Ways of working: how to have purposeful processes

Hannah Grealish

Associate Director

Building upon our realising the extraordinary series and findings focused on ways of working, we explore how businesses are moving towards processes that guide thinking and enable agility and innovation.

Looking beyond the mundane

Process is all too often perceived as being solely transactional – those integral cogs and wheels which control individual tasks, their sequencing and resulting outputs. However, process is more than just routine; process enables structure and alignment in complex capital environments and enables evolution in the way we work.

We can define three types of process:

  • Transactional: the day-to-day processes which keep the wheels turning and drive integration between roles and disciplines. Ideally these processes can be simplified and automated.
  • Strategic: processes that drive ideas, enable innovation and new solutions.
  • Value adding: processes that execute the strategy in an evolutionary way, adding more value than transactional processes by realising better efficiencies.

With only one type of process in place, people work inefficiently in silos or in an isolated manner, focusing primarily on their own outputs. There is no control or consideration for the complex stakeholder network that exists in the capital environment and inconsistent quality and decision making can result. Outputs frequently pass between teams, departments or organisations without effective accountability or integration.

Too often, this is how blame culture develops on projects and with it the disregard for the harmful impacts of increasing cost, risk, schedule and mal-coordination. Before we know it, a tangle of issues exists with no clear trail of why they started, making remedying them difficult.

Purposeful processes to achieve outcomes

We need to change the way we define and use processes in major projects. By understanding the types of processes above – and how they are defined, interlinked and communicated to organisations – we can change the focus from outputs (what are we producing) to outcomes (what is the resulting benefit). This provides a more flexible and meaningful approach.

A key to beginning this journey is to make strategic processes purposeful and to communicate outcomes at every step and level.

From inception to handover and operation, people and supply chains must be clear on what outcomes they are working towards and how they are achieving that together. It enables them to place greater emphasis on what their contribution to the major project will deliver for end users, as well as the wider social, economic and sustainability factors it will achieve.

Purposeful processes also enable continuous improvement. All process should not be static, they should have the ability to adapt and evolve – and be allowed to evolve. Through continuous improvement, standardisation and repeatability can be achieved, but in a way that enables innovation and the right approach for the outcome required.

Obstacles to purposeful processes

Changing behaviours and processes can often seem daunting. Our interviews and experience demonstrate that the following typically occurs where processes are not effective, lack purpose or are in disorder:

  • Classification of the processes so the business understands where it holds value and where it is transacting
  • Problems are passed on to the next part of the process and snowball, rather than intervention occurring to correct an issue when it is initially identified. Focus is on ‘my part of the process’ and task
  • In asset owning/operating businesses, the asset delivery arm is undervalued and not close enough to outcomes and corporate strategy
  • Lack of intelligent prioritisation. For example, pet projects or easier projects are prioritised rather than those providing long term benefit
  • Continuing to use the same approach or processes – despite different conditions or environment – but expecting a different result
  • At project delivery stages there is a rush to deliver actions, rather than planning how the outcome can be achieved
  • Performance indicators and financial incentives are aligned to deliverables, rather than outcomes
  • Lack of continuous improvement in how work is performed.

Avoiding compounding process issues

When processes are not defined clearly and not realising their purpose or instilling collaborative behaviours, a ripple effect is created. This is compounded down through technical delivery which begins to falter, becoming inefficient and unproductive as tactical processes are over-complicated and siloed.

The outcomes become unattainable as value adding processes are not capturing innovation and continuous improvement. Leaders are not able to gain buy-in from workers and the supply chain because strategic processes fail to set the direction the programme is targeting. This creates challenges at three levels across the lifecycle of a capital programme – a perfect storm that evolves over time.

Practical challenges

Challenges at this stage are typically encountered at project and technical delivery stages and relate to processes being a hinderance to delivery (inefficient, time consuming and output focused) and there is no co-ordination between asset delivery and operations.

To overcome these challenges, key questions to ask are does the process serve its functional purpose and is it aligned with the business case, and can it be delivered to time and budget? It is important to:

  • Ingrain process as second nature by making it easy and accessible
  • Enable processes that support data collation and roll up to identify issues early
  • Demonstrate and encourage behaviours that support purposeful working, such as challenging siloed behaviour or discussing outcomes

Tactical challenges

These challenges are visible in major projects’ outputs and frequently seen by the ineffective prioritisation of projects due to little or no connection to early investment planning/strategic objectives. There is also little alignment to corporate and portfolio level benefits which can result in proposed solutions under-delivering.

To avoid tactical challenges escalating, it is important to continually challenge if the output solution is fit for purpose and:

  • Add project ownership to ensure integrated asset planning and to champion realisation of project outcomes and value cases
  • Applying a governance approach with clear stage-gates to bolster control and ensure integrated decision making

Strategic challenges

These challenges limit benefit realisation and outcomes and fail to answer the question: “Does this deliver to the needs and aspiration of the organisation?”. If shared outcomes do exist, they typically have not been articulated at all levels of the organisation and there is no accountability for benefits realisation. Also, there is poor future proofing as there is a lack of transparency across the lifecycle.

To overcome strategic challenges there must be:

  • Clear alignment of business aspiration to programme or project process by working to the same capital lifecycle
  • Visibility on performance by tying process to strategic objectives; creating KPIs and aligning stakeholder interests

These different types of challenges usually start at the practical level where processes are considered a hindrance, which leads to a lack of co-ordination. This quickly escalates to ineffective prioritisation at a programme or portfolio level before having a material impact on the ability to achieve the overarching strategy.

Looking at it the other way – processes that are deficient at a strategic level at a major project’s inception, will materialise into significant issues at delivery.

A more flexible and meaningful approach

For processes to be more outcome focused and flexible many factors are needed:

  • Simplified governance that is clear and easy to follow. Some tasks and processes will require different levels of complexity and governance, so it is important to audit existing processes to make sure that they are simple and effective for the outcome they are enabling. New processes should be based on similar requirements and the current environment, rather than ‘how it was before’ or processes that are too complex for the outcome they enable. Process should be managed across three layers of governance:
    • Strategic intervention: organisation-wide strategies and changes which alter the fundamental ways of working within an organisation
    • Investments and change authority: how money is being spent and why, in addition to justifying changes to those investment decisions further down the line
    • Project performance: ensuring that project performance is being measured and reported effectively to meet KPIs and resolve risks before they become issues.
  • Zero in on waste. As well as governance, processes can be improved by removing waste and making them easier, better, faster or more cost-efficient. At an organisational level, this drives productivity and makes it clearer for outcomes to be recognised. At an asset level, it improves asset utilisation by removing any non-value adding activities from the process.
  • Administrative and routine activities become digitalised. Many tasks traditionally completed by people may be enabled through digitalisation. This allows teams and people to focus on capability building and non-repeatable tasks, such as innovation or knowledge sharing.
  • Outcomes are shared, understood and celebrated. People should be able to understand how processes enable outcomes and decisions outside of their day-to-day work. Outcomes must be lived, visible and present every day at all levels. This can be achieved through formal mechanisms (business-wide communications, values and literature) and informal mechanisms (team meetings, awards).
  • Clear communication. Make understanding the process and outcomes simple. For example, a 30-page manual to explain a new process could be substituted with a short ‘cheat sheet’ and briefings with teams to highlight the most relevant changes. This approach also creates a feedback loop.
  • Transparent performance. Be able to define, measure and report on how you are progressing with certainty and show how processes are contributing to outcomes.

This framework approach requires leaders with the ability to understand, adapt and drive purpose into day-to-day activities without losing sight of the outcomes along the way.

Example in a public sector agency: More than £100m of efficiency savings were realised through agreeing on shared outcomes across two public sector departments and defining action and processes around these. Outcomes included achieving a 10 percent efficiency target improvement and flood protection for 300,000 homes.

Example in a transport authority: Lean action teams consist of a cross-functional team who follow a problem-solving framework to establish root cause, solve problems and implement solutions for pressing, real-life challenges. This approach has been used in a metro authority track team to create greater engagement of participants with the performance of their area and increases accountability for improvement activities.

Five steps to building a process framework

1. Map processes and audit effectiveness

Understanding the biggest areas of challenge and the effectiveness of what already exists will help identify priority areas where immediate action can be taken. Organisations must:

  • Audit induction processes, training and guidance areas, such as intranets. Are outcomes discussed which help understanding of processes at the most basic level? Or do they focus on systems and steps only?
  • Make guidance and inductions digestible and outcome-focused to encourage use and understanding
  • Encourage process owners to reinforce the outcomes they achieve through reporting and informal mechanisms
  • Ensure you have three clear layers of process – transactional, value adding and strategic

2. Truly live purposeful processes

Senior leadership must not only be seen to consistently live and follow processes, but also communicate the ‘why’ behind the process and what this means to the organisation. It is essential that leaders weave purposeful process into the culture of the organisation; provide reward and recognition for the right behaviours and embed this into the performance of leadership teams. Recognise the behavioural element of purposeful purposes.

3. Set outcome-based strategic processes

Strategic processes that people feel ownership of are more resilient and help to drive continuous improvement. Ask them to be involved in its development and involve supply chain partners.

  • Set KPIs and metrics based on achieving the outcomes, the level of integration and team working.
  • Encourage supply chains and teams to challenge processes or feedback if they could be developed or require evolution. Challenge them on how standardisation can be achieved while enabling outcomes.

4. Integration and time horizons of capital and corporate lifecycles

Drive a feeling of ‘one business’ to enhance integration and ultimately, encourage functional integration that identifies and prevents issues snowballing across capital or organisational lifecycles. To do this:

  • Set your long-term, mid-term and short- term time horizons, ensuring that their integrity is maintained and roles, accountabilities and organisational structures align.
  • Plan that processes will need to adapt in line with the integration and project lifecycle stages – plan for it rather than reacting.

5. Simplify and digitalise

Identify where existing processes can become more efficient or effective by simplifying them based on their outcome or where digital can enable greater efficiencies. To do this, organisations should:

  • Digitalise processes by using technology to manage data and workstreams digitally as well as optimising the process itself.
  • Create an approach that minimises admin and the hassle normally associated with form filling.
  • Share success stories, reporting on these monthly to provide a live update of performance.

Combined, these steps will help organisations evolve processes to have more purpose which ultimately support cost savings, drive productivity and enable innovation and truly integrated ways of working across functions and teams.

Read more about our realising the extraordinary series and ways of working findings.

For further information contact:

Hannah Grealish
Associate Director