Process improvement tips from Talita Aitken & Lesley Catterall, Southland District Council. Issue #8.

Promapp is a business process management tool and business process mapping software that helps companies build, improve and share their process knowledge from a central online repository.

The Process Improvement Tips from the Trenches blog series shares process improvement tips, tricks and recommendations from process management professionals around the world. This week's experts are Talita Aitken and Lesley Catterall of Southland District Council.

Southland District Council created a Promapp Support Team with a difference. This team drives the use of Promapp through Council and consists of Application Support Analyst, Talita Aitken and Lesley Catterall as a mentor and customer services coach.

They work closely with individuals and teams to capture and clarify business processes and documentation, with a focus on capturing the current business processes and identifying business or process improvements going forward. Working closely with individuals, departments and technical teams, they analyse, define, re-design, implement and measure business process improvements.

Southland District Council is the local governing body for the majority of the land area, Southland Region. It as formed in 1989 out of the amalgamation of four county councils. It has a land area of over 30, 000 km² that is serviced by seven area offices: Te Anau, Lumsden, Winton, Otautau, Riverton, Wyndham and Stewart Island.  Two of New Zealand’s largest national parks are within the boundaries of the Southland District – Fiordland National Park and Rakiura National Park which covers most of Stewart Island.

Why is process important to your organization?

Council processes are critical to our ability to adhere to the legislative and customer-driven requirements of the district. Without process, we leave ourselves vulnerable and fail in our duty of care to our ratepayers. Processes at Council are important for business continuity and risk management. All the Southland councils have formed a partnership to form Emergency Management Southland, to assist in civil defence or emergency situations.

As such, the council should be able to continue business in any situation and under any circumstance. Having consistent, easy-to-follow processes is a means to talk the same language across all area offices and to provide the same level of consistent service to our customer base.

What’s your biggest process management challenge?

Legacy processes and procedures were continued over many years without any formal review. Some of these processes are still being followed despite the advanced technologies now being employed by Council. Other processes have been ‘converted’ to the new technologies, but no thought has gone into adapting the process to best suit the needs of the organization and as a result they have become convoluted, error-laden and often reside only in the heads of those performing them. 

Our biggest challenge is getting these legacy processes out of the heads of the process experts and into a system that enables everyone to have access to them: “You don’t know what you have until it’s documented.” By far the biggest complaint we get from staff is that there is never enough time to do their job and process map. Convincing staff and management of the value of mapping their processes as a time saving and efficiency system is vital and having management buy-in and support to make staff available is critical.

What works well at your company?

Some departments have scheduled regular weekly process management times into their schedules. As the support team, we make ourselves available in those departments during these time slots to assist, train and review processes.

The internal user group, consisting of subject matter experts in various departments, is able to assist and escalate issues during non-scheduled times.

Our area office staff have commented that they feel more connected to head office. They are now using the same processes and documentation as everyone else and deliver the same level of great customer service in every location. Often variations to processes are recorded due to location and this is valuable when staff have to be rotated due to sickness, leave etc.

We are in the process of building an induction pack for new staff members, which consists of those processes that allow them to ease into council and gives them a referral point for policies, procedures and conduct. We have received good feedback and will continue to build on this process.

What's the most unusual approach to process improvement you've tried?

We discovered early on that working with a variety of people with different personality traits and skills means there will always have to be a variety of approaches for training and encouragement. To this end, we have run classroom training, individual training and send out regular tips and tricks to encourage staff. Some groups/individuals match our individual styles and knowledge better than others, so we often discuss which one of us would better suit the training needs in a certain department.

Our process training sessions are usually hands-on and we use real-life examples to demonstrate the importance of process in day-to-day life. For example, in one of our sessions we created a process for ‘Tying a Windsor knot’ tie and divided the staff into groups. They received either written instructions, pictorial instructions or had an instructor demonstrate. They were all given ties and asked to follow the process. It was very obvious that everyone had different preferences in the way that they best follow instructions.  

Recently, we ran an Easter egg hunt. We hid some Easter eggs in processes in our BPM tool that we felt were used by all staff and which we wanted to promote. Staff were given the opportunity to gain points for finding and reporting the eggs and wildcards to the Promasters. We had spot prizes for new or non-frequent users who participate, bonuses and spot prizes for anyone who writes or completes a process and publishes it, and a special prize for the most improved Promapp user.

Our most recent venture is integrating our processes into our intranet and service desk systems. When a user raises a service desk request, the service desk system intuitively presents solutions relating to the request (using tags and key words). The solutions may have a bit of background information, but also contain a link to the Promapp process, in order for users to self-help.

Example search: 

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