Process Improvement Hand-offs
If you wanted to improve a process you might start mapping it out. It would probably look a bit like this. Now, there is nothing wrong with process maps, it’s just that they don’t tell the whole story. The irony is that the biggest opportunities for process improvement never show up on a process map.
This video is focuses on one of those opportunities. If you are trying to make improvements to your own processes, a good place to begin is with Hand-offs. A handoff occurs in a process when responsibility for the next activity passes from one person to another.
So, let’s zoom in on a part of a process. Here we have two activities, but let’s say that this is at the boundary of two people’s responsibilities. So, the output from the first activity will have to be passed to the person responsible for the second. In other words, we have a hand-off.
The best a process map can do, is show a swimlane between the two. But what’s really going on here? It’s not just that the responsibility for the next activity is being passed on. It’s also that we need the details that are specific to this particular instance of the process. If you like it is the process data.
So there is this additional burden of communication at a hand-off. We need to pass on information so that the next person can complete the task.
This is a crucial moment where things can and often do go wrong. If we don’t do a good job of passing the right information on, there will inevitably be errors and delays.
Now this is not much of a problem when the process has very little variation from instance to instance. In other words, if it is a cookie cutter process. Then the information is routine and the receiver already knows what to do.
Unfortunately, real world processes, when you get down to it, are rarely truly cookie cutter. And that means there are always some details that we need to pass on. Say we were asking the recipient to purchase a laptop for a new hire. We might need to pass on a budget for the laptop, maybe a brand or the date we need it.
The first sign that we have not done this accurately and comprehensively, will be a flurry of communication back and forth as the sender keeps asking for the details.
Most people are all too familiar with the phenomenon of finding themselves with insufficient information to complete a task. It can be very frustrating. At the very least, it causes delay. Worse, it means the output from the task results in an error. Like we go over budget on the laptop.
And the more variation in the process, the less cookie cutter it is, the more important and detailed the handoff needs to be.
And so here’s the opportunity for improving the process. What if we could agree upfront for a given process what information we should pass on at the point of the handover? That would allow the recipient to complete the task without delay and without getting it wrong. We call this a handoff agreement or a hand-off design.
They don’t have to be very formal or bureaucratic to be useful. And they are easy to set up. Often all it takes is a conversation or a simple form to establish one. And the investment of effort can pay-off time and again.
Once people know what information is required for a successful hand-off, they generally make the effort to provide it. If they don’t know, if they have never had that conversation, then they have no clue that they are putting the process at risk.
Now, looking at the swimlanes on a process map you would not see if you had a problem with a hand-off. But this is where real life processes are at their most vulnerable. It’s literally where things can fall between the cracks. Taking the time to communicate what is required goes a long way to minimizing the chances of that happening.
There are lots of other ways to improve processes. You can dig deeper into this subject by watching other process videos in this series. You can get them and also download an example of a handoff agreement on my website, theprocessconsultant.com
Thanks for watching!
I am Ian James,
The Process Consultant.