upon any process is to start asking those questions.

Erin Keating:
Well and it’s interesting because, we talk about compliance a lot and I know that I’ve been in companies before where the flip side of it is people will also say, “I’m just doing this because I have to be in compliance.” And you should be in compliance. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take efficiency as seriously, right? So, I’m sure you’ve seen that situation a lot of times where it’s like, “Well, we just have to do this because this is how compliance works.” And compliance doesn’t necessarily equal efficiency.

Marty Herbert:
Right.

Erin Keating:
But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be efficient while you’re being compliant. Right?

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. The opposite is absolutely true too. You can absolutely be too controlled and too compliant and too locked down and too prescriptive in the way you do things. I always look at a process when I’m going in to talk to a client and I’m like, “Look, if we’re going to improve this process, we’re going to get it about 90% right.”

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
Because you can’t get to 100%. Honestly, you don’t want to get to 100%. Because if you do 100%, if that’s your goal, you’re not going to get there, number one. And number two, if you get there, if by some chance you do get there, you’re then going to constrain your employees to the point where, “Well why do you do it this way?”

Marty Herbert:
“Because it’s the way we do it.”

Marty Herbert:
So, then you’re focused on how you do it, not actually getting it done. So there is a fine balance there. Absolutely.

Erin Keating:
Right. And I’m sure with your government contracting clients, our government’s not necessarily known for efficiency. So just because they are putting out regulations, their job isn’t necessarily to think about how efficient their requirements are. Their job is to make sure that they are protective of things that should be protected. And we can all argue back and forth about how often we think they’re doing that right.

Erin Keating:
But regardless, when a company is receiving regulations or compliance measures that they have to follow, I would imagine there’s still a lot of room in there for companies to be innovative and thoughtful about their processes to be sure that yes, they’re in compliance but doing it efficiently. So you mentioned that this is the first step of many in improving your processes. How many?

Marty Herbert:
In terms of the number of steps there are in the process and asking questions and things. Again, first step, ask questions. And it’s about striking that balance and really it’s like this podcast, right? So you think about where we started with this and as we get into a topic we’re going to dig in. We dig into the topic until we think we’ve covered it and then we start back on the next episode and dig a bit deeper. I’ve heard it called an onion and peeling back the layers, or whatever, but there’s always more to find out.

Marty Herbert:
So what we do when we approach a business process improvement project is again, using Lean Six Sigma standpoint. We start with something like process mapping, get acquainted with how the high level process looks. Then we go quick. NeoSystems is all about trying to go through that high level quickly, so we can capture the main points of the process, get moving forward. Then surprise, surprise, we circle back and go deeper.

Marty Herbert:
Once we have the high level, we map that out. We then go from beginning to end, beginning to end, beginning to end. And we just keep going back through iteratively, probably three or four times honestly. And that way, we keep going next level down just with a process map. And really, again that’s all about asking questions beginning to end and keep going through that cycle until we get to, “Okay now we know what that process looks like and now we can start to dig into it a little bit more.”

Erin Keating:
It’s so interesting that we have been talking on several different fronts, not only through this podcast, but for sure me in other situations. And thinking through analogous situations. A lot of design thinking talks about analogous situations. How often are you seeing something in one area that you can transfer onto a different problem and think about it differently?

Erin Keating:
And as you were saying this, I was thinking about a lot of the new psychological therapies that they’re working with PTSD. This is completely an aside guys. Sorry, but this is what makes this podcast interesting I think every once in a while.

Marty Herbert:
Definitely.

Erin Keating:
But in PTSD, I think there’s a new therapy, I want to say it’s called EMDR, but part of how they work through PTSD is exactly that. So they start with, can you remember back to a moment? And then they make you repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it until you get down to the core of what it is that’s actually causing the psychological disruption.

Erin Keating:
And this seems very analogous to what you guys are doing when you’re looking at a process and you’re trying to get down to the core of what really needs to change here to be more efficient and effective. It’s repeat, repeat, repeat, so that it can continue to reveal, reveal, reveal around the inefficiencies. Am I reading that right in how you were talking about that?

Marty Herbert:
That’s absolutely right. And it really is about the repetition of hearing the same thing, even when you are describing your process to me. Sometimes, I’ll hear the same thing three or four times and I’ll get something just a little bit different out of it every time. But the funny part is, so will you.

Erin Keating:
Exactly.

Marty Herbert:
A lot of the time you’ll be describing the same step for the fourth time and wondering number one, wondering why am I describing this for the fourth time?

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
Then all of a sudden it goes, “Wait a second, I forgot about this one thing.”

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
And that’s why we do it that way. That’s why we go through it. And even as we get from questions to requirements and into designing and building systems and those types of things, it’s still that constant feedback loop of iterative steps of the process and iterative design and iterative build, to make sure that we are getting each piece of the process.

Marty Herbert:
Again, not trying to go so restrictive in the process that you can’t do it any other way than this. You have to remain flexible, but to be able to strike that balance between compliance and getting it done.

Erin Keating:
Now you’ve used the word requirements a few times. Tell me a little bit about what that is in the process. How does that fit in?

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. So requirements really just guide the whole thing, right? So we ask questions so we can get down to process and requirements. Requirements, again, guiding principle of what business process improvement really is. It’s the documentation of what the process needs to do and how it needs to happen. And really it’s widely different from what actually happens when it actually comes down to nuances or the process and stuff. But it’s requirements, it’s documentation.

Erin Keating:
So tell me a little bit more about that. How is that different?

Marty Herbert:
Well, the difference is people, right? So if you hand 10 different people in any department, the steps of a process, and you say, “Here, this is what we need to do.” They’re going to each interpret that just a little bit different, right? So the difference really is people. So maybe a requirement is something like the process needs to be that we pay our bill in a timely manner. That’s requirement. We have to pay bills in a timely manner. We also know that it has to get posted to the right account and the accounting system.

Marty Herbert:
And the fun part is again, that same general requirement, given to multiple people, it can be done in multiple ways, to ensure that it happens actually in practice, in your business, as it’s moving and as things are happening. So we could have a process participant who needs to know the code to post the payment against, or maybe the system can automatically figure out how that happens. Or maybe it’s the responsibility of someone else who’s more knowledgeable.

Marty Herbert:
So anybody could be responsible for making sure that it gets coded correctly. Anybody could be responsible for making sure that it gets paid. Anybody can be responsible for making sure it gets paid timely. So it’s the pieces of the process and the people in the process that actually make the process work. Sometimes that is also paired with systems, but it’s really about the people.

Erin Keating:
Aha, okay. So I think I’m getting a better picture here. So tell me a little bit about what normal process improvement engagements play out. How do they play out? What do they look like?

Marty Herbert:
So I mentioned, I’m in the process mapping and that’s usually happening right up front. So from a NeoSystems perspective we start out with workshops. And the word itself is played out. Workshops is, “Oh we’re going to have another workshop”, and, “Oh we’re going to have another meeting.” We’re all experiencing virtual meeting overload now. But we start out with process mapping because again, it’s important to understand not just for us to understand, but also for our customers, our clients to understand what that looks like. And, call it a workshop, call it a working session, call it a process deep dive, whatever it is. We start out with the high level and then we dig down lower. So, part one, get through the high level.

Marty Herbert:
Part two, what information and data is needed within each step? So, that’s the next level down. Then the next level below that is, “Okay, great. We know what data, we know what the process looks like, who needs to be involved?” Then from there, once we know the who and the what and what this process looks like, that’s really where we turn our attention to figuring out what the future state of this process needs to look like. Right?

Marty Herbert:
So we know what it looks like now. We also know where the pain points are. Because even before all of this, even before the workshop start, most of our engagements start with somebody calling up and saying, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I’ve got pain. There are issues with my process.”

Erin Keating:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Marty Herbert:
So we start talking about timing. We start talking about elapsed time between steps in a process. We figure out how to make sure people are doing what needs to be done. So you think about what we’ve talked about before. When everybody wants to get things done, that’s great, but now you’re relying on everybody to do it either the same way, or as effectively as the next person.

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
Whether it’s keeping a list or keeping a to-do sheet, or maybe it’s tasks and outlook or whatever. But whether it’s through alerts, reminders, escalations, those types of things. We talk about that as part of the process. And once we know about the process, so we’re talking the who, the what, the when, the where, the how, then we make a recommendation on how it’s all going to be accomplished.

Marty Herbert:
A lot of the time it’s going to involve some sort of process automation. That’s the way that we are starting to see working more and more and more. Through process automation, through a tool set that we use. Sometimes it’s just as simple as training someone. Making adjustments, training somebody, getting a system set up a certain way, that kind of thing.

Erin Keating:
I’m just wondering if you’re available for household chore process automation. I’m just thinking that this entire thing feels like this would help my family, especially in this time of lockdown. That if you could just come over here and evaluate our processes, for instance, for getting the dishwasher loaded. I feel like I’d love to see your diagram on how do we need to go through it. Because I have a theory and I don’t have my charges here following my process.

Marty Herbert:
I dare you and everybody listening to Google process automation at home.

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
And see what that looks like. I’ve seen some really funny memes out there about…

Erin Keating:
I bet.

Marty Herbert:
… what that looks like. But yeah. And it’s funny because it’s fun.

Erin Keating:
Yeah.

Marty Herbert:
For me, I start to think about everything as a process. It has its advantages sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
But it really is how do I do things better and that kind of thing. And constant improvement. Constant improvement.

Erin Keating:
Yeah. Exactly. Well, I again, I might need to hire you, just come over to the house and I dare wonder what your household looks like when you’re running chores. I think it’s probably a very efficient, but yeah, I would love to have that in my house. But speaking about process automation, do you have a recommendation for it?

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. So, at NeoSystems we use a tool called Integrify. It’s workflow automation. It works well across a lot of different use cases. And we’ve also helped clients implement workflows in their systems specifically, whether it’s already built into a system that they have. SharePoint has some, that kind of thing. But, whether it’s in the system that they have, or whether it’s a tool set that we bring along with us.

Marty Herbert:
Even sometimes it can be that… I chuckle a little bit when I think about what I call a quasi manual process. So, “Well yeah we do electronic processing.” And then I hear that that electronic processing is I send an email to somebody who has an attachment to it. So yeah, see it’s electronic.

Erin Keating:
Yeah.

Marty Herbert:
So for all of that, there usually is a tool that can help. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to solve everything. But yeah, we definitely work across tools, but specifically we usually bring Integrify with us to help solve a lot of the work flow automation pieces.

Erin Keating:
It’s so funny that you say that about outlook, and I won’t name names, not that I think this person will listen. But I recently heard a slightly older gentlemen who was working in a business. And his process for getting, a PDF essentially, is that he goes to a Word document, he prints it out and then he scans it back into his computer.

Marty Herbert:
Oh, wow.

Erin Keating:
And I said to the person who was telling me this story, I said, “Well, why didn’t you just teach them how to print it, save it as a PDF?” And he said, “I just didn’t want to embarrass him.” And I said, “But he’s printing out a document from Microsoft Word, scanning it back in computer.”

Marty Herbert:
Right.

Erin Keating:
And the problem was, the reason this was found out is because he couldn’t figure out where it was saving to when it was scanning.

Marty Herbert:
Oh, wow. Wow.

Erin Keating:
So yeah, people out there listening, you may have a process, but I’m just telling you, it may need to be looked at. We might be killing trees unnecessarily.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah.

Erin Keating:
Simply because there’s a thing called save as a PDF that would help you out. So, yeah.

Marty Herbert:
And electronic processes doesn’t mean it just happens…

Erin Keating:
Right.

Marty Herbert:
… on an electronic tool. Yeah.

Erin Keating:
Exactly. Exactly. Right. Well this all sounds like a lot of fun, at least for a brain like mine, because I love process and efficiency. But it also sounds a little bit scary. How do you manage change through all of this?

Marty Herbert:
Change is all around us right now. Everybody’s thinking about it with COVID 19 and all of that. There’s a lot of changes going on. And the whole topic is great, and it’s really deep. So this is where it can completely unravel, really what this session would become. So probably better for another session. Actually one of my teammates, Christy. She actually heads up our Change Management Practice at Neo. She and I actually talked recently and overall thought process around what change is, how that fills in, really an entire episode of what we’re doing here, and what that looks like.

Marty Herbert:
Especially in terms of what we’re experiencing now. And just from, again, the human aspect of it, her background is HR and that kind of thing. So it does come from a change management, from a people perspective, which is really, especially right now, the farther apart we are, the more we have to remember and realize that that’s the case.

Erin Keating:
Absolutely. Well, I really look forward to catching up with you and Christy on the next episode then, to talk through that. And as we’re having this whole conversation, I can’t help but think how many people I’m going to share this episode with who may not even be looking at their business processes. But you’re right. A lot of this, again, I use that word analogous, how analogous it is to the fact that we’re all having to make some major changes in our processes right now and perhaps putting on our Lean Six Sigma hats and thinking through it might help us actually better arrange our days and our schedules and our new routine, and what the new world looks like now post-COVID.

Erin Keating:
And then furthermore or listen in when Christy talks, just a little bit, about how to manage that change. Because I think again, we can always learn from different places in ways in which they’re managing things like that. The stress of a change in an organization is likely very similar to the stresses that we’re all experiencing now, even if they’re very different in emotionality, they’re probably still a lot mechanically the same. And so I look forward to connecting with you two next on episode four to talk through change management. Thanks so much for this particular conversation and all of the insights. I think this is going to be super helpful for tons of people. And look forward to talking to you next time.

Marty Herbert:
Absolutely. Thanks Erin.

Erin Keating:
The NeoSystems difference. We specialize in serving organizations of all sizes. In today’s fiercely competitive market, is your organization constantly searching for ways to gain the advantage over competitors? Smart organizations are paying more attention to their strategic back office operations. NeoSystems offers scalable back office services and solutions to improve your organization with a team of industry experts, industry leading information technology tools and an advanced technical infrastructure.

Erin Keating:
From software hosting and security solutions to managed accounting services, NeoSystems custom builds solutions and services that are tailored to fit your organization’s needs. Check us out on the internet at neosystemscorp.com. That’s neosystemscorp.com.

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