Business processes under control: emails everywhere!

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I have the chance to have an amazing manager, who allows me to work as the lead on some business process improvements in our team (in addition to my daily responsibilities).  This requires that I have a good knowledge of our processes, which I do since I’m actively involved in most them. This also helps me to identify many ways to improve our processes, since I have to deal with their problems and inefficiencies (some of which are probably caused by me 🙂 ).

A few days ago, I thought that I could write some blog posts about what I did to optimize our processes. My goal is not to provide you with some specific recipes that you can apply in your context; it’s more to illustrate what a BA can do to to increase his business process knowlegde with or without a BA title, while showing everyone the value of great business analysis.

Why focusing so much on business processes? Because business processes are at the center of Business Analysis. With a good knowledge of them, a Business Analyst can identify and understand the source of various problems in an organization, as well as propose solutions that are adapted to stakeholders reality. Solutions can then be implemented following a software development lifecycle (although it’s not always the case).

In this post, I’ll explain to you what I did to improve small steps in one of our business processes without requiring any programming, and simplified one of the most annoying thing in today’s work: email overload!

The problem: emails everywhere!

As I briefly explained in a previous post, I work in a very well structured IT team of about 60 people, working together to deliver about 10 to 15 small projects per week. In order to keep up with this fast pace, we rely a lot on internal communication with many teams in other IT and non-IT departments; most of this communication is email-based, and allows everyone to synchronize activities toward a common delivery date.

Using email isn’t the best way to communication, but surprisingly, it works very well within our team. However, one downside of this is that many people have to actually spend time to write those emails, using information spread in many systems, from project management tools to document libraries, to other emails.

Most of our activities are centered around planned project deliveries. Each project delivery is managed in a centralized list on a Sharepoint website, which contains information about each project, such as start & end dates of various activities, groups involved in the delivery, etc.  This list is used as the main source of information to create the emails.

Since I’m one of those who has to write emails, I wondered how I could automate this task using this Sharepoint list.

The solution: automated notifications

After a very interesting Google search session, I discovered a free Microsoft tool called Sharepoint Designer, that can be used to easily create workflows without having to write code.  Using a friendly, drag-and-drop interface, anyone can create automated processes originating from a Sharepoint list.

I spent some time playing with it, and figured out very quickly how I could send emails from a specific item on our list. After a few days, I was able to automate 2 of our main email notifications (ie effort estimation request & delivery date confirmation), freeing up precious time for many people and reducing the risks of errors when composing these emails manually.

Sending email notifications for these events is now a 2-click activity!

The next step: more automation!

The solution is not perfect, as it does not cover all situations.  This is not really a problem, as it allows everyone to work faster in 80% of the cases, while keeping some flexibility for the remaining 20%.  I could have spent more time to have a more perfect automated workflow, but I’m not sure it would have been a good use of my time.

However, the exercise allowed us to find some improvements to those workflows (which were implemented a few days after their discovery), and to identify other events to automate with new workflows; a new automated workflow should be added to our processes sooner than later.

Why it worked

The beauty of this tool is that you don’t have to involve IT to implement solutions that address very specific needs.  Everything can be made by business owners. This means quick implementation of solutions to fix problems in processes.

However, having access to the tool is not enough.  You need to have clearly defined processes to start with, and a clear problem to address. This context makes it the perfect tool for a Business Analyst, since he’s able to deal with these concepts before implementing an effective solution. Otherwise, the tool by itself will not solve your problems. Not having clear processes will make it hard to find a solution that will cover most cases, and not having a problem to solve will make it hard to show the real value of your work.

My experiment is an ongoing one, so I’ll keep you posted on my trials and errors.

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Do you use Sharepoint or any other tool to manage your processes? Is it a clear success or a series of failures? Please share your experience with us in the comments below, or in the social medias (FacebookTwitter, or Google+)!

Image credits: poooow @ freeimages.com

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By Eric Provost

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Eric Provost

Making sense out of chaos as a BA & UX specialist

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