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Think Of The Person, Not Just The Process

Back in the days when most BAs were able to work in offices, there’d be nothing I’d like more than a nice process discovery workshop. 

As analysts, we’ve probably all run those fantastic sessions with huge lengths of brown paper adorned with sticky notes carefully placed by stakeholders, each sticky note representing a task or sub-task.   It’s a great way of helping to uncover the complexity of existing processes and work out how they can be improved. Of course, today, these sessions are still fun but with many parts of the world in ‘lockdown’ it’s necessary to conduct the sessions remotely using a virtual whiteboard or modelling tool.

Whether the sessions are conducted remotely or locally, one thing that we should be aware of is that process discovery or a process improvement workshop tend to be ‘framed’ in a particular way.  Just using the word ‘process’ tends to imply that a certain viewpoint will be taken, and people may (quite naturally) have certain expectations on how the session will run and what the focus should be. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s easy for conversation to become restricted and siloed.  It’s very easy to focus purely internally without thinking of what the customer actually wants to achieve…

Chasing Efficiency

Let’s take an example and imagine that we were examining the process in the claims department of a home (property) insurance company.  Rather than getting people to phone with their claims it would be much more efficient if they logged on and submitted their claim online.   That way they could upload photos of any damage (or scans of police reports in the case of theft), and have an interactive view of their claim as it goes through the settlement process. 

That sounds great, doesn’t it?  However, the conversation might soon extend to ensuring that a claim can only be submitted when all the necessary information is input.  Oh, and it’d be great if we had lots and lot of information up front—someone might suggest getting the customer to select the specific area of coverage or ‘peril’ that has occurred so that they can log the claim.  All of these things sound completely logical but when you add them all up you suddenly get a long and unwieldy form.  Plus, if a customer has (sadly) experienced a house fire, caused by lightening hitting the property, and their possessions were damaged by water from the fire brigades hoses do you really expect them to know whether to select “fire”, “lightening”, “flood” or “water damage” from the drop down menu?


Inject The Voice of the Customer

Of course, I’m using a deliberately extreme and provocative example, I’m sure no BA in their right mind would define the interface that way, but it illustrates a wider point.  If you only have internally-focused stakeholders in a process improvement session, you’ll get a process that is internally-efficient.  However it might be extremely inefficient for those who weren’t involved in its design, particularly external stakeholders such as customers.   And if we’re not building processes for customers, who are we building them for?

Part of the antidote to this is to inject diversity of opinion into the discussion, including representatives from groups that are often unheard or misrepresented.  In the insurance example mentioned above, clearly it wouldn’t be possible to have every customer present—but it would be possible to have somebody representing the ‘voice of the customer’.  This should be someone who has a close understanding of actual customers, ideally based on research and lived experience of dealing with their problems.  In some cases there might be two people covering two different perspectives—perhaps a front-line contact center worker bringing in their experience of customers’ likes & dislikes, and a marketing stakeholder who has conducted detailed research.  

It’s Always A BalanceIt’s Always A Balance

The old phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is only true some of the time.  I suppose we might update this to ‘the right customer is always right’, there will be some customers who have expectations that don’t match with the organization’s value proposition and also the external constraints that the business and legal environment places on them. I might want to open a bank account quickly, without showing my ID… but there are rules and regulations (ultimately for my protection) which mean this can’t happen.  

In many cases process design is a balance—the aim is to create a process that is more convenient and efficient for all relevant stakeholders.  To do this we need to consider and have them ‘in the room’ (virtual or real) when the decisions are being considered.

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at and follow him on Twitter at