It’s summer reading time in our house, and we’re reading Roald Dahl’s short, but fantastically entertaining, “The Twits.” For anyone not familiar, it is about an utterly horrendous couple that continually plays practical jokes on one another. Mr. and Mrs. Twit are as self-centered and mean as they come. She tricks him into eating worms, while he puts a frog in her bed. They go on and on like this. Dahl contends they are simply bad people, but they also seem to illustrate the human willingness to settle for unhappy and mediocre situations.
As a business and process improvement analyst, I have been working with teams for years to make unhappy and mediocre situations better—or even workable. The level of patience that the average human being has for an unwieldy system or a broken process is always admirable, especially when they believe they have no control to change it. By the time I show up, things can seem dire and they may have lost any hope that their jobs could get any better. For example, they may have a “core” business application that only meets a subset of their needs, so they manage most of their work in a spreadsheet that makes a majority of their work manual. Or perhaps their process is so bogged down in paper, wet signatures, and file folders that it takes two days to complete a task, rather than hours if they had the proper system in place. Little changes can go a long way towards resolving their deepest frustrations.
These days, all businesses are supported through technology in some way. Yet often, when an IT team is engaged to address the business challenge, they don’t emphasize the importance of the business team’s process before they start talking about technology. Rather, they may move right to technology and try to wedge in the business needs as best they can. It’s at that moment that I know the business team is doomed to live with a Mr. or Mrs. Twit: a dogging annoyance and ultimately a system that does not meet their needs. In any IT engagement, it is critical to start with an examination of the business team’s workstreams and subsequent business requirements before introducing any technology. You don’t want to layer technology on top of bad processes. You need to assess if improvements are required. You also want to be sure the technology will truly meet the business needs.
When making a system decision, there is nothing more toxic to culture and morale—never mind return on investment—then making a rash determination. Further, when users are trained on a system that meets their needs from a process perspective, user adoption is immediate. There is no regression to their massive spreadsheets and old, broken ways. A few weeks of upfront process analysis can save months of confusion and really, chaos, in an implementation. Business analysis should not be an afterthought, and if there is any opportunity to improve a business process, it should be made before the system or tool is in place.