Last month, Kimberly Samuelson discussed the real definition of enterprise in “Putting the ‘E’ in Enterprise Content Management: What Does ‘Enterprise’ Really Mean?” Her conclusion: “Until ECM is deployed as a foundational component of an organization’s enterprise architecture, it isn’t truly enterprise.”

Remember that enterprise is comprised of complex systems including people, processes, information and technology; therefore, defining the boundary or scope of the enterprise is an important first step in defining organizational needs. An accurate and all-encompassing picture of organizational needs can then drive the shift toward foundational enterprise content management, bringing on the benefits of a foundational deployment.

Arriving at “Enterprise”

Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology provides a powerful framework for determining organizational needs and improving existing business processes. As you move through the five steps from defining a business problem to controlling results, it’s important to bear in mind three different points of view: business unit, enterprise architecture and perhaps most importantly, the user.

Leaving out the user can have staggering results: According to an Economist Intelligence Unit survey, the two largest causes of reluctance to business process improvements were that employees had little or no say in determining the new process (31%), or that the new process didn’t map to the way employees thought their jobs should be done (28%).

Before you begin to make process improvements, you must first delineate the scope of your enterprise:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • How do we best communicate our mission internally and externally?

Pose these types of questions to a stakeholder committee to reach a consensus before moving on. This prelude to the five-step feedback loop will provide the underpinnings for your improvements and ensure that you stay focused on the task at hand. DMAIC, with its root cause analysis, is meant to improve your current business, not guide you into a new business altogether. For instance, if you run a software business, do not solve your cash flow problems by entering the hardware market.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Now that you have a clear picture of your enterprise, it’s time to start getting a grip on the problems you face and general areas for improvement. Keeping in mind the business side and the enterprise architecture side, consider questions like:

  • What business problems do we want to solve?
  • What business technologies are being under-utilized?

The stakeholder committee who helped define the overall mission of the enterprise should be involved at this stage of determining and prioritizing current business problems. But your employees at large may also have valuable contributions in this area.

Present the issue to your employees through an internal survey or wiki -- you may find that crowdsourced answers provide some of your most valuable insights. Frame the questions with a user-focused explanation of why they’re being asked to contribute. For example, “We want to simplify your day” rather than “We want to save $20 in overhead per transaction.” Involving employees from the beginning will go a long way in getting them more invested in the process, and thus make them more willing to accept the changes.

Step 2: Measure the State of Current Processes

Once you have considered stakeholder and end-user feedback to define and prioritize business problems, you need to measure the current state of the enterprise in those areas. This includes answering questions like:

  • How are current processes structured?
  • Where are the obvious bottlenecks occurring?
  • Which departments currently use technology as part of their business processes?

The information gathered during this stage will set the baseline and illustrate where the organization stands today. But determining a starting point is not enough; at this stage, you should also determine the rule by which you’ll measure progress. Whether you gather information from similar organizations or through third party research from firms like Gartner, aim for a yardstick that offers an effective and reasonable way to measure progress as time goes on.

Again, consider the user point of view and leverage social feedback methods like wikis, discussion pages, blogs, etc. to get a firsthand snapshot of workflow structures and end-user needs throughout the organization. Pose questions like “What tools are most important to you in your daily work?” and “What improvements would you make to the processes you participate in?” However you solicit feedback, the results are sure to be honest and diverse. Perhaps more importantly, these types of social feedback methods let your users know you value collaboration and that you care what they need.

Step 3: Analyze Causes

After defining the problem and measuring the current state comes analyzing causes. Why are we encountering bottlenecks? Are they caused by people, processes or technology? How is technology hurting or helping productivity throughout the enterprise?

Though you have already gathered feedback from users throughout the enterprise, at this stage, it’s time to dig deeper with the goal of discerning root causes for the problems you face. Feedback meetings consisting of small groups, or even conducted one on one, are a good environment for these sorts of inquiries. During these meetings, you may want to engage in one of the simplest qualitative root cause analysis methods: the five levels of why. By asking thoughtful, why-based questions in succession, you will usually arrive at some sort of root cause.

The real power comes in repeating the process several times because the chances of uncovering all root causes are better when you repeat the process with different employees’ input. Be careful not to be too guiding with your questions, and prepare to have an open mind when the answers aren’t what you expect.

Step 4: Improve and Optimize Processes

By this time, you should have a good idea of what’s causing some of your highest priority business problems. Now, it’s time to address the causes, whether they are people, processes, information, technology or some combination of the four. Some goals might be to minimize bottlenecks, automate repeatable processes, expand technology to support business outcomes and practice thoughtful technology standardization.

When you develop and implement improvements, don’t turn a blind eye to all the feedback you’ve gathered. If users felt that they didn’t have enough flexibility to do their jobs, handle the standardization efforts with care. Along these lines, keep communication user-centric as you go through implementation of new processes and technologies. Don’t say “We have new software, and you must use it.” Instead, say “Here’s a tool that will make your job easier.”

Step 5: Control Results to Ensure Sustainability

After implementation, it’s important to monitor your metrics -- based on your baseline and yardstick from step two -- for trends and consistency. Are profits holding steady or climbing? Is user adoption strong and staying that way? We always hope for the best, but chances are you’ll encounter “red flags” in the metrics at some point. If so, recognize them as such, and do something about it. After all, step five may be the last step, but it’s not the end of the process.

Effective enterprises who recognize this fact will always find themselves in one of the five steps, and sustainability is a product of constant vigilance and action. Keep wiki pages and surveys open for continued discussion. Hold periodic meetings to keep users informed of outcomes and to get continued buy-in. When you mention outcomes like ROI, be sure to express them in terms that the users care about. For instance, if the department is evaluated on the number of items processed per week, don’t focus on sales numbers.

When you’re dealing with a combination as complex as people, processes, information and technology, it can be difficult to get your hands around a single definition of “enterprise” that meets everyone’s needs. But if you define the enterprise accurately, engage your users in improving and optimizing processes and actively solicit their continued feedback to ensure sustainable operations, you’ll go a long way toward becoming a truly effective enterprise.

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