Using Process Visibility to see the “Big Picture”

Sep 2011
Issue 19

(aka “If you can’t see it, you can’t manage it!”)

by Robert Hiebeler


What do the following activities have in common: building a deck, planning a wedding, launching a new product, completing a merger, or putting a man on the moon?

One thing in common is that they all require a process that is focused on reaching a specific goal. In fact, much of what we do everyday is process driven, but usually there’s not much thought given to the underlying processes. Most processes are learned by experience, stored in our minds, and called upon almost instinctively when they need to be engaged.

In business, however, best practice suggests that key processes should be made explicit in order to foster a common understanding of the processes and to allow them to be actively managed. At St. Charles, we refer to this “detailing” as Process Visibility, and we believe that Process Visibility is a critical, and frequently overlooked, management perspective. With this in mind, we have developed a “language” of process as well as a graphic Process Visibility model to equip managers with the tools to develop a “Big Picture” view of the important processes for which they are responsible.

And our contention: If you can’t see it, you can’t manage it!

What is the “language” of Process Visibility?

Process Visibility is the art and methodology of displaying the complete end-to-end of a process at defined levels of detail. More specifically, Process Visibility defines complex processes in foursuccessive levels of detail, which we label with the terms Phase,Activity, Task, and Step. Each process can be thought of as having various Phases, and within each phase there are a number of Activities. As shown in the model below, the activities can be broken down into clearly defined Tasks and, finally, the tasks can be characterized by a number of Steps. All of the components of the process – steps within tasks within activities within phases – need to be executed well in order to achieve a successful outcome.

As suggested, the problem in many cases is that processes are not well delineated and articulated – they are not “visible” – and, as a result, it is often a challenge for people to develop a common understanding of what the underlying process is. Without this shared view, it is difficult to execute successfully, to obtain new efficiencies, and to leverage the process effectively for competitive advantage.

In our consulting work, we find many organizations that have developed extensive processes, but they are typically designed and implemented at the Task and Step levels of detail. Common examples include policy and procedure manuals, process-based training courses, and management of ERP systems.

What’s often missing, however, is the identification of the higher-level process components of Phases and Activities – the one-page Big Picture view. And, if you can’t depict your business process in a single-page Big Picture view, then you probably are not managing that process as effectively as you could. The one-page view is the missing link which provides Process Visibility to the manager and the executive and, on basis of the one-page view, they can drive execution, collaboration, and planning for strategic change.

The benefits of a Big Picture view

The application of Process Visibility in a business setting for Big Picture one-page views provides the following immediate and tangible benefits:

First, this approach creates valuable company-wide communication tools to capture and share institutional knowledge in a user-friendly way, and it improves cross-training capabilities for greater leverage and flexibility.

Second, it increases “speed to competency” across an organization by using a common language to clarify “how things work” to new people.

Third, it enables ongoing Process Visibility for problem solving which should result in greater collaboration.

Finally, it creates a forum for future innovation, ensuring an atmosphere of continuous improvement and sustainability.

For example …

Here are two examples of the successful application of Process Visibility:

Professional Services – Merger and Merger Integration Processes

Problem: We had a professional services client that provided multiple lines of merger and merger integration services across multiple regional and national market centers. Each of its service lines had its own process methodology and market facing language, and there were some significant differences in different geographies, even within the same service line. This situation created confusion – internally and externally – and inhibited cross-service line collaboration, as each service had its own methods, processes, and terminology. Also, the firm was unable to present a consistent point of view to the marketplace about how mergers should be integrated, from beginning to end.

Process Visibility Solution. By getting all key service lines together and creating a single process depiction of all the key activities of the end-to-end merger and merger integration process, we helped the client improve processes for pre-merger synergy estimates, merger integration planning, and post-merger integration execution. In addition, this new process depiction allowed the firm to present “one voice” to the market, and it created the benefits internally from being able to speak one common language.

If you are interested in an example graphic depiction of the process that resulted in this “Merger Integration” engagement, please contact me.

Our work to define this process provided the following specific benefits:

  • Identified the specific phases and activities that were considered necessary for an integrated execution of a merger and resulting merger integration.
  • Provided a common language for external marketing and internal training.
  • Provided the basis for a knowledge portal to house all the key tools and forms supporting the entire process.

Professional Services – Experienced Hiring Process

Problem. Prior to this project, the experienced hire process within this organization was individually implemented by many different professionals across the world, with many different tools, policies, and training experiences. Not surprisingly, this created a wide divergence in operating practices, and it was extremely difficult to spot weaknesses and drive overall consistency across the firm.

Process Visibility Solution. Using our Process Visibility methodology, we facilitated a consolidation of these divergent processes (across a global firm) to create a “single map” of agreed-upon Phases, Activities, Tasks, and Steps of the end-to-end process.

If you are interested in an example graphic depiction of the process that resulted in this “Experienced Hire Process” engagement, please contact me.

Our work to define this process provided the following specific benefits:

  • Identified the specific Phases and Activities that were considered “weak” by top executives and targeted for follow-up corrective action.
  • Provided a common language for training, development of leadership skills, and new employee on-boarding.
  • Provided the design of a supporting web-based portal to house all of the key tools and forms that supported the entire global process.

These collective benefits created overall efficiencies in the entire process to free up busy recruit executives to focus on the personal time and attention required to recruit new professionals.

Broad applicability of the Process Visibility approach

The St. Charles Process Visibility model, methodology, and language can be used successfully to depict all processes – business and personal. So, the next time you are building a deck, planning a wedding, launching a new product, or implementing an important initiative for your business, consider the power of describing your process Big Picture on a single sheet of paper …

For more information, please contact Bob Hiebeler.

Next month

How to deliver quality eLearning projects on time and under budget

In today’s market, many companies are implementing various types of eLearning as a way to deliver quality training while saving time and money. But, as these companies are finding, there are many potential pitfalls in the project life cycle of an eLearning program. Without proper management, costly mistakes can be made, and the quality of the training experience (and investment) can be compromised. In our next issue, we offer some practical guidance on how to design, develop, and deliver high-quality eLearning projects, on time and under budget.