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Posted by on October 25th, 2012 with 0 Comments

Dan Madison is founder of Value Creation Partners, an organizational consulting and training firm. He’s also author of the best-selling Process Mapping, Process Improvement, and Process Management. He focuses on helping clients increase value through operational improvement, organizational redesign, cost reduction, and strategic planning.

Earlier this summer, I attended Dan’s intensive one-day seminar on process reengineering and lean techniques. After seeing what his methods did for my team, I had to interview him. Over the next four weeks, Dan and I will discuss how process mapping can make you, your team, and your organization SMART as Hell.

PART THREE: Process Mapping and Creativity

Glenn: Hi Dan, last week we started talking about the power – and challenge – of redesigning a process. Up to this point, the process has been mapped, analyzed, and even improved. In the redesign phase, however, you ask the team to start with a ‘clean sheet’ and draw a new process. However, most people find it much easier to make incremental improvement to the process than to create a new process on a clean sheet of paper.

Dan: That’s correct. You saw it in your session.

Glenn: Right. I was working with two others and our ‘as-is’ process map had, I think, 41 steps. Of those 41, we found that only 5 steps added value for the customer, using the ‘value-add lens’ that you mentioned previously.

Now, in the ‘redesign’ phase, I took your instructions – start with a clean sheet of paper and focus on the value-add activities – literally. The other two in my team didn’t do that, for whatever reason.

One person reduced the number of steps from 41 to 35, by automating six steps. This is an incremental improvement to be sure, but I wouldn’t classify it as a redesign. The other person went from 41 steps to about 46, while improving the quality and consistency of the work.

I ended up with 5 boxes, which blew up our entire process. I asked myself the question that you provoked, “What would need to change in order for these 5 value-add actions to be the only actions?” and worked from there.

Even more interestingly, when I presented my redesign back to the larger group, one of my colleagues, with a fair amount of confusion, asked, “How the heck did you get from here (pointing at the 41-step process) to there (pointing at the 5-step process)?”

When I responded, “I just followed Dan’s instructions”, everyone in the room laughed and said that those weren’t the directions that they heard.

This moment – seeing how the three of us took the same instructions and created three different results – was one of the most profound learning experiences I’ve had in the past five years. Is that diversity of responses a product of personality, personal bias, listening skills, or the thing we call ‘creativity’? I don’t know.

I still believe that I just followed your instructions…

Dan: I think you did, too! [laughing]

Glenn: [laughing] So how do you balance this?

I imagine that, for most of the groups you facilitate, you get them into step three, they improve their process and they’re done. They’re happy as clams. You earned your pay. Everyone feels good.

Yet, your passion is around redesign. How do you nudge them into step four? How often does that really happen? Are you just planting seeds at that point and hoping that they’ll call you back later for a redesign?

Dan: Actually, this conversation is causing me to think about it. I might try a series of creativity exercises to precede the clean sheet. Now, earlier in my career, I had these, but I couldn’t discern a difference in the creativity after they had done these exercises. So, now I just jump right into the design principles.

I’m going to pose the question to you, Glenn. Let’s say you have a random group of people. Can we take folks who are generally not very creative in their daily life and provide a facilitated environment for them to be more creative? Is that something we can facilitate? My personal feeling is that a creative person is creative and a ‘non-creative’ person is not. [laughing]

Glenn: Well, I happen to be a certified instructor of Edward deBono’s “Six Thinking Hats”, so I’m going to say that we can, in fact, facilitate a creative environment.

I am sure – because I’ve done it many times – that we can facilitate ‘creative product’ using ‘non-creative people’. There is a process for creative output – many design companies use it in one way or another. So-called ‘creative people’ just happen to use this process, or a variation of it, unwittingly.

Interestingly, to your point, when I use these creative processes to help a ‘non-creative’ group produce  ‘creative product’, they don’t change their self-perception. They cling to the idea that it was the process that was creative, not them.

One example is morphological analysis.

Dan: I love that tool!

Glenn: Yeah, it’s great and it works. I facilitate ‘non-creative’ teams through the exercise and we always produce creative, innovative, profound results. At the end of the exercise, I tell them, “There. Now, you’re creative”, and they respond, “No, we’re not.” It’s somewhat maddening… It’s definitely a mindset.

So, how do we move from the incremental improvement to true redesign?

Dan: Well, one thing I would say is that the redesign is often seen as ‘all-or-nothing’, when it should be seen as a series of experiments. Testing a redesigned process should be done small, as an opportunity to learn. That’s how science is conducted. We have a hypothesis. We test it. We see what happens.

Glenn: That’s a great point, Dan. We probably should position the redesign as incremental experiments. There is an aspect of the process – the drawing of the new process – that feels like you’re carving this process into stone, with “thou shalts” and everything. It causes an emotion reaction that you can easily see.

The drawing of a process shouldn’t preclude – and Google, for example, is amazing at this – a/b testing (link), where you continue the old process while testing the new process alongside it.

Dan: That’s one of my soapboxes now. How do we get organizations to experiment more? And I think that could be one of the obstacles to doing a really creative clean sheet. People are just afraid that, “Well, there’s just no way in hell that my organization will buy into this, because it’s so radically different from what we currently do”.

Glenn: That’s true.

Dan: So maybe many of them are discouraged from even going down that path because even making small change is difficult, let alone a radical change. I think if we can create cultures of experimentation, that we can get wilder and wilder and wilder with our experiments. After all, it is an experiment!

Glenn: Yes. While process mapping can create a bible of what we should do, a snapshot of what we think we do, or an audit of what we actually do; it can also act as a simulation tool. It’s similar to a storyboard or a prototype that can you do walkthroughs with and experimentations with. I think that gets understated.

Dan: Absolutely.

Glenn: When I came to your session, I was a little concerned that we might only do the ‘as-is’ thing. I thought, “Well, at least I’ll hone my skills as a process mapper, and that’s a good thing”. But I was hoping to see how I could make a difference using process mapping. And that’s exactly what you delivered.

Dan: Well, you’re a good observer, because my excitement does come when there’s a breakthrough idea: a new design that is so much better than the as-is. I love that storm of creativity that has so much promise to it. I think your team hit on one of those moments with your new redesign. I was massively jazzed by what came out. I have to admit though; it is relatively rare – particularly in a one-day event. We tend to have more of these breakthroughs if we have more time devoted to the analysis and to playing around with ideas. A team’s ability to do that in one day is pretty rare.

Glenn: Interesting. There are two reasons why I think we were successful in creating what I’ll call a ‘breakthrough idea’. First, the process mapping ‘seed’ came from a relatively minor process that an administrative assistant wanted to remap because it annoyed her. I think there’s a certain power is starting with so-called ‘menial’ or ‘administrative’ processes that impact everything that comes after them. Second, I didn’t know anything about her process. I had no stake or emotional attachment to it. That allowed me to step back and think like a client to her process and then logically challenge every step in that process.

Dan: Absolutely. I purposely try to get someone involved in the process redesign that doesn’t work in that process.

I have a profile of that person:

  • They are wired to ask questions.
  • They challenge things a lot.
  • They’re well respected.
  • And I would add this as an additional criteria: that they are really creative.

If you have somebody with those characteristics, they will look at the map with completely fresh eyes. They hear about the issues and the problems and they’re not locked into the ‘as-is’. They don’t own it. They don’t have anything invested in it. They’re brain is unaffected. They can be the one to step out.

Glenn: It sounds like you’re advocating that a process mapping session is as much a brainstorming session as an ‘expert analysis’ session. Is that right?

Dan: Certainly. A session should be both. You have a really great opportunity for creativity when the ‘as-is’ has got some number of issues in it. This is where the multiple lenses come in. You can see that we’ve got quality issues, customer issues, worker frustrations, etc. The more issues we’ve got, the more opportunities we have to come up with something that’s dramatically better.

On the other hand, if the thing is working pretty darn good and there are not a lot of issues, but we can tweak it here and there, well that might be just fine.

Glenn: In the “SMART as Hell project”, I’m helping individuals and organizations create effective goals, using the SMART criteria. When people apply the SMART criteria to goals, decisions, communications, and products; they are more successful.

One of the reasons I love process mapping is that it meets and supports the SMART criteria:

  • Process Mapping is ‘Specific’. The methodology starts with a macro-flow, targets a specific step, and then creates a common visual language.
  • It focuses on ‘Measurability’, using the time and cost lenses.
  • It’s ‘Aggressively Attainable. That is, it’s difficult enough to be challenging, but easy enough to allow beginners to achieve success.
  • It promotes ‘Relevance’ through the ‘value-added’ lens. There’s an emphasis on redesign rather than documentation. And, there’s a focus on eliminating waste.
  • Finally, process mapping clearly supports ‘Time-bound’ with the Time lens and the identification and removal of ‘wait states’ in the process.

I want to discuss how process mapping is “Aggressively Attainable”. Process mapping – the way you run it – seems to put a group into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ state. It neither bores nor frustrates.

While some people might picture a process mapping activity as a bunch of geeks with Visio programs mapping out tasks to the nth degree and then filing the diagram away in a folder where it will never be seen again, you’re creating an energy or dynamic that is palpable when you get a team working on walls. You’re pushing people to the edge of where they are comfortable, but they are having fun. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re working with computer geeks or the YMCA.

Dan: If people are working on their own process, they tend to be engaged because – if they’ve got frustrations in doing the work and those have been addressed through the frustration lens – there’s a hell of a lot of energy around that. It answers a very basic question for all of us: what’s in it for me?

With the frustration lens, we attack something that’s very bothersome to me. There’s a very good probability that an idea will surface that doesn’t cost us anything and is easy to do. That’s why I have the frustration lens as my favorite lens – because of the high energy that it creates. It tends to lead to the time and waste lenses. As people are talking, they might find out that there is a design principle that addresses the issue head-on and gives guidance in terms of creating a new process that will eliminate that issue. I generally find a very high energy level doing the frustration lens with a group of people who work in the process.

Glenn: Does it ever fail?

Dan: I will say that there is a cultural aspect. This has only happened to me once in about 22 years, where people are reluctant to express their frustrations. That happened with Asian culture. I was working with some Japanese and Chinese folks in a Silicon Valley company. We got very little input about frustrations because I think they felt bad about bringing them up. I know they experience the frustrations, but I don’t know a facilitation way that we could bring that out.

Glenn: Yes, there are two cultural components at play there, I think. One is ‘losing face’. To point out weaknesses, gaps, or frustrations may reflect poorly on you or someone else in the room that owns the process. The second is this spirit of ‘toughing it out’. There’s a Japanese word – gambate – that captures this essense. This stoicism makes Asians very good at enduring difficult situations, but it can also make them a little too tolerant of annoyances that should be fixed.

I worked in Japan for 10 years and found that getting past this mindset takes time, usually more time than you have in a one or two-day session. [laughing]

Dan: I think you have to take them out drinking. [laughing]

Glenn: That is the right time-travel device! Once they start drinking, they can be honest about their frustrations. A little earlier you mentioned the possibility of a ‘design principle that addresses the issue head-on’…

Dan: Yes, from my experience, I’ve identified more than 30 process design principles that work.

Glenn: That sounds like a great topic for next week…

Learn more about Dan’s work and other resources in this interview below:


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