Creating a Digital University: The Finer Details

In my previous entry, I talked about identifying, scoping and defining the forest that is the process architecture. Now we’ll pay closer attention to the multitude of trees and leaves in that forest, the processes.

Like different equipment and machinery that is used to do work, processes can also be considered an asset of the organizations. And similar to any asset, processes must be secured and maintained and process discovery is the first step of doing it.

In process discovery, we capture the current state of how the process is being performed and turn it into process maps using modelling tools. The flowchart has existed since the 1920s and has become one of the most common tools that is used for process modelling. Today, Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) has now become the industry standard for process modelling for its established rules that promote common understanding to wider audiences which enables better communication.

Looking back at my experience with process discovery, the work really requires a certain level of detail-orientedness. There are moments where I constantly ask myself if I’ve already gathered enough information about the process or if I need to dig further to make the process map more defined. And with the different approaches that we have tried in capturing the current processes, it came with its own challenges.

There came a time when we dug through all sorts of documents to try and extract processes. This was the most “painful” approach for me as it’s largely dependent on how the document was crafted by the author. There were some documents that clearly explain the procedure and policies that govern the process, but there are others that vaguely explain the process, which leads to a lot of questions that I need to get answered. Another challenge about this approach is the accuracy of the depiction of the process. Although some processes that we have extracted are still what the department is currently adhering to, there are instances wherein the information that we have extracted from the documents are already outdated, which would entail rework and the need to set up interview sessions with various process owners.

Interviewing your process owners and champions is a powerful approach in eliciting their processes. I was able to freely ask all the questions that I have on the process at hand and can ask for further clarification if I still feel that I need more information. There are 2 questions that I find very critical for this kind of conversation. What are their pain points (problems that cause dissatisfaction) and what are their delighters (parts of the process that they are currently happy with)? With these two insights, you’ll get an understanding of what they wish could change in their current process and what they are currently happy about with their process, which would be a vital input later on. In terms of challenges I’ve encountered with setting up interview sessions, getting the availability of the process owners and champions is definitely something I can highlight. We needed to play around the process owner and/or the process champion’s availability, as they also have university operations they need to attend to. There would also be instances as well when I felt that our interview sessions were going in loops. An endless cycle of validating with process owners and revising the process map. What might seem to be never-ending back then is something I became grateful for in the long run as I was able to gain a clear understanding of their processes which became crucial in the next stages of this digital transformation project.

Interviews worked well until we reached a point wherein more and more concerns arise that a single process owner/champion cannot answer. This required us to set up joint sessions between two or more concerned parties to get proper guidance on how we can move forward with the earlier unresolved concerns. However, the same challenge of getting the availability of these stakeholders is still there, but this time it has been magnified as we now have to find a schedule when all the needed resources are available. Another challenge is to ensure that all stakeholders are heard during the joint sessions. Stakeholder management can make or break the session, and what we really want to avoid is for participants to feel as if they are forced with the decision, rather than being part of the decision making process.

After months of doing this process discovery, we were able to elicit and map over 190 current state processes for the Student Lifecycle domain. I believe we made a significant difference in the university by doing this as we were able to come up with process documentation that can be clearly understood by a wider audience. This accomplishment would now be the foundation in the process analysis and redesign work for this digital transformation journey.

Some recommendations that I have to better navigate one’s self during this phase are to:

  • Establish rapport with your process owners and champions. You’ll be working closely with them for months and this would translate to more open discussions with them and better collaboration as well.
  • Keep an issue tracker. With all the information being thrown around while gathering processes, it is easy for important details to be lost in the discussions. With an issue tracker, you’ll get to keep tabs on all of the open action items that need to be resolved.
  • Align objectives and ensure the attendance of all needed stakeholders. Clearly communicate the goals of your session and keep track of the attendance confirmation of needed resources and/or approvers.
  • Get sign offs. Process documentation work can go on and on but there should always be a point wherein we pin down and agree on the process that would be used for the succeeding stages of the project. This sign off establishes accountability on the side of the process owners as well.

After getting a good understanding of the numerous processes of the university, we now move forward to envisioning the possibilities and designing the future for a digital university.

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