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11 May 2020 5 min read

Improving critical processes during Covid-19: three steps to prepare for the new normal

Rob Maguire

Rob Maguire
Partner | People and process excellence | London

Sam Atkins

Sam Atkins
Director | People and process excellence | London

As operations leaders move from immediate crisis-management to a longer-term view on how to respond to a potentially lengthy transition phase, it is evident that any scenario will have a significant impact on operations and processes.  

Core business processes are likely to have experienced a range of disruptions - be it unprecedented increases in volumes (e.g., requests for payment holiday or the steep rise in online food delivery we have seen over the last months) through to significant process changes (e.g. implementing manufacturing changes to support new product lines or developing new routes to market). Some of these disruptions will only have a temporary impact on processes, others are here to stay and will manifest themselves in a new BAU.   

Understanding, optimising and ensuring resources are allocated to key processes to respond to the new requirements will be a major factor in how successfully businesses weather the storm. We believe operational leaders need to consider three sets of activities with their process optimisation efforts over the coming weeks and months:  

Step 1: Recognise the impact of Covid-19 on your process landscape   

Most organisations have already begun to establish a view of the projected impacts of the pandemic on their businesses. The next step will be identifying and analysing the business processes that come into play, and to assess how robust these processes are to withhold current and expected challenges. This may be understanding the impact of significant additional volumes on existing control points such as credit approvals, or looking at how an increased number of potentially vulnerable customers can be supported through alternative channels.  

Once these processes are identified, there are both technology-led and more traditional ways to build a picture of what needs to change.   

Process mining technologies can help to quickly get an understanding of current process performance, demand levels and potential pinch points. There is a lead time associated with deploying and configuring these tools, but this time will most likely be worthwhile if the impacted processes are high volume, feature significant variation by region or product, and are heavily digitised (i.e. executed largely within a set of core platforms such as e.g. Salesforce or SAP).   

Where this is not the case or the timeline to stand up such technology is prohibitive, conducting more traditional manual process walkthroughs and tasking teams to gather volumetric and similar data is invaluable.   

What is important - regardless of method - is to quickly get to the crux of what needs to change and by when.  

Step 2: Don’t search for silver bullets; now is the time for brutal prioritisation  

In many cases, you will discover immediate process constraints and potentially pre-existing issues that need to be ironed out to effectively prepare the processes. Now is not the time to mobilise an army of project managers to start planning a range of waterfall-style projects, searching for silver bullets.   

Rather we suggest assembling dedicated groups composed of those who execute the process day-to-day and operational excellence practitioners. These groups should be tasked with developing and testing solutions and enhancements in days - not weeks - and quickly refine as needed. Once the new or amended process is stabilised, the group should look to build focused (ideally single page) best practice documents to help guide and upskill the necessary resources to execute. This approach requires some fairly brutal prioritisation which won’t always be easy; but to complete this step quickly enough, there are limited suitable alternatives.  

Step 3:  Resource your processes so you can scale them up and down   

New processes will require you to review the allocation of resources, and determine whether sufficient, suitably trained capacity is available to meet the existing or uplifted demand. In some instances, resolving this challenge might require a diversion or rapid upskilling of resources that were dedicated to other processes.   

Alternatively, the current situation presents a great opportunity to make the most of process automation technologies to plug capacity gaps. Configuring this ‘virtual workforce’ will require an upfront investment, but the ability to scale automation up and down to meet the peaks and troughs in demand is hard to beat. In a time where your staffing picture is likely to remain unpredictable, this can become a real asset and give you much needed flexibility.   

Ultimately, the investment in process optimisation will help determine how your business weathers the storm, and could even drive competitive advantage in years to come.  

Do you recognise the challenges described here? We would like to hear from you and explore how you can improve and stabilise your processes for the transition-period and a post-Covid world. Baringa’s process optimisation experts are looking forward to hearing from you. All our consultants are set up to work remotely, and our collaboration tools allow us to partner with our clients. Please reach out to Sam Atkins or Rob Maguire to arrange a call.