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Business Process Reengineering gone wrong

In the same vein as my previous post Going Paperless all wrong I see the trend of BPR going all wrong, and usually hand in hand with some sort of paperless initiative.

For a simple example lets analyze a vacation request sheet. I will arbitrarily set the paper based process at automation Level 1. This is the process, a standard form is circulated that includes what dates you will be gone, what tasks need to be done while you are gone, and sign offs by various people to affirm they will cover for you and realize that you are going on vacation. This paper is then handed to a payroll person who enters in the appropriate vacation dates into Kronos Time and Attendance.

What then happens is that someone (usually a manager) in a remote location ‘analyzes’ this process and looks for a way to improve it. At Level Zero I place the manager who decides to start scanning this vacation request sheet after it has been filled out. Eventually, OK I’m being a little absurd here (but not too absurd) this will lead to a filing system resembling a law library with this form being coded as HR-FORM-200-VAC-02/02/2008 and then a copy of each and every vacation request placed into a shared folder named something like M:\HR\Vacation Requests\19982\JimBob\

I have issues with this sort of setup on a few fronts. The largest glaring one is why is this document being retained, and what value is gained by doing so. There would be no legal requirement to do so that I know of.

At level .5 the manager would come to the realization that we ‘NEED‘ to create some sort of digital form to make this process easier and more efficient! They would go out and drop $700 bucks on Adobe Pro (Hey I’m a manager I need this software) so they could make an exact digital version of the paper form with spots for people to type the info into. They could also do something similar with Word. If they were really evil they would decide to develop something using an Access database. In my worst case scenario this form would be emailed around and then of course end up getting printed out and faxed to the payroll person. And then maybe scanned (see Level zero above)

There are many variations on this type of ‘Reengineering’, usually by people who have purchased a cheap scanner and want to go paperless! Or they made some insane yearly goal for their management on how THEY were going to design and implement a paperless workflow for the Vacation request process.

Unbeknownst, or sometimes even beknownst to them. Quietly, in the background, IT has been creating test servers. And what is being installed and tested on these test servers? A Kronos module for handling vacation requests. This allows someone to request vacation either through their Timecard or through a self service Kiosk. It then allows a manager to approve or reject the request, sending back the status to the employee. If the vacation is approved an email is generated, and the timecard is automatically updated to reflect the time off. This process allows the manager to work directly with the employee and the payroll person never gets involved. The process is audited and trackable for what ever legal requirements you may have. And it uses systems already in place. I will call this level 3.

This is of course a very black and white example, and paints IT in a very favorable light. It never is this easy. But, there is a department that is full of Business Anaylsts. And they usually try to analyze business processes and improve them. They don’t go out and try to sell things like sales people, and they sure as heck don’t want to do any accounting. Why is it then, that it seems most departments think you can just buy an ‘IT system’ turn it on and then all of their problems will go away. IT does touch on pretty much everything these days, but I guess in the inverse everyone thinks that they can implement just a little of IT.

Now I understand that ‘in the trenches’ and ‘on the front lines’ managers want to get things done. They want to improve business processes. Usually they make goals to do so. But business process reeingineering is hard. You need to try to capture all of the requirements of the whole, and know what existing systems are in place or being implemented before you go and buy some ‘solution’. Traveling solution salesmans are the worst, their software will of course solve all of your problems.

When I see this sort of behavior I start to suspect BMS or Bored Management Syndrome. I wonder if there are aspects of their daily jobs that could instead be focused on instead of ‘going paperless’ or whatever the newest trend is. Instead they try to buy and implement something that usually is redundant to a system that is already in place. This is managment gone amok.

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