Being on the journey of implementing process mining in Philips from the start as one of the project managers, driving the unlocking of value from our first mining cycles, I would like to share some of the lessons we have learnt so far.
Process mining* is often regarded as a method with which an X-ray of business processes can be made.
Imagine that you feel pain in your chest. To pinpoint the exact reason of this pain, you decide to go to a hospital to have an x-ray taken by a radiologic technologist. But you still need a doctor to interpret the results of an x-ray and determine a diagnosis.
On top of this, correct diagnosis is not a cure. You need to define a treatment plan (experts and doctors from other departments might need to be involved), follow the prescribed treatment, and continuously monitor improvements.
This analogy perfectly applies to process mining being a process x-ray. A process mining tool can give tremendous insights into your business process; but on their own these insights have no value unless you include subject matter experts to interpret it and develop improvement actions and projects to act on the gathered insights. That’s where the hard work starts.
What is needed to turn insights into actions?
Process mining analysis brings lots of valuable insights. If the organization is large and operates across multiple markets, the number of insights is exponential to number of markets. As a result, there might be dozens or even hundreds of potential improvement areas. The desire to attack on all fronts and gain maximum value in short period of time is tempting. However, remember that you need specialist resources involved in each intervention and these resources are thin and limited. Following a dispersed approach in which a high number of improvement projects are done at the same time will come at the expense of speed, dedication, and quality.
In this situation focus is the key to success – choose a couple of the most promising areas and set up a project to tackle these issues.
Having multiple improvement initiatives at the same time makes people, involved in those, feel that they are working hard, but because their time is spread too thin across multiple projects, they are not seeing enough progress. It leads to heightening pressure and decreasing motivation.
Find the owner of a problem
After your process is mined, process mining findings can reveal problems in several areas within the organization.
It is important to find the right owner of the problem. Only if the person feels the pain, he will be eager to engage with you and use process mining insights to help him to solve his problem.
As for now, we follow a top-down approach when we start the mining of a process (process discovery) without clear problem statement or business challenge. Once we identify process problems, we start to engage with employees who execute the process. It may be that the people that work on the process daily are not the ones feeling the pain themselves and are not easily inclined to make changes. Therefore, you need to find the people that do feel the pain and can influence these people.
We started to work with the Continuous Improvement (CI) team, whose actual job is to constantly look for possible improvements in organizational processes. This is where we found true advocates and supporters of the process mining initiative. The CI team recognized the benefits of process mining techniques as being data driven, insightful, and sound – it offers a quick and objective analysis of process performance, helps to identify improvement opportunities, and allows to monitor and sustain improvements. As a result, process mining found its home in the continuous improvement toolbox.
Assure top management support and endorsement
Alignment with senior management and support for process mining is crucial in a number of aspects.
First, some improvements require structural transformational programs within organization to be implemented. In this case, senior management can help to form a dedicated project and allocate resources to tackle this.
Secondly, top leadership can take strategic decisions affecting the way the company works. Often process improvements go hand in hand with tradeoffs. For example, top management should provide answers to questions such as ‘Do we want to keep available stock low and manage manually or do we trust the automatic replenishment system to take care to optimize?’ or ‘Do we want to keep our processes standardized or are we willing to comply with customer-specific requirements?’.
Thirdly, if process mining is positioned as a company-wide initiative, the leadership role is to translate strategic company goals to lower levels as operational KPIs with process mining positioned as the tool to help achieve the KPI targets. Then you can make sure that all levels within the organization are engaged and willing to use process mining for identifying existing problems and as daily management tool. This is essential in order to be able to switch from push to pull regarding finding and implementing value cases.
Process mining can be mistakenly positioned as ‘silver bullet’ that will solve all your problems, streamline processes, eliminate waste and make your operations efficient and productive. Remember that discovering issues and potential improvement areas is only the beginning of your journey. The real difference comes with the changes you put in place and actions you take.
We have formulated many more practical ‘lessons learnt’ for successful process mining implementation. Stay tuned!
* Process mining is a set of techniques used for obtaining knowledge of and extracting insights from processes by the means of analyzing the event data, generated during the execution of the process. The end goal of process mining is to discover, model, optimize, and monitor the underlying processes.
Ekaterina Sabelnikova is Innovation Consultant at Philips Innovation Services