Collaboration or Contract: A Decision of Flow

Mint tea

Ask anyone who’s been involved in any significant implementation and they’ll have come across the waterfall approach. It typically leads to a contractual relationship between one team who are working on artefacts that are then handed over to a subsequent team. While the flaws of waterfall have been well-documented, this concept of contract versus collaboration extends to many areas of work.

Example

Coffee Shop
Coffee Shop

Let’s use a brief story as an analogy for the concepts of contract and collaboration. It’s an incredibly simple story, but even with the simplicity, we can see the complications that can arise from a contractual relationship.

My wife and I walked into a coffee shop. I was left to order the drinks at the counter. So I’d asked what drink did she want.

“Mint tea please”

She orders a lot more hot drinks than I do, so she’s more familiar with the script that we all follow in coffee shops. And she definitely knows I do not order as many drinks, so she’s aware that I’m not that familiar with the standard scripts. In fact, I order hot drinks (maybe once a year) so rarely that it’s almost a new experience every time.

So I’m at the till and I’ve asked for mint tea. I hear in the barista’s response that it’s blended mint tea. So I’m then thinking:

  1. Is blended mint tea acceptable?
  2. Are there are other teas in this coffee shop which are more acceptable?

I decide it’s acceptable.

I’m then asked what size. How would I know? I was just told mint tea. And I know for a fact that my wife chooses different size drinks, but mostly takes the larger options in general.

So I ask for big.

Not good enough, it’s one of those shops. They have small, large and grande (or some phrase like that). So which is it; big = large or big = grande?

And what happened to medium? (but that’s another story)

I choose large.

Then I’m asked take away or stay in. Thought I’d already asked for the tea to go, but no worries, it’s a busy shop with background noise, so I say to take away because I know the context.

I’m then asked if I want one teabag or two. Woah, where did that one come from? It’s a cup of tea, a bag goes in in order to flavour the hot water. The longer you leave the bag in, the stronger the tea. Mint tea works the same way, doesn’t it? So what would be the advantage of two? Rather than ask what that benefit would be, I chose one since I hadn’t seen many cups with two bags before.

Seeing the way the interaction was heading, I waited for the “do you want extra water with that?” question. Fortunately that didn’t come.

On being given the takeaway cup, I notice it’s hot to touch, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that. So I look for the holders and place one around the cup.

Analysis

The wrong tea
The wrong tea

That coffee-shop interaction was a contractual one. It depicted a scenario where one person (my wife) stated her requirements, which were then interpreted and delivered by another person (me).

Although it’s a very simple scenario, it highlights how much needs to be known to be able to be fulfil the customer’s expectations.

There were numerous attributes that had to be chosen in order to complete the transaction and deliver the request:

  1. Feature/Product = Mint Tea
  2. Variety = Blended Mint Tea
  3. Size = Large
  4. Number of teabags = One
  5. In or out = Takeaway
  6. Temperature to hold = Need a holder

My wife only stated one of those. I, as the contracted partner, had to answer a variety of questions based on knowledge, size based on estimate, number of teabags based on memory, takeaway based on context and joint understanding, holder based on real-world experience.

That ratio isn’t uncommon with any set of requirements. No matter how well or how detailed you define your requirements, there will always be questions that need to be answered. If you’re not there to answer the questions, then it introduces a delay or it introduces a risk of diverging from your (unstated) requirements.

Collaborate

2 computers at one desk
2 computers at one desk

Now, imagine the same scene, but with my wife also involved. The barista would be able to ask her directly, or at worst, ask me to then ask her (e.g. if she’s had to sit at the table rather than stand at the counter). While the latter scenario introduces some back and forth, it’s still more timely and risk-reducing than me guessing and getting the order wrong.

That’s the situation that occurs in many organisations. An artefact is commissioned. It’s defined and passed onto another group. Who digest the documentation and then ask questions. And it takes time to progress through this rigmarole.

While I don’t think the people involved must be present in the same room all the time, they do have to be able to communicate in a way that doesn’t lead towards a waterfall approach.

So the default position could then become one of collaboration rather than contract, with those involved working together to define and review. Now while that concept is well-adopted in more agile organisations, those organisations that have remote development teams can struggle with some of the implementations.

However, it’s not just IT development. The concept of collaboration should be present for any change, any time that an organisation progresses, especially within the organisation itself. And that’s where a number of organisations fail.

 

4 box model for deciding on the future – part 2

Revised Revenue Vs Confidence 4 box model

I finished the previous part of this article with a four box model that had two quadrants with the same outcome.

Revenue Vs Confidence 4 box model
Revenue Vs Confidence 4 box model

With that article, I’d stated that the outcome you may want to choose would probably depend on the lifestyle you want to lead.

That still applies, but I want to show what I do with similar four-box models

The issue

I don’t like when four-box models show opposite quadrants with the same outcome. The reason is that the quadrants are an approximation so we’ve blurred what we do with data points that fall around the centre (like around a bullseye) of the model. Imagine a point of x=49 and y=51, why should that be treated different to x=51 and y=51? or x=49 and y=49?

How to interpret

What we recognise is that if the diagonally-opposite quadrants are more a diagonal stripe. Depending on how we want to approach the corners, this could be a straight swipe or arcs. I tend to find arcs better reflect the decisions being made.

Revised Revenue Vs Confidence 4 box model
Revised Revenue Vs Confidence 4 box model

 

Using Four Box Models

What is a Four-box Model?

It’s a simplified graph, depicting two axes and the four boxes start at the corners of the graph. There’s an example further down below.

Why Use Four-box Models?

I love four box models. They’re simple and since they’re simple, they force you introduce clarity where there may have been confusion before. This makes the message easy to convey and simpler to isolate.

As such, all 4-box models provide a way of clarifying the problem space. Even if the solution you end up with doesn’t fit into the 4-box model, they’ll have been useful in clarifying the thinking within the group.

We’re going to see how they can be useful by looking at an example from CRM.

Customer Relationship Management

There are two similar models from Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The first model relates a customer’s historic spend with their predicted future spend. The concept here is to help you decide what to do with different segments of customers.

4-box CRM Model depicting historic spend against future spend
4-box CRM Model

The customers that everyone wants are those that have spent a lot in the past and are likely to spend a lot in future. Continue reading “Using Four Box Models”

Lean Cost Benefit Analysis of a Quick Improvement

Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service
Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service
Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service

Last week, I was provided with the short opportunity to improve a service within an NHS Acute Trust. I had 5 minutes to understand the problem and then I suggested a quick improvement. I’d like to take you through how we arrived at a solution and the resulting lean cost benefit analysis of that solution.

I don’t get that involved in the individual solutions anymore, instead I’m usually engaged for more strategic issues and end up mentoring others to make the changes across the whole organisation or enterprise. So it was fun to roll up my sleeves and suggest a solution that could work in a hospital. I fully expect the team to modify it to suit their specific needs and I’ll be on hand to help them improve it.

So let’s get to the calculations:

Lean cost benefit analysis

Analysis Investment

  • 5 minutes x 1 health professional explaining the problem
  • 5 minutes x 1 consultant listening to the problem
  • 5 minutes x 1 consultant developing a solution
  • 10 minutes x 1 consultant describing how the solution could work and what could be changed to make it more suitable
  • 15 minutes x 1 health professional understanding the solution
  • 1 x flipchart paper
  • 1 x pen

Potential Savings

  • 3.5 hours per day x 4 health professionals across a 5 day week = roughly 2,800 hours a year
  • The 3.5 hours is based on a reduction from 4 hours to 30 minutes for handover and prioritisation.
  • At roughly 1,400 working hours per year (based on 200 days per year and 7.5 hours per day), that equates to 2 FTE (full-time equivalent) posts saved per year.
  • So that could mean the service treating a lot more patients,  a potential cashable saving of roughly £70,000-£90,000 per year or – as is often more likely – a mix of the two

Not bad for a 15 minute session.

Practicalities

Implementation

The solution would need installing, but that’s the easy part. It would require some pens and a whiteboard or similar. That’s probably £200-£400 for a board and magnetic strip and counters plus £20-£50 per year for pens.

The implementation would usually rely on a critical core of the staff wanting to implement the change. In this case, by applying Lean Startup concepts, just one staff member could do it and then the others will learn about how it could affect their working lives and the impact on their patients.

What was the solution?

My suggestion was based on Lean, using a Kanban board. It relies on the principle of visual management. In this case, it’s easy to see at-a-glance where the work lies. It seemed a perfect fit for the problem. Due to the small amount of time spent with the service, there is a significant risk that the solution may not work for all the health professionals involved. I’d have liked more time with more of the team to mitigate this risk.

My aim was to improve flow. There was a blockage in the handover stage of the day and that’s what I wanted to eliminate. With more time, I’d have taken a more relaxed view of the entire process, involving other stakeholders, referring teams and teams that are being referred to. As it was, engaging with only one health professional, I focussed on what could be achieved quickest to remove the blockage.

The kanban board isn’t the end of the solution; it’s the start. I expect the therapists to find that the bulk of their work is being stuck in one or two stages or that they are not able to provide services to low priority cases. I don’t actually know what they’ll find, but that’s what I would be looking for. After the therapy team have been running the board for a week or two, they should be able to see patterns. Then they can act on those patterns.

Perspective

So which appeals more; the lean solution itself or the numbers in the lean cost benefit analysis?

From my perspective, they’re two sides of the same improvement and I teach analysts to remember both sides (and some others) when engaging with teams and their stakeholders.

Fundamentals of Process Mapping – Introducing Subprocesses Part 4

From what we have seen so far, we’d have 3 separate, but related process models. One for each of the following:

  • Buy a Book
  • Choose a Book
  • Pay for Book

Numbering the processes

Some of that was getting difficult to describe. The fact that Pay for Book is a process step in one diagram and a whole process was causing some difficulties in describing the relationship. I’d recommend reading through it again, slower this time, checking that you are certain which process step is being to referred to at each point.

Some standards help understanding by providing a key to each process step. The most common method is to assign a unique number to each process. The benefit of this is that you can define the process once (e.g. say we define “check stock level”) and then we can use it elsewhere as a process step (e.g. in an ordering, logistics or auditing processes).

Some standards help you navigate the hierarchy by assigning and set of numbers, e.g. everything at the top level has one number (1, 2, 3, 99, 123, etc). The next level down would have another point number so that all the process steps in process 1 would have numbers of 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and those in process 3 would have 3.1, 3.2. Down another level and we’d see labels such 1.1.1, 1.3.4 and 4.3.5. This does lean towards a parent-child relationship between processes. Not necessarily bad, but I prefer more freedom.

The more levels and the greater the complexity, the greater the need for a naming convention.

Reuse

By allowing processes to appear in other process maps, they can be reused. For instance, theScan Book process step above could be used elsewhere, e.g. to retrieve information about a book such as how many are in stock, price, different versions, etc. The process step would be the same in all processes.

Common Mistakes

  • The Process Start in a subprocess doesn’t relate to any process step in any other process map. So you’d never actually use this process.
  • The process overlaps with the previous or next process in the chain – as we saw earlier with the Scan Book process step.
  • The Process Ends (i.e. the outcomes of a process) for the subprocesses aren’t reflected in the higher-level processes.
  • Change in process mapping methods – giving a process step to a different analyst can result in that process step being described using different methods or no standards. This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but should be considered before responsibility for process mapping is delegated.

Why 3 Levels?

You don’t have to have 3 levels, they suited the early part of this article. It’s a common concept in a lot of domains. In Data-modelling, the hierarchy of Conceptual, Logical and Physical data models has long proved beneficial. Closer to the process domain, Alistair Cockburn was promoting multiple levels of Use Cases almost a decade ago.

When do you stop going smaller?

When everyone understands the process step without having to ask any questions.

For many clients, two levels is sufficient for the process analysts to be involved in; a high-level mapping of all the processes, then a more detailed view of each process. a 3rd level may be created for the more complex processes that require more analysis. Developers are likely to look for further detail, so either another level or different diagramming technique can be used.

Recap

  1. A process step can be described in more detail in its own process map
  2. Processes can be re-used in more than one process
  3. Process maps should contain sufficient information to relate to each other – using the Process Starts and Process Ends
  4. Different readers will have different ideas of how much detail they want to see
  5. The different levels of process maps can be used for different audiences
  6. As the number of processes and levels increases, the greater the need for a naming convention

Next Article

Notice that Buy a Book was written from the buyer’s perspective whereas Pay For Book was written from the Bookseller’s perspective. We’ll discuss how to handle that in the next article.

Which Diagram type?

All the diagrams above could be process maps. In some cases, especially with mapping the flow of user-interfaces, then UML Sequence Diagrams can be more useful than Activity Diagrams. I’ll explain why in a later article.

This is an article in the Fundamentals of Process Mapping online book provided by Alan Ward

Use Case Diagrams for Documenting Scope

Use Cases

I embraced UML as a communication tool some years ago and have found it successful in being able to convey messages in a simple manner. I don’t use every type of diagram – some are too strange for the average business user. I do use Use Case diagrams. These are great and, with a small amount of education, are suitable for use with business users.

Use Case Diagrams for Scope

As a communication tool, Use Case diagrams are great at showing who does what at a very high level. They’re good at showing system solution scope, types of actors and ownership of integration points. In one diagram, I can show the scope of the system in a way that users will understand. Now that’s a powerful tool.

Depth of the Scoping Use Case

Ideally I like to have short Use Cases, perhaps 2 or 3 sentences at the highest level. Used like this, they don’t conform to the more common view of Use Cases, but they do give a good, brief overview of what happens in the solution. More detail is required in later stages, but you can’t beat a concise description to get the ball rolling.

Why use Use Case Diagrams for Change Management?

There’s a system involved. By system, I don’t necessarily mean an IT software application. There are people, teams, dependencies on other organisations, dependency on phone network being available and so on. Often the people in the change team, including the users themselves are not aware of all the interactions that they have with these external organisations (including teams in the same organisation). This is where a simple Use Case comes in. It can show, at a single glance, the main interactions between the team in question and their environment. I use them to gain a joint understanding of what the team does now, or what they’re trying to change to.

Multi-level Use Cases

Originally the concept was that a system had 10-20 Use Cases. If you had vastly more than that, then you were doing it wrong, it you had less than 5, you probably weren’t analysing far enough. Time’s moved on and real-world, practical experience has been added to this. What analysts and software methodologists/project methodologists came to realise was that the power of Use Cases was that they were readable and understandable by users but that to capture sufficient detail, they were becoming unwieldy and cumbersome. Alistair Cockburn has been influential in his work promoting Use Cases at different levels, some will be user and high-level, some more detailed. It does raise the risk of implementing a more traditional waterfall approach where one analysis has to follow on from another.

Use Case Diagrams for Developers

I know that there’s a strong argument for not using Use Case diagrams at all. This comes from developers and I can understand their perspective. That’s fine by me, I expect developers to know what works for them better than I do. In their case, the text of Use Cases counts for more. That doesn’t prevent analysts from using the tool.

Mentoring and Training

Bottle Stack
Bottle Stack

All of the changes facing every organisation require skilled personnel, either increasing a team’s knowledge in the tools and techniques used for change or by mentoring analysts, providing guidance and supervision.

Training

Training packages can be developed in the following:

Each training package is bespoke, specifically tailored to the client’s needs.

Mentoring

Mentoring is a longer engagement than training, designed to offer support to your staff in their profession. For those involved in the change profession (change analysts, business analysts, business process analysts), we can provide a mentoring service; either with regular drop-ins or remote via email or onto your organisation’s existing discussion forums. This service should be considered as supplementary to the standard employee mentoring and welfare within your own organisation.

It is ideal for SME (Small-to-Medium Sized Enterprises) with one or two business analysts, but who do not have sufficient need or resources to accommodate a wider analysis function. This service provides mentoring by a senior analyst, reducing what could otherwise be an costly commitment for a small organisation and providing experience from a number of industry sectors.

This mentoring service will open up the opportunity for your own staff to think more strategically and, eventually, develop your organisation’s target operating models.

Want to know more, then contact us.