March 09, 2017
In the first part of this two-part Blog on (re)defining business processes, we discuss a framework to define processes as they exist. In part two, we’ll explore departing from the ‘way things are’ to stepping back and working from first principles to potentially redefine an approach to a problem.
What does it mean to use first principle thinking?
“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.” – Elon Musk
In the first part of this two-part blog, we examined the elements of a process framework to define the process as it exists. One obvious approach from that starting point would be to identify bottlenecks in the existing process, along with redundant steps and anything that presents potential risks in terms of error or process compliance.
And that might be good enough to achieve some highly significant efficiency gains. BUT, by looking at the results of this exercise as the basic truths…you then have the opportunity to step back, wipe the slate clean and tackle those fundamental issues (both opportunities and risks) head on.
Setting your sites on the right targets
First principle reasoning involves looking at the fundamentals of things, making sense of them, constructing your reasoning and conclusions and (if possible) comparing that to whatever is the current understanding. A part of that process involves questioning conclusions, asking whether or not something could be true.
Let’s take a business process example. The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), a national organization dedicated to training and educating U. S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms through gun safety training, marksmanship training and competitions needed a faster, more reliable way to tally and post hand-written marksmanship competition scores to their Website.
With more than 850 competitors across 17 different competitions, the non-profit organization’s system of handwritten score cards, manually-tabulated scores and manual entry for posting to the competition tracker Web site wasted too much time and effort.
The obvious target (pun intended) from a process standpoint would have been to eliminate hand scoring by replacing the physical scorecards—potentially replacing them with phone- or tablet-based data entry. But the reality is that hand-based scoring results in a lower error rate for the score card itself, and is faster than relying on a phone or tablet.
CMP decided to step back and decide what they really wanted to achieve. The answer was fast, simple, real time tabulation of scores.
So, they found a system that could automatically read and tabulate scores from the hand-written sheets. This meant no learning curve for the scorers, no disruption of their process, and limited reliance on technology for the most fundamental part of their process.
Instead, they off-loaded the tabulation to a system that could handle everything faster than humanly possible, with built-in, rules-based verification of the score cards and instant tabulation.
Applying first principle thinking to back office processes
First principle thinking is less about a formal process than it is about a shift in perspective. It means resisting the temptation to assume that something is impossible because you may not be aware of a solution. And, in fact, with the emergence of robotic process automation and smart process technology, the kinds of things we assume can’t be done—or might be too costly or complex—may no longer be true.
This is particularly true when it comes to the biggest obstacles in routine back office processes, where manual data entry, approval routing, document sorting and matching tasks can be cost-effectively automated and eliminated.
If your organization is beginning to analyze existing processes and identify opportunities to streamline and gain efficiency through automation—contact Artsyl Technologies! We can share insights from companies of all sizes and industries worldwide who have either radically refined or revolutionized their business process to achieve greater efficiency, transparency and control.