By Ron Wallace, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University
Preparing a correctional agency for technological changes is extremely challenging. In a previous article, I discussed the need to conduct a business process reengineering (BPR) assessment prior to implementing a new automation system.
With proper planning, the BPR assessment can be conducted in conjunction with the new automation project with little or no additional project time required. In fact, the BPR assessment might actually save time down the road by identifying unanticipated issues early in the project.
Here are best practices for agencies planning to adopt new automation technology systems.
Step 1: Get Started Early
When conducting a BPR assessment in conjunction with a new automation project, it is important to get started early. In fact, the BPR assessment should be one of the first steps to begin the project work plan. The earlier the BPR assessment is started, the quicker it can identify areas for improvement and problems that need to be addressed.
A few years ago, I managed the team that conducted the BPR assessment on a large automation project for a state correctional agency. Within the first couple of weeks of the project, my team was fully staffed and ready to start work while other teams were still being assembled.
Unfortunately, the project was not ready as quickly as my team and we started hitting roadblocks right away. As it turned out, we needed to go through a series of approvals and red tape to conduct the site visits necessary to fully understand the existing processes. I share this story because it highlights the importance of the next step.
Step 2: Identify Your Agency Champion
No matter how agreeable everyone appears at the beginning of a BPR assessment, I have always encountered various forms of resistance down the road. Sometimes overcoming resistance is simply a matter of thoroughly explaining the long-term benefits to the person or group creating resistance. However, if such efforts fail, the project leader will need to turn to someone in the agency who has the authority to remove the roadblock.
Therefore, it’s important early on to identify a person who is the agency champion. That is, a person who is involved with the project that has been given the authority and/or directive by senior management to ensure the project is successful. Most often this person will be a senior executive within the agency or on the project team. Get to know this person and keep them updated on progress as well as challenges.
Step 3: Identify and Define Process Areas
Identify and define all the process areas that will be examined as part of the BPR assessment. Data exchange and flow requires interactions between different process areas. This can be a challenge because steps that one group believes belong in a specific process area may be viewed by other groups as part of another process area. This can lead to both confusion and missed steps down the road if it is not addressed early.
Identify the process areas that will be included in the BPR assessment. Next, create a succinct yet clear definition for each process area; no more than a paragraph long. As part of the definition, state the key functions that are considered to be part of the process area.
For one project I worked on, we printed a huge chart that identified each of the process areas our BPR assessment would cover. We also included the definitions that each project team had agreed upon. When I conducted a working session with a group of end-users, I would always hang up the chart for everyone to see. When someone wanted to venture off into another topic area, I could physically point to the process area where that topic would be covered in a future session or where it had been covered in a previous session. Not only did this approach provide a level of continuity to the project, but it also reduced the risks of an area or step being missed.
Step 4: Understand the “As-Is” Process
Before you can figure out where changes might benefit your organization, you first need to understand the existing processes. In BPR terminology this is often referred to as the “As-Is” process.
There are a variety of ways to gain a good understanding of the existing processes:
- Review existing forms. One of the first things I always did on a BPR assessment was to obtain copies of existing forms, which sometimes meant I got more than I asked for. It never ceased to amaze me how many forms an agency can create over time. However, gathering copies of these forms provides an excellent first step towards understanding the data collected and shared by an agency.
- Conduct interviews. Spend some time talking to the people who understand the existing process. These individuals will be your subject matter experts (SMEs). Undoubtedly, you will have questions about the massive amount of forms you collected and SMEs are your best resource for mapping out how things currently work within a specific process area.
- Conduct site visits. No matter how well someone thinks they know how a process works, more times than not they will miss some steps. The best way to fill in these gaps is by observing the process in action during a site visit. Watching a person do their job will typically uncover important steps that might have been previously overlooked because they are either so common that everyone assumes you know about them, or are so rarely used that people forget to mention them.
Step 5: Embrace the Why
Do not be afraid to ask why a step is occurring or why a form is used. Not only will the answer assist you in understanding the current process, but it will also assist with identifying areas for improvements.
Also, do not be shocked if you hear the response, “Because we have always done it that way.” BPR assessments often uncover outdated process steps and forms. More than once I have encountered situations where a new form or process step was introduced to address a change that was necessary. However, instead of determining whether the new form or process step eliminated the need for existing forms or steps, it was easier to keep the old practices in place.
Over time an agency will accumulate outdated practices and forms. The BPR assessment allows the agency to become more efficient through improved processes and also helps to identify and eliminate outdated practices.
Step 6: Conduct Working Sessions
Once you have completed your due diligence of information collecting, you need to validate your understanding of the existing processes. This is often accomplished through a small working group session with a variety of individuals familiar with the process. This working group often consists of people who have been interviewed or have been involved during the site visits.
In this working session you will review your understanding of how the existing process works. This is also a great opportunity to test out some new ideas for improving the existing processes. Toss out a new idea during the session and see how the group reacts. Oftentimes I will have pads of paper taped to the walls where I can start to map out what the new process will look like. The group does not realize it, but they are in fact helping to build the new process, which is Step 7.
Step 7: Create the “To-Be” Process
Map out how the future processes will look, also known as the “To-Be” processes. It has been my experience that the best way to map out the “To-Be” processes is by creating a diagram that demonstrates the workflow of the new process and supplement that with a narrative description.
A word of caution based upon personal experience: While I have found providing a narrative description of the existing or “As-Is” process can assist in highlighting any changes that will occur when compared with the new “To-Be” process, creating a workflow diagram of the “As-Is” process can quickly ground the project to a halt.
Why do I offer such cautions against creating diagrams of the “As-Is” process workflow? Processes typically start off with a consistent workflow. However, over time these process workflows will evolve to meet the unique needs of each individual site. As a result, what began as a single process workflow over time becomes a number of variations of that workflow.
When I have tried to present the “As-Is” process workflows, the work sessions quickly get bogged down with disagreement among the participants about how things are currently done since variations exist from one location to another. Keep in mind that understanding how the process currently works is only necessary to establish a rough baseline from which the new process can be created.
A best practice is to describe existing processes or the “As-Is” in general terms in a narrative, reserving the more detailed drawings and narratives for the “To-Be” documentation. Remember, the end goal here is to improve efficiency through new processes, not to document old processes that will be replaced.
Step 8: Obtain Buy-In for the New Process
Once the new “To-Be” process has been documented, you will need to obtain approval or buy-in from the users. Send the documents out for review ahead of a working session to save time. My recommendation is to send out the documents for review approximately three days prior to the working session.
Take the time during the working session to answer any questions about how the new process will work. Keep in mind that these are the people who will ultimately have to sell the new process to end-users. Your ultimate goal in this working session is to gain a consensus regarding how the new process will work.
Once you have completed this eight-step process, you are ready to start implementing the changes within the agency.
About the Author: Dr. Ron Wallace is a criminal justice professional with more than 30 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. He has worked with criminal justice agencies nationwide as a consultant on various projects and has several years of teaching experience at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Wallace currently serves as an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at American Public University System. He has conducted research and published articles on the topic of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).