The typical process discovery questions are things like “What is your role?” and “How do you perform this task?” We have all at least answered questions like this if we haven’t actually asked them ourselves. There is nothing wrong with them. You need to know the basics.
The trouble is that basic process discovery questions are just that, basic. They are not sufficient in themselves. There are a number of areas they just don’t get you into. Without insight into these areas, your process improvement initiative is not going to produce the results it could.
So what are these areas? And what are the discovery questions that do get us the answers we need?
The things the standard questions don’t touch on are exceptions, priorities, and consistency.
Exceptions screw everything up. If the Pareto rule applies here, and it is surprising how often it does, then 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the instances of the process that are exceptions.
Questions in this area:
By priorities I mean all the other things that are going on. I also use the term “concurrency.” Whatever you call it, it means trying to put the process in question in the context of the user’s other work.
Processes don’t happen in a vacuum. People in offices, as opposed to the factory workers, work on many different processes in a day. So how do they prioritize between competing tasks? It is a crucial question if you want to speed up a process. The time a task spends waiting in in-trays often far exceeds the time spent actually working on it.
Questions in this area:
Consistency is a measure of the degree that different people have to perform the same task in similar ways. Your typical process consultant often overlooks this. I know because I have made this mistake myself. You ask how someone performs a task. They tell you. It never occurs to you to ask “And how do other people do it?”
This problem crops up when there is poor formal training for new hires. Or perhaps there is no documentation. Or no one reads it. Sometimes we fail to tell people how to do something. They just had to do it and figure it out for themselves. Surprise! They figured out different ways.
Investigating this area means asking more than one person how they do a given task. Sometimes a supervisor is aware that their reports are doing things differently. It may not matter if there is no difference in outcome. It certainly does if it causes confusion or cost downstream in the process. That might be something that people who are doing things inconsistently are not aware of.
Standard Process Discovery Questions
Standard questions exist for a reason. You need to ask the participants to build up a picture of what is supposed to happen. But then there are these other areas that are really worth digging into.
I have a cheat sheet of structured questions I use on my consulting engagements. It includes the standard process discovery questions as well as others like the ones above.