Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when you need to do it quickly. And in the pandemic conditions at the time of writing the truth is that most of us – including the government – are having to ‘make it up as we go along’.

Which means – inevitably – that things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

A good friend has been organising his volunteer group to support the community, and in particular their village shop. They’re helping out with taking orders and delivering supplies to people in lockdown. And they’re also collecting orders from suppliers – including an excellent local bakery.

A job my friend took upon himself, but had never done before.

New volunteers, new job, new mistakes…

On the first day he arrived at the bakery and was told there were four trays to collect. A staff member – somewhat engaged with a customer – pointed to a stack of four trays on the floor. Which he duly picked up and took back. On arrival it turned out that two of them were part of someone else’s order…

Well, at least it gave his otherwise idle car a good run (by the time he’d delivered the two trays to their intended destination, collected the two for his own village, and brought them back to the shop…)

He duly issued a warning to other volunteers to check each order very carefully before leaving the bakery.

A warning that sadly did not reach a new volunteer, who was collecting bread for the first time a week later. And walked away with only two of the four trays he should have had.

When my friend went back for his next collection he politely suggested they could label the trays to avoid confusion. Sadly the bakery staff were more concerned with avoiding blame. Even though he’d already said he wasn’t interested in blaming anybody. He simply wanted to prevent any more mistakes…

The lesson?

This is a classic case of faulty plumbing. The bakery were simply ‘doing what they’d always done’ without taking into account that volunteers had no idea what that was, or how it worked. Their staff were frightened, busy and preoccupied, so they felt stressed and vulnerable. When – inevitably – something went wrong, they assumed someone must be to blame. No one really was. The problem, quite simply, was in the system. It wasn’t designed for volunteers.

So if you’re changing a process in the middle of a crisis, don’t feel bad if things don’t work first time. Mistakes are bound to happen. The trick is to learn from them – and to stop them happening again.

In the meantime – in those especially challenging moments – be kind to yourself, your team, and everyone else. Stay safe, and stay well!

And there’s no charge if you need some help…

These are challenging times – so I am happy to help you review what you do, how you do it, and how you might deal with any glitches. I can do it virtually, via phone calls and online conference software, and I am happy to do it FREE OF CHARGE to help any business in the current situation. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)

Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Thinking about moving services online? Perhaps to save cost? Or time? Or – perish the thought – staffing costs…?

Surely that should be easy enough?

Well yes – and no. Because a lot depends on the nature of the process you’re trying to deal with. As many local councils have discovered.

Let’s be fair. In recent years local councils have faced enormous challenges. They have had to cut their costs. And – rightly – they have been looking at ways to do that without cutting their key services. Surely (so the logic goes) they could set up automated processes to answer common questions. And even, perhaps, to deal with the most common transactions.

Simply – as they thought – by replicating what their teams were already doing.

Ambitious plans to move services online

They started confidently enough. In 2015 GOSS, a tech company specialising in work for government sent out a survey to local councils. 66% of respondents said they’d be moving 50-100% of their services online by 2018.

That didn’t happen.

By 2019 only 11% had 50% or more of their services online, while just 46% expected to reach that less ambitious goal by 2022. (Down from 55% in the previous year.)

So what went wrong?

Keep it simple, stupid…

Many councils ran into three problems almost straight away.

  • Their processes – often developed over many years – were too complex to be easily automated.
  • Their systems (according to 54% of respondents) lacked the necessary capabilities
  • 44% were held up by lack of resources – and 39% by lack of in-house skill

With mistrust from the beginning – understandably, perhaps, where job losses were likely – many projects got off to a rocky start. And even when they’d been implemented, the reaction from the public was often less than encouraging.

Because – all too often – an overcomplicated internal process had been made into an overcomplicated sequence of interactions. And nobody loved it. Especially when they had to enter personal information repeatedly to gain access to different council services.

A huge proportion of users failed to complete the processes online. Instead, they rang the council for help. With (perhaps) fewer staff to man the phones, they often had a long wait for an answer. if they got through at all…

So the public hated it. The staff hated it. And the councils began to worry that they had spent a sizeable amount of money on a white elephant.

Time for a change?

So what’s the answer?

For the councils – and for any organisation that wants to go digital – it all boils down to the customer experience. If your online systems are easy and intuitive to use, people will be much more willing to use them.

And you’ll get far fewer angry phone calls.

But to achieve that goal, you may very well need to review the entire process you’re trying to digitise. Because while it may function perfectly well when trained, experienced, and knowledgeable staff are running it, you can’t expect your customers to deal with it in the same way.

And if you need a little help with that, please call me for a chat on 01359 240717.

New Year, new systems?

New Year, new systems?

Systems are wonderful. You can sit down after the Christmas and New Year break, confident that you’ll be able to pick up exactly where you left off. With no problems.

Or can you?

Perhaps that’s not your experience. Perhaps – when you get back to your desk – there’s a moment of dread. A moment where you’re thinking ‘Oh no – not again…!’

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The world is full of systems that were started for a perfectly good reason. And which have long since outlived their usefulness.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about ‘old-fashioned’ systems. It’s very tempting to change a system simply because it seems a bit passé, but that, on its own, isn’t enough of a reason. Consider, for example, the fuss that was made about fax machines being used by the NHS. If you want a good example of 1980s tech, look no further. Fax machines were wonderful when they first appeared, but that was long before we had something called email. So surely it makes sense to use email instead?

Or does it?

When older is better…

In conversation with a friend who’s worked in the NHS I asked exactly that question. She grinned. ‘Of course email’s better. But not for everything.’

Surprised, I asked what she had in mind.

‘Simple,’ she said. ‘A nurse is writing a note – by hand – because it’s the quickest way to communicate an urgent request. She sticks it in a fax machine, presses a preset number to send it to a colleague, and the job’s done. It would take her twice or three times as long to send an email. And she doesn’t have the time. Even if she were allowed to use a smartphone in the operating theatre…’

So it may be old. But if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. If it is broke, on the other hand…

Why systems go worng…

There seems to be a rule that the bigger the project, the more likely it is to go wrong. Without casting stones at any particular administration, that seems to go double for major government IT projects.

So why do they fail so often?

I like to think it’s a collision of good intentions. A consultant friend recently told me about his experience with HMRC’s very first self-assessment form, long before the days when there was handy software around to help him fill it out. It took him two weeks, during which he, as a full-time freelancer, earned nothing at all. ‘They should have been paying me to do my tax!’ he laughed. So what did he think was the problem with it?

‘When I looked at it, I could see that someone – perhaps a consultant like me – had tried very hard to make it clear, straightforward, and easy to complete. All the signs were there. My guess? I think that after that it went through about half a dozen different civil service desks. And every single one of them added their own feedback. They’d have pointed out all the little exceptions. All the tricky details. In fact, all those things that make our tax system totally unsuitable for self-assessment – unless you’re a tax accountant. And that form was the result.

‘So yes – that particular road to hell was paved with good intentions. And millions of people had to travel it. All I can say is “thank God for software.”‘

So…

…what can you do if you’re faced with a similar chimera?

A good place to start is with comments and feedback from people who have to use your systems, but had no part in creating them. People coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes. If they’re told what it’s meant to do, they may very well come up with fresh ideas and fresh approaches for delivering the results you really want.

As opposed to delivering frustration, annoyance, and bad feeling.

And if you could use a little help – and another fresh pair of eyes – why not book a free initial consultation?