Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Tiffany St James on digital transformation: How to re-engineer processes

Tiffany St James is one of the UK’s most experienced digital transformation specialists, the founder of Transmute and former Head of Public Participation for the UK Government. She is also NDA’s monthly columnist.

Many digital transformation and change programmes are hampered by existing processes. Process change isn’t just for digital technical projects, you can apply the same steps and questions here to ‘How to speed up content delivery’ or ‘How to ensure everyone is aligned on new ways of working’.

Sometimes too, people who don’t agree with a change programme will lean on the process as a way of obstructing change. They may ask for more information as a delaying tactic or they may put the change request into a series of reviews.

So, we need steps to approach process re-engineering that will speed up process change, as well as mitigate the rewash cycles.

One of the questions that I get asked all the time is not what needs to change but how to go about changing it.

One transformation team had ten levels of clearance and could not see a way to make the clearance process quicker. Unpacking ‘what if..?’ questions can be helpful here.

What if you had five levels of clearance? What if you had three levels of clearance? There are different viewpoints to help break people out of the linear approach they are currently in and to consider other possibilities.

There are a few approaches to process re-engineering that no matter what change process, I always consider. Not always apply, but always consider.

Have a clear change directive

Do you have a clear change directive? A statement of why the business is changing and what you are setting out to achieve.

Examples such as: ‘We will bring a new product to market from inception to delivery withing 12 months’ enables you to focus on the processes and check if they are set up to enable you to do this.

Once the change directive has been agreed at the highest level, you have the authority to create the levers to enable that change, including process re-engineering.

Identify the key processes that you want to change

Understand which are the key processes that may need to change to enable your change directive. Understand that there may be some people in the business that are OK with the process currently and you’ll need to work with them to understand their point of view and to share yours in terms of what needs to change.

Set up your change process team

Although your change process team may be driven by the digital transformation team, you’ll need to work closely with people who are delivering the process change and people who are affected by it to collaboratively unpack all points of view.

Understand what works

Start from the viewpoint of what people consider works well. You absolutely want to ensure that you don’t edit out what is working well and understanding what people currently value is key to specifying later change.

Work out the stopping points

Work out where there are resource or capacity bottle necks or where the wheels spin. Identify where are the points in the process that slow down the change. Are there too many steps? Are there points where decisions need to be made by other teams? Are there too many review cycles? Are there too many approvals needed? Is the review cycle limitless?

Work out how to alleviate the stopping points

Take each of the stopping points and work out what can you do to make the process better or faster. Do you need to reduce the number of times it goes into review. What information do you need upfront that continually gets sent back if its missing? Can you provide accurate templates, so all the correct information is submitted upfront? Can you train the team?

Limit the review cycles

Can you set a maximum limit the review cycles to one, two or three? Can you limit the number of people needed to sign-off?

Identification of straight pass submission

In one team we alleviated the need for the brand team to review the content for brand compliance by giving agencies a toolkit for content that will not deviate from the templates.

Can you set a ‘straight pass’ check for your process for some projects?

Work together to identify criteria that will enable:

  • These things can always pass
    • These things can never pass without input
    • These will always need review

Identify steps to change and delete

Can you identify steps that are outdated and delete these steps altogether? If there are 10 steps to your process, how could you make it five steps, what would need to happen?

Identify actual risks and forecast frequency

Some changes carry risks, so identify actual risks and frequency. Is something a high risk but only happens once a year? Or is something a medium risk and happens every time? Work out risk and mitigation – what happens in the worst-case scenario and what would you do about it? What is most likely to happen and what would you do about it?

Run a pre-mortem for mitigation

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman invented a process called a pre-morten, Identify what could go wrong at every step and then what would you do to ensure this did not happen

Team agreement

Ensure the team understand and agree to the new process which is why collaboration on co-design is critical. Ensure teams know the results of not changing the process.

Test and refine

Ensure that the new process is tested and refined.

Good luck with your process changes.