Process Optimization And The Art of Mapmaking - Two Case Studies

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Large or small, businesses contain processes that define how they work. Those processes may be simple or complex, and may or may not be documented and consistent across the organization. During growth and change, processes tend to become more complex in one of two ways:

Like pioneers exploring uncharted territory, start-up organizations tend to build processes organically. These methods are rarely documented and evolve quickly with technology and business changes. Individuals find their own ways of working, which is efficient until the scale inhibits collaboration.

Much like ancient cities featuring cobblestone streets accented with modern traffic controls, transitioning organizations typically have processes in place that were developed during growth phases and modified in reaction to localized problems. Depending on the age of the organization, those processes may no longer be effective.

Companies including CORE Planning Strategies work with organizations to help them optimize their processes to improve their effectiveness. Similar to mapmakers using a compass to stay on course, we start by gathering data and progress into documenting the paths being traveled. The approach varies based on whether we are charting new courses or redirecting traffic patterns.

Growth Organizations - Charting New Territory

I recently consulted with a real estate development company that has experienced exponential growth over the past 5 years. The developers are primarily ambitious Millennials, eager to move up in the organization, willing to leverage technology, and nimble enough to learn new processes. However, each developer adopted programs that were familiar and readily available.

Our discovery phase began in discussions with upper management and top developers, and it highlighted the need to streamline processes for the development, preconstruction and construction phases. The interviews uncovered duplicative software packages that could be pared down to a single technology solution, allowing for dashboard-style reporting of project schedule, budget and status. This consolidation resulted in improved efficiencies for property management, marketing and leasing, who no longer required training on multiple scheduling software packages.

CORE worked with the client’s IT department to design cloud-based tools that track critical path, tasks, approvals, contact lists and design progress, resulting in the ability to readily share information across the organization. To close out the project, we provided diagrams defining the company’s tools and processes - resources that can help them with onboarding of new team members.

Transitioning Organizations - Clearing the Path

While managing a large capital program for a university client, we discovered three key challenges with their online collaboration solution:

  • Their file sharing solution would only operate using an old software version. Upgrading the software would cause the solution to fail, and delaying the upgrade was subjecting computers to security vulnerabilities.
  • The files were automatically purged after a period of time. This prevented the project team from verifying that they had current and complete files.
  • Identifying new files was only possible through a "hunt and peck" process - a time-consuming task that involved opening folders and subfolders and comparing contents with local records to find new content.

After discovering these challenges, we helped the team define requirements for a replacement solution.

  • Security of hardware and software was critical.
  • The university needed to own the information and the access to it through a controlled environment.
  • All users needed to see the shared information, and it could not disappear.
  • Changes to the content needed to be tracked through an RSS feed or other log.

After working with a university engineer to test potential solutions, presented by the university’s IT department, we agreed on a cloud-based system that synced to local machines and provided transferable controls of files and folders. Most importantly, the program efforts were no longer slowed by administrative issues, improving efficiency of both employees and consultants.

Continuous Process Optimization - Updating Your Navigation System

Have you ever turned on the navigation system in your car, and tried to drive to a house in a new neighborhood? Or, been directed to turn left when you need to go to the third exit in a roundabout? Online map programs are constantly charting new paths and updating their routes to stay current. This same principle applies to businesses.

As your business grows, first figure out what you do, and then start documenting how it happens. Share your successes with your coworkers, and work together toward standard processes that can be taught to new employees. Generate onboarding documentation and update it as your business evolves.

If you work within an established organization, notice experiences that are frustrating team members due to long approval processes or cumbersome requirements. Talk with your IT department, consultants and new employees to find out how the same tasks are completed in other organizations. Define your challenges and objectives, then test solutions before adoption.

Jenell Fairman is senior project manager for Core Planning Strategies.

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