This week I dropped into a local menswear shop. I have been a pretty regular customer over the last decade. It is a ‘suit shop’ and I know what to expect on the racks. It’s located in a corporate commercial area that is a wasteland on a weekend; there is nobody casually browsing here on Saturday mornings making spur-of-the-moment decisions on groovy casual gear.

Since I was there last they have refurbished the shop and it was a shock to the system. Not just mine, the two regular, normally sweet-natured assistants were ranting and raving. “Look what the architect’s done.” Now this is part of a smallish chain and they have taken a one-size-fits-all approach to the store-wide refurbishment. And this is where the human element has messed with that architect’s good intentions. A costly example: when people come out of the changing rooms they need a mirror to examine themselves in. It needs to be close enough to not have to parade across the shop and abandon your wallet completely in the cubicle. But it also needs to be far enough out that busy shop assistants still get a chance to admire, encourage and give advice like “try this tie with that, it’ll look great and bring out the colour of your eyes.” That is a key part of the selling process. Their new mirror is all the way across the shop almost in the store window.  Not clever. People step out, furtively look around and scurry back into the cubicle. Lost selling opportunities. That’s just one of a number of changes that will challenge this shop.

We see this scenario in business, too. Clients come to us for workflow solutions. “We want to automate the process and make sure it’s done properly every time”. Yep, that’s a good idea and you have come to the right place. Unfortunately many people get caught up in what we call the “happy day” scenario. On the happy day everything works just as it was meant to. The right information arrives at the right time for the right person to do their job in a predictable and uncomplicated fashion. On a happy day every task and step smoothly flows along those little arrows that the business analyst drew in Visio. But the reality is for every happy day there is usually a human day. On human days things don’t go quite so smoothly. There are wrinkles in the data, in the next step, in the people, in the real world. All these wrinkles mean those little Visio flowchart arrows point off the page and into email, spreadsheets and manual handoffs. And there go the productivity gains and all those good intentions. Oops.

When automating existing manual processes, the workflow needs to have wriggle room to allow for the wrinkles of a human day. Your people are paid good money to apply their intellect, experience and good judgement to the situations they are faced with in their daily job. When automating these processes to get more visibility, or compliance, or throughput, you still need to allow flexibility and wriggle room into the workflows to allow for human days. This does not mean you need to remove the business rules, it just means there are certain points and scenarios in processes where people need the ability to make judgement calls and decisions on the fly whilst still being kept within the guardrails of compliance.

Business process automation needs to be seen as an evolving and reshaping practice, it can’t be set and forget. If you put the mirror in the wrong place you need to be able to put it back where it should be.  Talk to us about XMPro, dynamic processes and adaptive case management.


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