The end result of the Straightline™ methodology are processes with the minimum number of steps possible (the shortest distance between two points is a straight line).
In any Operation, business processes are like clusters of tasks that form nodes of a network with workflows from process to process through complex pathways. This web of activity is the Operation – and it can easily become a mess of complexity.
It is possible to establish a network of operational activity or processes that is elegant, simple, very flexible and that preserves its simplicity as the Enterprise expands and acquires and integrates. But it’s not easy.
Imagine that each business process you can discretely discern in your operation is a node; and that these nodes are connected in multiple ways thus forming a web or network. Depending on the nature and characteristics of these nodes, the pathways will either be few and straightforward or they will be complicated. Thus is the ‘secret’ to Simplicity.
Straightline™ postulates that business processing nodes will yield a simple network if they are:
- Elementary (it does only one thing)
- Unique (it’s the only one that does it)
- Clear (everyone understands it the same way)
This is our Simplification Rule and it applies to processes as well as organizational roles.
The Straightline™ pathway
But how do you take an existing organization with a complex web of processes and turn it into a simple operation? And what benefits should you expect from performing such an exercise?
In Straightline™ we attack an existing operation in a number of phases:
- Scope out the Hit Zone of transformation
Scoping Out the Hit Zone
In our approach to Enterprise simplification, we don’t believe that any Enterprise ever really needs to be transformed from end to end. Any area of an Operation will normally benefit from simplification but it is not necessary to improve everything – if it were, it would be an impossible task.
Thus, we begin by helping the organization determine which portion should be improved. This work entails a few simple steps:
- Evaluate the strategic direction of the Enterprise.
- Determine Strategic Advantages – the things the Enterprise must be very good at.
- Determine Strategic Weaknesses – in some of these Strategic Advantages, the Enterprise is actually weak. Strategic Weaknesses, then, are areas where you must be strong but you are weak.
- The collection of processes and organizational roles involved in these Strategic Weaknesses will form the Hit Zone of simplification.
In most businesses, the “Hit Zone” moves from time to time as Market conditions change. It may be in Back Office operations this year, then it moves to Customer Service; it may be Innovation in one year and Cost leadership in another. Thus, the Hit Zone issue needs to be revisited periodically.
The first step of conceiving new processes is to formulate an architecture that encompasses those desired processes. It is here that we first extrapolate from the existing environment a new structure where processes satisfy the Simplification Rule: the rule that they must be Elementary, Unique and Clear.
This work is done at a high level, based on a rough sketch of how the Enterprise operates today within the Hit Zone scope. Briefly, we use an Abstraction approach that consists of the following steps:
- Dissect and Split (separate the essential from the circumstantial)
- Combine (group similar things)
- Merge (replace similar things by generalized things)
- Network (create work pathways by connecting the nodes in multiple pathways)
We begin by dissecting current processes and organizational roles, trying to decompose activities into elemental parts. Then, we group similar things – where we are likely to find redundancies. We then Merge these groups of activities into processes that are Unique and Elemental. Finally, we connect everything to see what the network of these processes may look like and check that everything the Enterprise is supposed to do (within the scope of the Hit Zone) can be done with such a network.
Design is performed in the same manner as Architecture, except that now we look at things in greater detail. We are now trying to decompose processes into tasks and making sure that process properties remain intact.
Within detailed processes, we start designing Roles by grouping tasks into arrangements where there is maximum cohesion and the smallest number of Roles. This is an iterative process where, at each iteration, we test for the 3 critical properties of the Simplification Rule.
Once we arrive at a satisfactory collection of Roles, we arrange tasks within Processes by Role and reverify that each process continues to obey those same Rules.
Implementation – the Immersed Approach
In most organizations, a Simplification initiative would assume the form of a Project. The minute that is done, there emerges a Project Manager and soon after a project plan and estimate. And then we fall into the quandary of resources – we can’t do this extra work so let’s hire external resources.
We can work that way, if we must, but we recommend a different approach: it’s called the Immersed Approach.
The Immersed Approach would work as follows:
- The initial phases of Hit Zone determination and Architecture would be performed by TMA’s expert consultants.
- However, for the Design and Implementation phases, we would follow this approach:
- Select the individuals of the organization that will be the leaders of the Simplified model and leaders of Change.
- Create a social network (a digital HIVE) with these individuals. As recommended in the HIVE Model (read about it here) this HIVE would have as a mission the Simplification of the Hit Zone.
- With the assistance of TMA experts, the HIVE would go through the Design steps of Straightline, learn about Abstraction and indeed learn how to arrive at processes that satisfy the Simplification Rule.
- Once Processes are formulated, these individuals would be part of the solution and would therefore lead implementation.
- With this approach, if the initial HIVE composition is carefully chosen, implementation occurs almost naturally with little training required.
- A great bi-product of the Immersed Approach is that the Simplification HIVE could remain in place and be used for other similar exercises; or be used to replicate other HIVEs in other areas.