Avoid Pains Converting a Manual to an Automated Process

One of the things you don’t want to do when you convert manual processes to an automated system is keep inefficiencies or redundant steps in a process, so it’s important to take your “as is” processes and change them to “to be” before you begin the new system design.

It sounds simple, right? Just look at the “as is” map, move a few boxes here and there, scratch out stuff that’s not needed and you’re done.

Well, not quite. Remember you’re dealing with people here.

If you just start whacking steps in the process map, you are taking away work that people perform. And before you know it, you’ll have a whole bunch of irate people worried that their jobs are going away.

Now that may end up being the case in the long run or it may just be a change to someone’s job, but you need these people to help you get the “to be” process right. It’s their job and they know why a certain step is done. You’ll have much greater success if you involve them in the creation of the new process map.

Before You Begin

Hopefully you took the time to conduct a business process assessment at the outset of your project. Make sure you thoroughly review that assessment report and take note of issues that will impact the area you are targeting. This will provide you with good background on areas needing improvement.

If possible, get the key sponsors of the project to communicate the purpose behind changing processes and implementing a new system to the people who will be affected. Absence of communication tends to drive the rumor mill when it comes to changes in an organization, so do your best to get everyone on board.

It’s also helpful to be informed about the internal politics of the organization as this can single handedly derail even the best process change strategy.

Create The Draft “To Be” Map

The best way to get to the new map is to gather the same people together who created the “as is” process maps in a meeting room. If you’ve worked with them before, you should have a good foundation of trust that will help make this session go smoothly.

1) Start with the current “as is” process map displayed for all to see. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a projector connected to a laptop.

2) Walk through the process with the group to verify nothing has changed and confirm the map is accurate with the current process.

3) Proceed through the “as is” map step-by-step, making changes as you go along. Ask questions to determine whether a step can be modified or deleted. Make notes of any significant actions that will happen behind the scenes to ensure a process is completed (these will be part of your system requirements) and any changes to procedures that must be implemented.

  • Why is this step important to the process?
  • What would happen if you didn’t do this step?
  • Would it make sense for a different role to do this step?
  • Are there procedures or regulations that require this step be completed by this role?
  • If procedures drive the completion of the step, can those procedures be changed?
  • If we automated this step, what needs to be done to ensure it’s completed correctly?

A Hypothetical Example

When you’re done with the “to be” version of your process map, it’s likely to look radically different than the “as is” version.

Here’s what’s happening in the “to be”:

  • Time is entered into an automated system that does validity checks and updates PTO data.
  • After time is entered by the Employee, it is transferred internal to the system to the Supervisor queue.
  • Once the Supervisor approves the time, it is sent to the “to be paid” system queue.
  • On a designated date, the HR Manager runs Payroll which processes paychecks for all Employees in the “to be paid” system queue and generates an ACH transaction which pays the Employee.

This process requires a procedure change that makes it mandatory for all Employees to use automatic deposit for their paycheck.

Manage The Change Process

As you move through the definition of your “to be” processes, it’s most important to remember that change isn’t easy. Most people will resist even if they hate the way things are done now. Make sure you have an active change management process in place to help smooth the transition.