How we do it...
I. Propose the Opportunity,
A. Initial consultation
We believe in the saying that - - "Prescription before Diagnosis is against the law."
Because we have already developed solutions for a wide variety of problems, very often we are asked to provide a solution for a problem we have yet to diagnose.
While we fully understand your interest in saving money and reaching solutions as quickly as possible, our experience has proven without a doubt that unless you undertake a thorough analysis, our pre-built solutions will not solve your problems correctly and efficiently.
Like a finger print, every company is unique. If that were not the case, your company would not survive.
And while everyone's fingerprints are similar, no two are exactly the same. Our history has been that every solution we provide, no matter how similar the problems are, must be customized to each individual client's environment.
During the Initial Consultation, we focus on defining the opportunity.
Our goal is to:
- quickly identify your primary problems, needs, concerns, wants and wishes,
- find ways of meeting the project objectives effectively,
- check if the proposed way forward is feasible, and
- understand the risks and opportunities associated with each potential option.
B. Need Definition
Because we are sensitive to the perception that most projects are not completed "on time" or "on budget", we are very careful to spend as much time as is needed to correctly identify your needs.
While this can usually occur in the first meeting, occasionally, additional meetings are required to insure that we fully understand your needs.
We do not charge fees for these initial consultations.
C. Commissioned "Blue-print"
Once we are both comfortable that a goal and objective can be defined, then you determine whether your company would like to move forward with a the creation of a detailed "blue-print" of the solution.
Our next step is to plan, design, and develop Models of the options available.
II. Plan, Design and Present
All projects/processes convert resource efforts - inputs - and tasks - work to be done - into deliverable end product - outputs.
In today's business environment, this "Value Add" is typically achieved by carrying out a sequence of several discrete steps or tasks - - one at a time or in parallel.
While these tasks may be carried out within one department or span several different departments, it is not always easy to determine the specific costs applicable to each discrete task.
Our workflow analysis uses Activity Based Costing (ABC) techniques to identify both the costs and their underlying cost drivers for each task.
The Resource requirements of each individual task item are analyzed in a series of data gathering exercises and interviews with operational managers.
Although a variety of measurement methods can be used, in most instances, we conduct interviews with the personnel executing each task area.
The Information gathered from these interviews is used to gain an overall view of the work breakdown structure of the main tasks in any process.
This data is then reconciled against any established benchmarks within the workgroup or department being analyzed.
Our goal is to identify those cost drivers for each resource required to support a task to completion.
Wherever possible, we apply workflow volumes from historical data, and we validate the preliminary workflow cost model against either:
- Historical cost accounts for known input periods, or
- A reference period for which workflow volumes and defined total costs are available.
Constructing workflow reference models allow us to determine appropriate cost drivers per task.
By analyzing each activity type we can determine the suitability of each task area for automation.
This provides a starting point for evaluating workflow re-engineering options.
B. Identify Existing Workflow Costs
Hopefully, existing workflow costs are documented in the company's management accounting system.
If so, a suitable reference period is selected.
The Criteria for a "suitable" reference period are:
Work processed during the period is broadly representative of the anticipated or average work-mix for the areas being analyzed.
Although it is unlikely that any period selected will consist of an average work-mix across all areas, we try to avoid any period that has a distinctly abnormal mix of work in any task area.
Both accounting data and work measurement statistics (even if only at a high level) must be available for the period.
General levels of processing are neither at a seasonal peak or in a seasonal trough for any of the process areas being examined.
The period selected is recent, reflecting process and resource costs that are close to today's input costs for each resource type.
Obviously, the selection of a reference period affects the results obtained from a workflow model.
However, it is not always possible for the companies we analyze to provide accurate nor timely information.
In those situations, we substitute "synthetic" costs based upon our extensive experience analyzing "peer" groups performing the same types of projects and providing comparable deliverables.
C. Identify Workflow Cost Drivers
Every effort is made to identify both the primary cost drivers and the inputs which determine those costs to make the workflow reference model as realistic and scaleable as possible.
Most tasks in the workflow reference model will have a primary cost driver, i.e. a resource cost that causes the total cost to vary.
The items that drive costs are:
- Space costs for people, equipment and storage,
- Salary costs (driven by Full Time Employee staff (FTE) requirements) or
- Other overhead costs (expenses and materials) applicable to a specific workgroup or department.
D. Validate Departmental / Workgroup Resource Usage
The departmental or workgroup resource usage is normally validated by carrying out a departmental or workgroup process walk-through and audit.
The objective of this exercise is to ensure that all resource input elements consumed by a department or workgroup are catalogued against the business process and can be costed.
The initial activity in conducting a departmental audit is to do a walk-through of the main work process being performed by each group.
The walk-through typically involves the section or team leader for the specific group.
The main objectives of the walk through are to identify:
- The Types, Sources and Volumes of work-items that flow into the group being studied.
- The Timing and Logistics of work item delivery into the group:
- time of day/week/month that work items are delivered,
- size of delivery unit (batches, single work items etc.).
- The Work Time content of each work item being delivered (e.g. how many items could one person complete in an hour/day/week).
- The Main Tasks undertaken and decisions taken with regard to the work items flowing into the group.
- The Scope of elapsed time for work items to be processed through the workgroup.
- The Filing Systems that have to be maintained within the group under scrutiny.
- The Data Processing Systems queried, updated and/or used to trigger further action within the group.
- The Equipment and Office Space used to support or house the group's activities.
Our departmental audit forms are designed to catalog the department or workgroup's main task areas, resource utilization (people, equipment and space), document flow and processing volumes (input volumes and output volumes).
The Notes section typically contains a brief process description and the details of specific work logistics and any comments as to common problems/business challenges experienced in the area.
In summary, participating in a process walk through and completing the departmental audit allows us to undertake more detailed study of the individual job functions and the detailed tasks and sub-tasks that are performed by departmental staff.
The overview gained here can also act as a valuable cross check when talking to staff.
It can often be found that the overview omits important details of the work process that can only be discovered by talking to staff actually performing the tasks.
E. Determine Job Roles, Main Tasks and Sub Task Activities
The primary analysis activity driving the construction of a Workflow Reference Model is the determination of Job Roles, Main Tasks and Sub Task Activities that are needed to convert work into deliverables.
Our Job Analysis worksheet is completed for each identified job role within the target analysis areas.
The Analysis Worksheet tracks the following items:
a) Interview Number:
We use a numbering scheme to identify each sequence of interviews and a master list of required interviews is established prior to the execution of the analysis phase.
This ensures that all interviews are conducted and provides a checklist of progress.
b) Interview Details:
The interviewer, interviewee, Department or workgroup name, job or role title and staff grade are all required inputs.
c) Number of People (Resources performing the same job/role):
This field contains the details of the number of people that are performing the same job or role within the interviewee's workgroup or department.
We specify the scope (Workgroup, Department, Company etc.) of this answer so it tallies with the departmental or workgroup scope identified in the interview details section.
We also indicate whether data collected in this input box pertains to full time or part time staff.
It is assumed that staff being interviewed are full time staff.
However, if the staff-member is part time this will be clearly indicated and the FTE value of their peer group as well as the total headcount is entered.
It is important to note that the study should capture all task data to do with the workflow, it may become apparent during the interview sessions that not all work tasks are being captured by the planned interview campaign.
The completeness of the analysis is a fundamental requirement, and therefore omission of any task area is a serious flaw.
Where such an omission is discovered it is vital that steps are taken to rectify the flaw and include further interview sessions to capture missing task information.
To ensure that all tasks are captured and the inputs and outputs of each main job task are reconciled with knowledge of the process gained from the process walk through.
We are aware of and careful to solicit requirements for "maintenance" or other infrequently performed tasks such as file purging etc. which may consume considerable resources, but be overlooked if a daily/weekly/monthly task cycle is being analyzed
Main Job Tasks: The main job tasks section has several input requirements
(1) Main Job Task Description:
The main job task description is succinct but needs to adequately describe the primary work objective of the main job task.
Typically the description consists of an action verb to indicate what is being done and an object noun to indicate what is the input work item.
Examples of main job tasks are:
- Write Project Summary (PS),
- Request Schedule from Traffic Manager,
- Request Estimate from Production Manager,
- Create New Job in Database,
- Create Estimate,
- Create New Job Folder,
- Create Schedule,
- Approve Schedule,
- Email Estimate to Client with Cover Note,
- Contact Client to Answer Questions,
- Deliver Schedule to Client,
- Have Client Sign Estimate.
It is important to recognize that not all main task processing requirements will originate in a documented workflow - time spent answering telephone calls, purging/maintaining filing systems or updating work statistics are equally valid tasks that are also considered.
The frequency of each main job task reflects the number of times that the main job task has to be performed within a specified duration period, durations are hours, days, weeks, months, etc..
When possible, we also collect the details of the volume of work item deliverables (forms, faxes, emails, estimates, memos, project summaries) that are processed routinely per period.
(3) Duration/% of Time:
Duration can be expressed in two ways, either as a total time spent on the task during a typical working cycle in hours and minutes, or as a percentage of the total cycle.
In some circumstances a useful "cross check" can be achieved by asking for both inputs.
While percentage breakdown analysis of the working day is easier to complete for some people.
Our experience shows that it is better to solicit a time based figure in most instances - this is due to the fact that ease of reconciling to 100% of daily work time usually means that tasks are overlooked.
Total time taken to complete the main tasks should tally with some expectation of daily working hours.
As noted above tasks that occur less frequently should also be factored in.
For example, jobs which occur on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis should be a factor in the creation of the "average" working day.
It is also important to find out what the ratio of working to non-working days is for each staffmember (due to holidays, training courses, expected sickness etc.).
Interview technique prior to the interview:
- It is often useful before conducting an interview to spend some time observing the interviewee at work.
- This is best accomplished by sitting with the interviewee for a period of time and observing both them and the general work environment.
- This activity is useful to form an impression of activities involved in the tasks, how busy staff are, and what the general flow of work is.
F. Analyze and Classify Sub Task Activities
Main tasks are the steps that result in some concrete output deliverable into the process flow, i.e. "data entry and validation of application details" results in the computer being updated and input data being checked.
Sub tasks are the logical sequence of actions that are typically followed in order to perform a main task.
The objective of studying sub-task actions is to classify the types of actions required to achieve performance of a main task and to analyze the input labor content of the main task to support process impact modeling.
The analysis of main tasks into sub-tasks or discrete actions is intended to give an insight into the mechanics of the process under investigation.
Although the allocation of time to tasks is largely subjective it is justified where analytical results are needed quickly.
Requirements for precision in the analysis of work is safeguarded by ensuring that some direct process observation does take place and that process inputs and outputs can be reconciled.
Data regarding expected throughputs or hourly/daily output for each main task area is also used to validate subjective work breakdown.
The examination of sub-tasks is conducted after the main tasks have been identified for each job role.
Sub task analysis is carried out after the main tasks for each job role have been catalogued.
Main tasks are sorted into workflow order and analyzed in turn.
By doing this, the logical flow is used to generate additional questions and any ambiguity or omission in task or sub-task flow is identified at an early stage.
Sub task analysis work analysis steps are as follows:
a) Task Breakdown:
(1) For each main task in flow order (where possible), we enter the task name on the sub task sheet.
(2) Note each sub task or activity that is performed in order to complete the main task, be sure to capture all data.
(3) If there is a conditional branch in the workflow, capture the decision criteria, find out the proportion of the work split, and continue down the workflow for the main branch.
(4) After completing the main branch workflow, return to the point of any conditional workflow split and document the subsidiary branches.
(5) The objective is to uncover local task work content directly triggered by the workflow.
(6) When the main workflow based activities have been catalogued, ask whether the main task area or any sub task introduces a requirement for maintenance activities or is subject to external influences.
b) Classification of work:
The work classification for each sub task is divided into seven described work types and a catch all "Other" classification.
The seven work classifications are:
This covers all reading activity, wherever the information being read is coming from.
It therefore covers activities such as "Read Data from Application Form", "Read Policy Number on Screen" etc.
This covers all drawing and writing activities.
It therefore covers activities where information has to be written down form one system to be later input into another, or equally situations where a letter is being drafted.
Where possible note the type of transcription in the sub-task description or in the work classification box.
This covers all keying activity where information has to be keyed into a computer system, typewriter or calculator.
The sub task description should describe what information is being keyed.
This covers all activities where documents are being transported.
If work items are batched prior to transport the batch quantity should be declared so that the time taken per work item can be calculated.
Transport tasks include tasks such as "Take for referral", "Deliver to File Area", "deliver to secretary", "Bring back from File area" etc..
Movement of documents around the desktop would not typically be described as a transport activity, although substantial time may be spent here. (See File).
It is normally necessary to gauge the dedicated mailroom and delivery effort, although this might be outside of the workflow under consideration.
Filing activities encompass any activity that involves placement of documents into file folders, diary systems, managed in-trays or just about any location that could be considered a holding location (desk drawers, filing cabinets, out trays etc.).
Filing effort is often underestimated because people do not think of their desk or more specifically their desk-top as a filing facility.
(6) Call (Telephone)
In many organizations anything less than a telephone per desk would be considered unacceptable.
Although talking and listening on the telephone can be combined with simultaneous keying of data or reading of information from computer screens or case documents, there will be an element of set-up time needed to initiate or accept the call and an element of time needed to terminate the conversation.
These times should be noted, as should the overall number of solicited (outbound) and unsolicited (inbound) telephone calls taken during a normal day.
For unsolicited inbound calls some indication of the disruption caused to work-in-progress should be included in the time taken to process the call.
It is anticipated that most sub tasks will be completely classifiable in the context of the seven work type classifications, the "other" work classification should only be used where this is not possible and a classification of the work done under "other" should be included.
G. Develop Required Deliverables
Data collected during the analysis phase is input into a series of Models:
- Presentation Outline (Powerpoint Slide show),
- Project Management Outline (WBS),
- Network Schedule (PERT Chart),
- Cost/Benefit Analysis (Excel Spreadsheet)
The business objectives to be supported by the output of the model will determine the type of model that has to be built.
If the primary requirement is to achieve cost justification of an alternative process implementation, then the main focus will be on costs and the impact of alternate processing scenarios on the overall process costs.
In this scenario a simple spreadsheet based model will provide the necessary information.
For more complex modeling assignments where the requirement is to measure a process metric such as process cycle time under differing load and resourcing scenarios, a more complex dynamic model will be required.
The feasibility study uses, by default, a static spreadsheet process cost model that can be scaled to reflect differing transaction volumes and the impact of key process improvement initiatives.
Although dynamic modeling is feasible and can be supported, the rapid increase in the number of process variables in such a dynamic model have to be carefully controlled, or else the model's output can become chaotic as small changes in input parameters may combine to produce large variations in the behaviour of the modeled process.
Such modeling is useful where the robustness (scale-ability) of the existing or proposed process is in question, or where one of the design priorities for the process is to allow for large variations in work throughput.
Once the required deliverables of the modeling process have been agreed upon and a suitable model type has been selected, the inputs and outputs to be varied and measured respectively are established.
Within the constraints of the modeling environments chosen, each discrete process element will be re-cast to reflect anticipated changes in the business process or the technology support infrastructure, but the first objective is to ensure that the model is representative of current practice and process performance.
In order to achieve this, business processing scenarios are run through the process model to provide base data for validation of the model's accuracy.
The results are then compared with reference data from historical periods (where available) and with management's expectations of the process performance.
Any required tuning or re-appraisal of the data collected in the analysis phase can then be completed.
H. Prepare Multiple Workflow Models
The impact of business re-engineering and information technology support options that could be implemented are discussed, agreed and implemented in variants of the process model, business processing scenarios are then run through each model and comparison with the base system scenario reveals the impact of the relevant process changes.
The output of this process can be documented to form the basis of an outline cost case for any required process change investment if required.
I. Assess the Workflow Change Benefits
It is worthwhile to note that alternate process designs are not necessarily the prerogative of either management or the consultant undertaking the analytical process.
Many of the best insights into process rationalization and re-engineering are generated by the people who actively participate in the process.
In parallel with the process analysis phase and modeling phases, there is a requirement to sponsor the development of ideas about alternative business process scenarios.
These are collected and collated as part of the analysis and used as input to the development of business process candidates for evaluation in the modeling phase.
In many cases the suggestions received during the data collection and collation phase have proven invaluable in reconciling the business drive for change with the human requirement to be involved in shaping the change.
The impact of new technology on any administrative process can be delivered in a number of ways.
In general the main benefits fall into the following categories:
a) Improvement of Information Handling:
In many business processes the successful completion of processing is dependant upon communication with an external agency which has to provide information or complete tasks in support of the process.
Monitoring and progressing of such external agencies can be time consuming and prone to communications failures.
Workflow and document recognition technologies in particular allow for the automation of some elements of external communications, for example through automation of outbound letter, fax or electronic message transmission.
Outbound communications soliciting responses can also be formatted to allow automatic indexing and matching with existing cases upon their return.
In many processes this structuring of previously unconstrained communications processes can improve the timeliness, response rate and quality of response, leading to substantial gains in process efficiency and effectiveness.
Improved information about work item status, volume of work-in-progress at each process step and resource utilization / performance can translate into a lower requirement for supervision.
Improved span of managerial control through the provision of more accurate and timely work performance monitoring.
It must be remembered that while capabilities supported by new technology can open the door to a number of possible process changes, it is the business's interpretation and ranking of the key factors that will determine future success which will drive or not drive the adoption of technology.
As well as examining the quantitative impacts of process changes, some evaluation of the qualitative effect of alternate process scenarios must be made.
In some instances the qualitative benefits will be intangible within the study's frame of reference (e.g. "improved customer service"), where the quantitative benefit cannot be assessed.
For this reason it should still be documented, and any tangible measure of improvement should be documented if known.
Workflow re-engineering initiatives, particularly those which depend upon computer systems, have to be evaluated in the light of the likely costs and risks as well as benefits that they are likely to deliver.
With workflow and imaging technology it is possible to envision radically different ways of structuring and managing workflow processes.
Rapid Application Development (RAD) techniques and graphical workflow drafting tools have impacted the time to develop workflow applications.
However, a significant investment still has to be made in the design and programming of the software applications that will provide the workflow framework.
In looking at competing options care must be taken to ensure that:
(a) Business risk inherent in process changes is acceptable
(b) The proposed processing scenarios are feasible within the general constraints of:
- time to implement
- cost to implement
(c) Proposed levels of change can be absorbed by the host organization.
b) Collapsing the process:
Successful process design has to balance the advantages of task specialization with the disadvantage conferred by "handing-off" work items to another person.
Over time, information technology has contributed to the confusion in this area.
Task specific technologies such as dedicated word processors and data entry or transaction oriented mainframe systems have tended to create task and job specializations which increase the number of hand-offs within a workflow.
Today, technology is deployed in a more flexible way by providing a range of supporting capabilities to a worker who can:
- Complete more value addition in a single step, or
- Who may be required, with the aid of workflow technology, to switch between multiple roles dynamically as business needs and priorities change.
Many business processes have not yet been "re-architected" to take advantage of this facility.
In order to optimize the process design for a given level of information technology support, it is necessary to make assumptions about the time taken to switch between roles (i.e. the "set-up" required to undertake a new role) versus any inherent speed of processing that can be accessed through repeated execution of a single task.
It is also necessary to make assumptions as to the level of support for task execution and checking, and the quantitative/qualitative impact of improved support on task execution.
This does not necessarily mean that task specialization is no longer necessary or beneficial, but it does re-position the boundaries at which a multi-tasking approach may be more attractive.
c) Migration of Value Added:
In many traditional processes, the "raw material" input is in a low state of readiness for processing.
Workflow gains can often be made by examining the initial state of information input and evaluating opportunities to re-structure the input phase of the process.
It is also wise to examine the timing, requirements and costs related to the completion of individual tasks.
By careful examination of these factors together with the "fall-out" factor (i.e. the percentage of work items that fail, or require re-work at later stages) it is sometimes possible to gain process efficiency through elimination of redundant work, and minimization of "fall-out".
In this area it is vital to examine the motivation and business problems apparent to the end-users of any business process.
While high internal work-item failure rates can often be attributed to a lack training or experience, it is unlikely that the end-user will concur with this view.
They are more likely to reference arcane procedures, lack of instruction and lack of adequate product support as being the problem factors - all attributable to the organization hosting the business process.
Any modification of the external submission formats or facilities has to be seen to deliver tangible benefits to the end-user.
Even then, a process change can only be considered successful if it results in the delivery of a service that is:
- more convenient
- easier to use, and
- less prone to errors than the existing service.
Any increase in the amount of work on the end-user side, either in the initial submission process or across the process as a whole, is likely to be unacceptible.
Changes should be targeted to fulfill all the above criteria in the eyes of the end user.
d) Shortening of delivery cycles:
Shortening or elimination of transport times due to work being delivered in electronic rather than paper form.
III. Setup and Implementation,
In every solution we provide, our primary goal is to embrace your existing technology and enhance the investment you have already made.
Knowing that going in, we want, and try, to work as closely with your IT/MIS group as possible.
Since they are the most knowledgeable resources regarding your existing technology infrastructure, our mission is to leverage their know-how against your needs.
B. Hardware/Software/Network/Data/User Requirements
Because the technical needs of Ad Agencies, Graphic Artists and Corporate Communications Departments are unique, we work diligently to provide your Technical Support group with a detailed list of hardware, software, network, data and user requirements.
Once all of the required items are procured, we begin the setup and implementation of your solution.
C. Make, Build and Test
Because our committment to provid you with "ASSURED SOLUTIONS," we pride ourselves on making, building and testing first rate systems which we guarantee will enhance your company's performance over time.
IV. Manage Completion and "Hand-Over",
A. Test, Commission, Start Up
After thorough Quality Assurance has been performed, we commission our solutions for start up and active duty.
During this phase, the solutions are exercised in the "real world" and the fine tuning begins.
B. Software Development
As anyone who has ever worked on a computer knows, no software solution is ever complete.
While it is our goal to provide a deliverable project which will perform exactly as has been specified, we are keenly aware of the excellent feedback provided by those who use the solutions daily.
We highly recommend and encourage this feedback from our users. As we have learned, all problems are merely opportunities waiting to be uncovered.
V. Transfer and Post Project Support
A. Operation & Maintenance
The final phase of any project we perform involves the transfer of operation and maintenance to those qualified individuals designated by our clients to have responsibility.
Every effort is made to insure that they are adequately educated on the use of the solutions we provide.
In many instances, those designated to oversee our solutions after they are implemented enjoy both learning and using solutions which increase their value and marketability immeasurably.
Because software robots replace boring repetitive work with higher level work, we have consistently found that those using and managing the systems provide substantially more value to their organization with no increase in cost.
B. Integrated Logistics
As has always been the case, our solutions are building blocks within your company's application integration framework.
Our goal is to provide a seemless data conduit between the unique needs of the graphic arts community and the rest of the corporate environment.
Without exception, all of our solutions, if specified, can provide data in nearly any format on any platform. This assures you that your system is not an island of information within a sea of technology.
C. Training, Documentation & Ongoing Support
Finally, we seek to make our solutions as "user-friendly" as possible. This reduces the need for extensive training, documentation and ongoing support, however, we are always happy to provide such support when requested.
Our belief is always that "an educated user is our best customer."
Whenever possible, we seek to establish an ongoing, pro-active process of continual education through training, documentation and support.