5 Steps to Successfully Launch Work Process Integration
Posted by on July 30, 2019
Gordon R. Schonfeld
More and more, companies with unconnected cross-functional work processes are faced with a stark choice: They can integrate their processes and reap big benefits—or they can maintain the status quo and continue to frustrate their customers and employees.
According to a recent Lawless Research study of cross-functional processes commissioned by Cherwell Software, a variety of standard processes aren’t highly integrated, and poorly designed (i.e., non-integrated) processes reduce productivity and negatively affect the employee experience. The study also found that only 30 percent of participating companies considered their processes highly integrated.
Let’s say your company finds itself at the integration crossroad and chooses to go forward. Cherwell’s chief operating officer, Steve Rodda, recommends five steps to successfully launch your integration and put it on a sustainable path.
Step 1: Achieve Consensus
The launch can’t happen without consensus buy-in from top management, IT, and relevant business-line heads. Rodda sees this as a prime opportunity for chief information officers (who, for simplicity’s sake, he assumes will lead the integration) to step up and become “chief consensus officers” who can get the parties together and on the same page.
“CIOs must take on a high-level diplomat role in this context,” he says. “While they’re a natural choice to lead the integration because they work across functional areas and know the company’s IT systems inside-out, they’re much more likely to succeed if they have strong people skills and the ability to persuade.”
Once the CIO has forged a consensus around the integration and secured the necessary budget and resources—itself a major accomplishment—it’s time to move on to the next step: building a better employee experience.
Step 2: Upgrade the Employee Experience
It’s not a stretch to suggest that the employee experience is the linchpin of work process integration. Employees, after all, are the ones who actually use the processes. They can’t do their jobs if processes don’t work or interconnect. And most important, a flashing neon line leads directly from the employee experience to customer satisfaction.
Creating a better experience begins with a fundamental question: “What do you need your process to accomplish?” Rodda believes that employees will deliver the most useful answers if they can avoid dwelling on the specific tools that cause problems and, instead, focus on the process’s ultimate goal or goals. Ideally, integrated processes will enable employees to do what they’re good at and eliminate anything that gets in their way.
CIOs should think like product managers to get the input that’ll improve the employee experience, he adds. They can solicit information via any of several means, notably internal surveys, meetings with focus groups of representative users, user acceptance testing, and other feedback mechanisms.
Step 3: Start Small
Integrations are massive undertakings that consume vast amounts of people, time, capital, and technology. It’s best to start small with a mix of mission-critical and commonly used processes that are straightforward and have a high probability of successful integration. As Rodda puts it, “Going after low-hanging fruit first is realistic as well as practical. A big-bang integration is not just riskier, but also much harder to pull off.”
The start-small strategy offers significant benefits:
- Notching a few quick wins under your belt fosters confidence and eases organizational anxiety.
- Building positive momentum makes it easier to take on bigger challenges.
- Taking a test-and-learn, iterative approach using agile methods lets you find out what works (and, importantly, what doesn’t work) fast and apply it as you keep moving forward.
- Choosing the right processes enables you to weed out those that you don’t need.
Rodda emphasizes the importance of transition plans as you move from project to project. The idea is to learn from your successes and failures, set milestones and deadlines, staff projects appropriately, and—above all—communicate about the integration’s progress so that the entire company is kept informed and involved.
Typically, this initial phase of the integration takes about six to eight months.
Step 4: Scale Up
Even as you work your way through early wins and build momentum and support, you need to be thinking about scaling up the integration. It should happen gradually and, if things go fairly smoothly, stick to a well-thought-out timetable.
Monitoring the effectiveness of your projects both individually and collectively—which you’ve been doing all along—becomes increasingly vital as you roll out the integration through more parts of the company. Your key performance indicators (such as response time, change in the number of process steps, time to completion, employee Net Promoter Score®1, etc.) should not only measure progress, but also serve as carrots or sticks to cheerlead, keep things moving, reward success, or discourage foot-dragging.
Step 5: Create a Continuous Refinement Loop
After scaling up, CIOs can kick back and relax as the integration proceeds on autopilot and nothing further is needed. Right?
Don’t even think about it, says Rodda. “Part of how integrations are successful is that they don’t really end. The ‘set it and forget it’ mentality might seem tempting after scaling up and hitting KPIs, but it’s unrealistic and potentially disastrous.”
Instead, Rodda urges companies to focus on improving their processes via continuous refinement loops, essentially adopting test-and-learn as a permanent approach. Doing so not only ensures that nothing is taken for granted, but also makes it easier when the time comes—as it undoubtedly will—for the next integration.
Tilt the Odds in Your Favor
Process integrations can be daunting for everyone involved: CIOs, top management, business-line heads, IT, multiple functional areas, and front-line employees. As challenging as integrations are, though, the consequences of not integrating can be much worse.
That’s why it’s crucial to launch with careful planning and a flexible mindset. By obtaining consensus buy-in, upgrading the employee experience, starting small, scaling up gradually, and continuously refining what you’ve done, you’ll set up your company’s integration for success.
Interested in reading the full results of the survey Cherwell commissioned on integrating work processes?
1Net Promoter®, Net Promoter System®, Net Promoter Score® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
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