Technology can improve business processes, but people determine their success

January 24, 2023

A hallmark of successful businesses is that they are always innovating and improving the way they work. Streamlining processes, adopting workflow automation, testing new technologies and harnessing data analytics to gain insight have become top priorities for businesses.

However, the success of these initiatives requires more than investment in products or technology. It requires diligent project management. A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that people account for 80% of the factors that contribute to a project’s failure. The article further hypothesizes that failure is often caused by project management leaders that focus too much on the technical aspects of the initiative, rather than the people aspects, thus missing a core underlying issue: People are resistant to change. It takes more than just investing in technology solutions for businesses to succeed and gain a competitive edge. It requires buy-in from senior leadership and engagement from the people who are using the technology.

Here are four key principles to consider when rolling out a new product or process within your business:

Understand the effort to value ratio of your projects

The beauty of working in an innovative culture is it encourages those who are part of a business process to come up with ideas to improve that process. This often results in many initiatives that need to be prioritized by how valuable they are to the business and how actionable they are.

Whether coming up with a business idea, or evaluating a new product or process improvement, understanding its viability is crucial. How fast can something be built or how easily can it be built on top of existing data and processes? How effective is it going to be at meeting its objectives? This is where it’s important to determine the effort to value ratio, and to do that, it’s important to look at key factors, including:

  • What is the project’s Return on Investment (ROI)?
  • How quickly can the concept be brought to life?
  • How engaged are the business users and how willing are they to help in the project’s success?
  • What does the data underlying the existing process look like, and can data analytics help make an informed decision on key areas that need improving?

These principles can help business leaders have a better understanding of their internal processes and prioritize their projects.

Start small and “fail fast”

The Harvard Business Review statistic mentioned earlier highlights one of the pitfalls of undergoing a new process improvement project. Too often, project managers place too much weight on the projects organizational value which distracts from what the team, or teams, that will be affected by any process change should be working on. They see this huge opportunity to capture widespread value throughout the business and embark on a big project that becomes more complicated than initially understood, leading to project delays and out of control costs , eventually far outweighing the value that they expected to achieve.

It’s important to start small by solutioning each issue and uncovering what underlies those issues. Even the smallest projects can lead to unexpected issues that expand the scope of the project dramatically. Focus on improving one specific area and building on that success. This is where the “fail fast” methodology comes in. For example, when integrating a multi-faceted technology solution to improve a variety of processes across a business, it’s better to start by focusing on perfecting just one of those areas instead of trying to leverage all that technology’s capabilities at once.  Small things are much easier to manage and you can identify issues quickly, evaluate why the failure happened, and then fix accordingly. Once you have a process in that particular area that works, move on to the next area of the project. In doing so, those so called “failures” will have minimal cost to the business. Once you convert that failure to a success, you keep building improvements until you eventually have a strong enterprise-wide build of process solutions and technology enhancements.

Have a “pain points” discussion with your users

There are usually people within an organization who intuitively know what’s missing or causing a certain process to consistently fail. An example could be found in law firm billing. A firm could suffer from delays in invoice processing, delivery and a consistently high amount of billing rejections, causing a delay in payments and impairment to revenue.

Having a candid discussion with the individuals who handle the day-to-day aspects of the process to identify their pain points can help identify process gaps and areas for improvement. What frustrates them about their daily activities? Is there a resource that’s unavailable to them that would help them get to where they want to be? There could be a gap in the quality control process or a gap in the systems that can identify specific outside counsel requirements. Pain point discussions should go hand-in-hand with a thorough data audit and analysis of things such as task hours and activities, and how long did it take them to do it? Were any of those tasks late, and did they fail the QA process? What types of tasks were they?

Working closely with the users of the process, analyzing trends and trying to deconstruct any pain points in a process can increase visibility into any areas that are not working as they should, and give clearer direction on how they can be fixed.

Build buy-in by managing internal rollouts carefully

Despite the many changes we’ve had to make in the last three years, many people are still uncomfortable with change. When building a new product or establishing a new process, if it hasn’t been launched or communicated properly to the relevant users and stakeholders, then you risk wasting your investment. Business leaders have to carefully lead those employees who are affected by any change out of the old way of doing things and into the new. This requires careful communication and continuous engagement. Internal communication including reasons why this change is happening and how it will make things better and easier for the people using it will encourage people to embrace the process and use it correctly. A good method for keeping users engaged is conducting surveys to capture important feedback on the new process or product, which can help the new system you’ve worked hard to integrate continuously improve while nurturing buy-in from end users.

At Williams Lea our support teams capture feedback from users on their experience with each task completed, continuously seeking any areas of improvement in the process. Our dedicated client feedback teams also meet regularly with key management stakeholders to identify what went well and what frustrations occurred, so our teams can work fast to address any potential gaps.

Conclusion: Technology solutions are only as effective as the people implementing them

Often large organizations make huge investments in amazing technologies, only to fail to achieve the expected results. A common reason for this is because the people that use them either can’t or won’t adopt them as part of their everyday business practice. Starting small, winning management buy-in, involving users in solutioning and seeking user feedback throughout the process are keys to aligning your teams with your technology.

To find out about vital technology tools that activate and enhance the hybrid workplace, download our future of work brief, Building your technology arsenal for the hybrid workforce.

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