Tips and Tricks for the most effective process workshop

A process workshop is not only important as a one-time instrument but the strength lies in the continued exploration of the process within an existing organisational structure: Identifying small improvements and putting them into place; learning to look at customer-orientated processes and to continually examine these anew; searching for bottlenecks and opportunities to improve every time; looking at the integrated process anew.

In this article we focus on the effective conduct of the process workshop itself, with or without support from the right software. In our business process workshops we use a seven-step approach, which we will discuss in turn during this article.

The seven steps of an effective business process workshop:

1. Organisation of the process workshop;

2. The first process workshop – drawing the IST together;

3. Post-workshop;

4. The second session – insight into the process;

5. Discussion of general improvement methods;

6. Design of the desired situation;

7. The implementation begins.

1. Organisation of the workshop

  • Select a process that really matters. Use, preferably, a customer process where all concerned understand than an improvement can benefit everyone.
  • Always plan the process workshop at the beginning of the improvement path. As soon as a team has discussed its processes in a workshop, this serves as an outline for all further discussions about organisation, systems, compliance issues and so on. The core objective must be to focus on the subsequent process rather than the aspects at the individual level otherwise it will lack a common reference framework.
  • Set up a brainstorming space. If this is a meeting room, then make it informal. Make sure that the team have access to the board or screen that will be used for the discussion.
  • Provide a large board or screen when using a digital tool. A projector can often be used to display a large picture. A large TV screen is often too small to represent a comprehensive process well and then make it open to discussion.
  • Have two people lead the workshop. Often four fields of expertise come together during a session: workshop facilitation, process management, domain knowledge and the operation of any tools. If it goes well, then one person can no longer handle all of these activities efficiently. Pay attention! The process workshop advisors must themselves not have too much domain knowledge. The content of the discussion must come from the participants.
  • Set a maximum of 8 to 12 participants for your process workshop. Ensure that all roles within the process, from beginning to end, are directly represented – not via the managers but by those who actually carry out the process. Consider which staff members really need to be involved, not only within IT but across the organisation.
  • Organise the first session for a time period of 3 to 4 hours. This provides sufficient time for an initial inventory of the process. The concentration span is also then coming to an end.
  • Let the owner of the process begin the workshop. Explain here why the process can be improved, what can be better and how. In addition make it clear that the team has the mandate to identify these improvements and to action them. What does the process owner expect of everyone and who can report about what? Try to make the link between the improvement objectives of the process and the general strategy or position of the organisation.
  • Ask a participating manager, if present, to limit him or herself to the main steps. Show respect for the knowledge that the team has about the detailed steps.
  • Always start from the current situtation: the IST or the AS IS. Do this even when you want to map a new situation. Place the current situation first, so the team can better experience the existing divisions of tasks, bottlenecks, etc.

2. The first process workshop: Drawing the IST together

  • The team is present, the projector is on, or the brown paper is hanging on the wall. Start with the most obvious and map out the process together, step by step.
  • Describe WHAT happens. Do this in simple language and active form, making it immediately visible as a process step. Use a verb or verb form and a noun, for example ‘customer call’ or ‘call the customer’ Don´t go into too much detail or describe HOW the task will be done.
  • Always directly link a role to the activity in order to let this role tell a story
  • How long does it take to complete the action? The discussion of the processing time together with frequency and moment in time are important in order to increase the perception of this process step as well as the entire process. You can also use it later to help calculate the end to end process.
  • How often does this occur? Note the frequency.
  • At which moment? Note whether the action occurs the same day as the previous step, or a day later, or X times per week.
  • It´s definitely not about the exactness of the data. This is not a scientific study. The first set of spontaneous empirical data is good, because these reflect the experience of the participants.
  • Do not use existing process descriptions. These process descriptions are often made by department staff and lack the level of detail of those staff from the work floor.
  • Focus on the role changes. There is alot hidden within role changes.
  • Make waiting times separately visible. If a participant indicates that his or her task begins the following day, then show a waiting time of one day. The lead time for many processes is determined by the waiting time for the transfer from one person to the next. By making it visible, you give the team a handle on shortening the lead times without anyone having to work harder.
  • Map exceptions. Does this always happen? If not, then map what does happen and how often. Discussion of the exceptions is an important element. That´s because the sum of the exceptions if often greater than the ‘clean case’. Many exceptions in the company processes run through the entire normal process PLUS a couple of extra steps. As they are exceptions they require extra steps and more energy than ‘regular’ process steps. This is because they disturb the rhythm. If we want to improve company processes, then it´s the exceptions that are facinating.
  • Approval is split into ‘good’ and ‘not good’. Many processes have one or more checks or approvals. This means that there is always a ‘not good’ branch. Dont forget to make this split visible and to indicate what percentage fall-out we´re talking about.
  • Note simple empirical data. Again, it is not necessary to use scientifically correct figures. When this is the case, you can always refine the numbers later.
  • Dont write down too many details. With the focus in recent years on IT systems, we have the tendency to note imput, output, names of the IT systems, documents, etc. This level of detail is not needed initially and can always be added later.
  • Note whether a step adds value for the customer. If the step is not value-adding, then you may already have a suggestion for improvement.
  • Do not draw a swimlane but rather a value stream. Many of us learned to draw processes mainly in swimlanes. This indicates how the process runs from department to department. But these swimlanes actually emphasize the sense of department and often make the discussion too complex for a workshop. Keep it simple and focused on the customer. Go through the process as the customer experiences it, independent of the department, per location, per IT system and so on.
  • Note suggestions. Keep track of comments, complaints and suggestions, preferably in a separate field and per process step. Look for quick wins.

3. Post-Workshop

In the first process workshop, all information is collected and the IST is created in about 3 to 4 hours. If team members are discussing a process for the first time, then organise a follow-up session after 3 or 4 days. In the meantime, the team members will do a reality check. They will pay attention to, for example, the frequencies of processing time and realise that there are more exceptions, and so on, without this requiring much extra work. This provides great new insights for the follow-up session.

4. The second session: Insight into the process

In the second session, the team works on insight. This is done based on the information obtained in the first session. More experienced teams can already develop insights into the processes directly at the end of the first session.

  • Look at the statistics. How many activities, role changes, splits and roles are there in the process?
  • Look at it from various angles. Is it possible to tilt the process? Look now in swimlanes: swimlanes per location, per IT system, per input and output, etc. Do we get new insights, more bottlenecks, more Quick Wins?
  • Calculate. What is the lead time for the customer and how much time do we put into that period ourselves? This can be confrontational. Processes definitely don´t always have to be performed immediately, but by shortening the lead time there are almost always great advantages to be had.
  • Summarise Quick Wins. Look at the list of Quick Wins and try to judge these based on impact and feasibility. Which Quick Win does the team embrace the most?
  • Publish all the work. Don´t let anyone go home empty-handed. There is nothing worse than a workshop where, a few days later, the participants wonder what was achieved. Work preferably with a tool that allows the team to use it for modelling as well as take away the results. The transfer from brown paper to, for example, a Visio or PowerPoint slide will unmistakably lead to a lower sense of ownership for the participants.

5. Discussion about general improvement methods

After mapping the current situation, it is useful to brainstorm with the same group about improvement methods. Are they clear to the team? Concepts such as shortening lead times, performing actions in parallel, auditing the source, removing steps that don´t add value, combining or eliminating tasks, standardising, reducing batch sizes, etc. A simulation can be very helpful here. Perhaps some members of the team, often internal staff members, have already had experience with improvement concepts and trainings but the ideas and their advantages are not easily recognised by all the team members. The discussion of these concepts is therefore important in order to increase the acceptance and involvement of the entire team.

The best improvement suggestions come from within, from the bottom. Trained advisors often quickly see lots of improvement possibilities (but they must not mention these). The acceptance and practical applicability of ideas are much greater when they come from the team itself. However it´s not about how many ideas you can collect in the first step; it´s about continual improvement in the long term. So, try to explain improvement concepts to the team membbers and see which ones they find suitable to the written process.

6. Design of the desired situation

Improve the current situation or start with a clean slate? There is much to say for both methods. The great advantage in the improvement of the current situation is that, in doing so, the team makes a step toward continual imrpovement. Look critically together at what you were doing and try to find small improvement steps. This is often very doable. By contrast, the design of a completely new process often requires much more prepatory work.

  • Look at all Quick Wins and other improvement concepts discussed. Look at the list from the first workshops and hang the list on the wall together with the list of general improvement concepts.
  • Introduce improvements step by step and calculate them directly. See what the impact of a specific improvement is on the process model. Naturally, the focus here must be on the objectives that were mentioned at the kick-off by the process owner.

7. The implementation begins

It is important for teams to know and feel that they haven´t done their work for no reason. The goal of a process workshop must not be limited to the documentation of a process. It is mainly about what we can do with it in practice. The motivation of teams that have the opportunity to put their own suggestions into place is often significant.

  • Select a number of improvements and implement them. Dont spend too much time on finding improvements. It is recommended to identify a few that can be realised in the short term. Discuss the implementation and ask permission to introduce these improvements.
  • Publish all the work, again. The same is true in each phase of the improvement cycle: keep people involved and ensure that they take all information with them to the workplace.
  • Finally, celebrate success. Reflect on the fact that, with teamwork, you have found improvement methods in a short period of time!
  • Remember, the best process workshops are those where the teams have experience and the opportunity to look at their processes again!

Find out more about Engage Process Suite

Engage has more than 25 years of experience in organising and facilitating process workshops. These workshops offer involvement and empowerment for the teams, lead to process improvement and thus result in improved collaboration and performance.

Engage Process Suite is an innovative platform built specifically for workshop and LEAN studies. It provides a visual and comprehensive solution that empowers those within the organization who actually work with the process, to create, evaluate and agree optimal process scenarios.