Mick Furlong interviews an expert in the field of Business Process Improvement

Mick Furlong interviews an expert in the field of Business Process Improvement

by | 1 Sep 2021 | The Grey Matters Network Blog

Mick Furlong:

Good morning and welcome to the Grey Matters Network ASK THE EXPERT series. I’m Mick Furlong, managing partner, and we in the Grey Matters Network provide experienced professionals to many organizations across Ireland in operational, project, and advisory roles. This podcast is another one in the series we have been running for the last couple of months, all on our website.

Mick Furlong:

And today’s theme is business process improvement, and the significant benefits organizations that have focused on process improvement have achieved. And with me here today, to explain in more detail about business process improvement is Dave Flynn. He is one of our BPI experts and he has significant experience across many sectors, organizations, working with clients to apply lean thinking, and process improvement to achieve process improvement savings. So, Dave, let’s start with a few questions, and you can help explain the background to the business process improvement theme we have today. So initially, to kick it off, what is business process improvement, from your perspective, Dave?

Dave Flynn:

Okay. Mick, listen, thanks for the opportunity to have this conversation with you. And I hope that at the end of it, the whole process of looking at businesses and how they operate, becomes clearer from a BPI perspective. The answer to your first question is a little bit longer, because, what I’m trying to do is to give you a good understanding of what business process improvement is. So let me go on with this and if I ramble, stop me, but I hope I can be as concise as I possibly can.

The way I do this, is I think of businesses as a professional sport. And if you take that perspective, the level you play at and your results depend on your performance. So BPI is about looking at your performance so that it’s optimized. And if you think about it, all successful teams use coaches to improve their performance.

So I look at businesses as a collection of processes, the sales process, the delivery process, the wages process, et cetera, et cetera. Some of the steps in these processes are inefficient or unnecessary. These are what we call waste steps. Somebody was paid for the waste, so it’s either you or your customer. If it’s you, then you’re paying from your profits. And if it’s your customers, then you’re charging too much and you’re open to competitive pressures. So waste slows the process, and by removing it, the processes speed up. So business process improvement applies a set of principles and tools to identify and remove the waste and increase the process speed. So put in plainer terms, we look to maximize value to the customer or client, whilst minimizing waste to all clients.

Dave Flynn:

Someone once shared with me, the six most expensive words in business process improvement, “We’ve always done it that way.” Love that idea. For me, it recalls some of the incredibly complex and convoluted processes I’ve seen. And when you start digging into them, and trying to make sense of them, you often find yourself asking someone, “Why do you do it that way?” If I had a Euro for every time I’ve heard something like, “We’ve always done it that way,” I’d be retired and living on a beach somewhere.

Dave Flynn:

So this may oversimplify what’s happening, but what it really means is that, what they’ve developed is a way of doing things that works for them. There are pressure points in the process, at times during the process, and they’ve developed a way of dealing with them. So they’ve created workarounds, and that works for them. So that’s really, if you’d like a summary of what it is, if that makes sense to you.

Mick Furlong:

Yeah, very good. Good summary. So why is it important to organizations, this whole concept of business process improvement?

Dave Flynn:

Well, there are lots of reasons why it’s important. Principally it reduces the cost to serve. It’s more responsive to customer needs. Processes are optimized and quality improves. And then improvement becomes part of the organization culture. And as a result, employee morale improves because they’re empowered to make improvements. So all in all, it’s good for everybody involved, from the top to the bottom in an organization.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. We hear a lot about lean and other methodologies. Can you tell us a bit more about this, in terms of trying to get over the mystique created by BPI and lean?

Dave Flynn:

Yeah. Look, many organizations embrace this philosophy and what’s important is more what they’re trying to achieve, rather than what they call it. It’s a bit like dieting, you’ve heard of all the diet fads and the names they’ve called it. All we’re trying to do is reduce waste. So business process improvement, lean, six sigma, transformation, quality transformation, et cetera, et cetera. They’re terms that are being used to achieve the same thing, which is to reduce the cost to serve customers and to optimize processes.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. Okay. So what makes business process improvement work in organizations?

Dave Flynn:

So in a word, it’s leadership. The person at the top must be committed to the change program. If this is not the case, then the chances of success are low. I’ve worked in organizations where the business process improvement is the current must do or flavor of the month, where a team is formed to implement the program. Usually the project starts with great gusto and achieves early success. However, the appetite for change wanes over time, and eventually the program fades away. I often say that I could go back to some of the organizations I’ve worked with, and I could start again.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. And can business process improvement programs fail?

Dave Flynn:

Yeah, they certainly can. If, as I said above, there’s no leadership commitment, then it will fail. Also, if it’s used to reduce head count, it will fail. The reason for this is that most of the ideas that will make your business more efficient, come from the people doing your business. If they see that you’re using their ideas to get rid of them, they’ll work against you and the process will fail.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. Well, I think there may be an illusion that business process improvement is really for big organizations. In your experience, is this true?

Dave Flynn:

No, absolutely not. Wherever there’s a process, there’s a way to improve it. I’ve worked with one-man operations, be they farmers or builders, and I’ve worked with multinationals. And every one of them have gained from looking at how they do things and optimizing their processes. So there’s no ideal size and I find every size works.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. And is there a right time to start on a BPI journey?

Dave Flynn:

Yes. Now. And I say this because the sooner you start your journey, the sooner you see the benefits. It’s a bit like, as I mentioned earlier, weight loss. If you’re overweight, the best time to start reducing it is straight away.

Mick Furlong:

Okay. Okay. And can you give us some good case study examples of the impact of implementing BPI?

Dave Flynn:

Yeah. There are a couple of stories I could tell, there are many stories I could tell you about this. And let me give you one. I did some work in an insurance organization, and the focus of the project was to look at the time it took to get a proposal through the system. And one of the things that we do in process improvement is to walk the process. So take a process from its very start, and walk the piece of paper through it. If it’s an invoice or if it’s a proposal, walk it through and talk to the people who are doing it.

Dave Flynn:

And in this case, I came across a team of junior underwriters whose job it was to review the files that come in, to summarize the cases, and pass those ones that were easy dos, and summarize the ones that were more difficult for senior underwriters to review, so that they could make decisions. So they had developed a shorthand and methodology for doing all this. And I sat with them, and it was very, very good. They passed a lot of the cases through which didn’t require a senior underwriter review, and they saved the rest, and the work flowed to the senior underwriter.

So I went and I sat with the senior underwriter, and the files in these cases, some of them can be quite large, and I sat with him and I said, “Okay, let’s take a look at what the junior underwriter sent you.” And he said, “Oh no. No.” He opened the file, he said, “I go through every document because I like to get a feel for the case itself.” So we had a team of junior underwriters working to a process that was completely ignored by the next step of the process, so completely unnecessary. So, that was one of the stories. And I could go on all day and give you lots and lots of stories, but that’s what happens in organizations. People do things that they think works for them, without considering the overall cost and the overall impact on the process.

Mick Furlong:

Listen. Thank you, Dave. And I’m sure you could, as you say, go on all day in terms of experience around these stories, the war stories of implementing BPI. But just to kind of summarize what you were saying, Dave, as a takeaway, it’s not just big organizations, it’s small organizations as well, and the value was there. And fundamentally, it’s about driving out inefficiencies and eliminating waste, reducing cost to serve. And you also emphasize the real importance of leadership in terms of any business process information initiatives. And, I suppose, more importantly, the time is now. There is no better time than now, to start to try to drive out the savings and the benefits that organizations can achieve.

Mick Furlong:

So thank you very much, again, Dave. That was really informative and I think it gives a great perspective to those who are considering business process improvements. And as I mentioned at the start, if you keep an eye on our LinkedIn page and look at our website, you’ll see more of these ASK THE EXPERT sessions. Our new website is coming on stream shortly. So keep an eye there. Thank you very much again. And thank you, Dave.

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Dave Flynn – BIO

David has been working as a consultant since 2007 during which time he has taken on a number of full time roles. These roles were based both in UK/Irl and internationally in the USA and Singapore. He is a Lean Operations Practitioner with a keen commercial sense and a significant track record in change management and the business transformation. Currently working on an assignment with John Sisk on a variety of projects in Construction and IT. He started his career in Construction and has recently completed a Project for a large UK Bulider applying Lean Thinking and Cost Reduction techniques delivering substantial savings. He is process focussed and works collaboratively with client teams to deliver successful outcomes to this projects. His work demonstrates a capacity to deliver change through people and processes with a highly developed and practical approach to problem solving. He is experienced in establishing and maintaining key business relationships, internally and externally, and is customer focused with excellent interpersonal abilities. Specialties: Lean Six Sigma Deployment and Engagement. Project Management, Change Management, DMAIC, Kaizen, Process Improvement, Business Process Management, Continuous Improvement, Process Mapping

Mick Furlong – linkedin.com/in/mick-furlong-817491b

Experienced Non-Exec/Exec Director. Non-Exec Roles in several IT Start Ups and on National Council of ISME. Exec Roles in Bord Gais, Aviva Ins, VHI and Accenture. My core capabilities include Fintech, Risk, Governance. The Grey Matters Network The Grey Matters Network was formed in 2015 in order to provide organisations with access to a cohort of highly experienced professionals. It is also a vehicle for individuals who typically have had a long and distinguished professional career. The Associate panel has grown continuously since its inception and consists of people with experience of almost every sector and functional area. Our customers range from small SME’s, large multinationals, and State or NFP organisations. Our panel members are engaged in a variety of ways from full time permanent placements to short advisory assignments. Our reputation is built on trust, borne out by the track record of our panel members. Today, more than ever, our clients value the experience our team delivers.

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