Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Process Improvement for Nonprofits – Part 1: “Know Thyself”

The benefits of business process improvement are not restricted to the for-profit world. Shaving small steps off common processes can recover more time to deliver services to more people and the effect of cutting paper, printing, storage or other expenses is something every nonprofit understands. Can you really afford to NOT pursue efficiency?

To begin with, what are BPM and BPI and why should managers of nonprofits and government agencies care? Here are some terms and links to definitions.

Business Process
BPM=Business Process Management
BPI=Business Process Improvement
BPR=Business Process Re-engineering

Next, what does a typical BPI project look like? Here is a general outline that my posts will follow.

1. Diagnosis/Assessment: “What is happening now?” “Exactly how do we do everything that we do?”
2. Analyze Workflow: “Is this the best way we can operate?” “Do we need to do any parts of our work better/cheaper/faster/with fewer people?”
3. Identify Options for Improvement: “Where can we work differently?”
4. Design new processes or steps: “What will work for our organization?”
5. Gather feedback: “Is this in line with the organization’s mission?” “Does it actually improve the way we work?”
6. Test the new workflow: “Does it work in the real world?”
7. Monitor the results: “Are we getting the results we sought?”
8. Diagnosis/Assessment: “If no improvement, why?” “If that worked, what else can we improve?”
9. Begin a renewed effort

Step one is to document the present processes. It is as simple as outlining in an “if-then-else” format like this:

1. Caseworker checks the “Waiting for Callback” message tray, and
>>>>A. If Caseworker sees items in the “Waiting for Callback” tray, then
>>>>>> a. If so, Caseworker determines whether any of the calls are of the type Caseworker can handle, then
>>>>>>>>i. If so, Caseworker calls the person who left the message;
>>>>>>>>ii. Else, Caseworker leaves the message for another person;
>>>>>> b. Else,
>>>> B. If none, then Caseworker moves to the next task or process ....

Each “if” requires at least an “else” to complete the step. Add “then” and “loop back” items where appropriate.

The process outline should contain the “actors,” “objects,” “choices,” “options,” and each probable outcome, broken down into specific steps. This is not a training manual that teaches the reader how to do the task, what to put into each tray or data field, etc. Those details are not included unless they impact the flow of work somewhere down the line.

It is essential to the rest of this analysis that the author of the outline involve others who can validate every step in the workflow. Whatever it takes, get an accurate validation by others who actually do the work. Make sure it is safe for these participants to be completely honest. Never assume work flows according to policy or congruent with training. Work is like water: it typically seeks in real life the path of least resistance. Without an accurate picture of how the work is truly done, other steps will become less and less accurate throughout the remainder of this process.

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