It's quite common for businesses to undergo process improvement initiatives but one treasure trove that is often overlooked is the ability to gather data insights from the process work being conduction. The art of true lean six sigma process transformation lies in the art of going from process to data insights and then further optimising your operations as part of a continuous improvement programme.
What is data anyway?!
Within the realm of process transformation, typical data that can be captured include:
- teams & responsibilities
- trigger points that lead to activities
- key milestones
- start points
- end points
These data points in turn allow for insights into average cycle times for a given activity, FTE effort for a given process, FTE effort by team / department / role, identifying bottlenecks in a process down to which process step(s) are responsible, performance against targets, items that are delayed or completed ahead of time and so on. From an operational perspective the insight potential is limited only by the data that is analysed. Some companies will advocate data analytics tools but in reality, companies can follow a few simple steps to kick off insights quickly, efficiently and in a manner that will provide meaningful value.
Simple tips for extracting data from processes
When starting out there are a few simple steps that beginners can take to extract useful data points from process work that has been conducted within an organisation.
FTE Requirements & process concentration
The above diagram shows a sample process flow highlighting areas where basic data points can be extracted. For example, the top 'customer' swimlane identifies all of the key actors involved in a process and the steps within that swimlane that they are responsible for. From an insight perspective, this allows a business to understand the process concentration and ultimately the FTE requirement for a team or department when you add up durations for each process step within a swimlane. This principle can be further granulated where each process step contains a 'role title' such as 'sales team' to understand FTE requirements within a given team.
Sequencing & Milestones
Following the process steps also allows a business to understand the logical sequencing involved in carrying out a specific activity and also enables key process steps to be called-out as 'milestones'. A milestone is a key step within a process that represents a major achievement that is relevant for reporting purposes. In the above sample process flow, milestones within a simple sales process could be "receive [customer] enquiry" -> "request technical specs" -> "issue quote" -> "follow up sales call complete" -> "deal status won/lost"
These milestones can then form elements within a report and also requirements for data to be captured; this will enable useful insights such as number of enquiries received in a given month, number of technical specs requested, variance between enquiries received & specs requested, etc. In this case, understanding the variance between the number of specs requested versus enquiries made can start to provide management with immediate insights and ask questions like "why were only 10 requests for technical specs made when nearly 100 customers made a sales enquiry?" This could be down to an operational issue, or simply that 90% of customer enquiries are not for quotes but rather simply to find out more about the company, which implies there could be an issue with the sales process a company has with respect to attracting people and then effectively converting them into customers. The key thing is that having process flows can help form the foundation for basic reporting which will help increase transparency and insights for management.
Cycle times and durations
Once milestones have been identified, report outlines developed and data for key points recorded, another useful analytic insight from processes is being able to determine how long a step or series of steps can (i.e. average durations). These durations can further be split by the individual completing the task where such data is recorded at employee / team level. Again, using an example from the sample process flow above, a business may wish to measure how long it takes between the sales team receiving an enquiry and responding to the potential-customer to request technical data. Combined with management knowing the proportion of enquiries that are responded to, this now provides an additional insight where responses were made into how long it took. If results show that on average there is a 5 day lag between responding - this can open up questions into whether relationship exists between the average duration for enquiries that converted into a sale and those where a response was made and the enquiry did not result in a sale? This in turn can guide management into making data-driven decisioning to optimise their business.
This blog post has covered the basics and there other advanced techniques that can be employed to help identify and then address specific issues. Many organisations lose an opportunity to use their internal process initiatives to drive much more value.
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