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Distractions: The Next Stop for BPM

by Elise Olding  |  December 10, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

For decades process improvement has focused on efficiency. The thing about efficiency is it is finite. What’s next? I think identifying and removing distractions.

In a digital world, the process model is dead and will inhibit capitalizing on “business moments.” Gartner describes these as “competition that appears from nowhere, disrupts, disappears, or transforms.” A focus on increasing creativity, harnessing innovation and capturing business moments will require a different approach.

Might we be spending more time at work being distracted from what we need to do than actually accomplishing what we set out to do? Even if distractions erode 20% of a workday, this comes up to a lot of brain power left on the table. Jackie Fenn and I completed a Gartner Maverick Research project. Some interesting research we found suggests that in general, we focus on a task for three minutes before being distracted. It then takes more than 20 minutes to get back to that task. (Gartner clients see Maverick* Research: Living and Leading in the Brain-Aware Enterprise )

This will definitely require rethinking BPM techniques. A process model won’t identify distractions. A forward thinking healthcare provider used co-creation and observation (e.g. following people around) to understand what happens when nurses distribute medication. Nurses were interrupted many, many times on their way to distribute medicine to a patient. Sometimes this resulted in giving the wrong medication to a patient. Working with the nurses to brainstorm solutions, a “do not disturb vest” was identified as the solution. The nurses now don the vest when distributing medications.

We need a “do not disturb” mode for many activities in our daily work – from making strategic decisions to solving a customer problem. A number of organizations are starting groundswell movements to help focus and let other employees understand what a co-worker is trying to accomplish during the day. This can help mitigate interruptions. What can you do?  Some ideas:

  • Stop accepting a solution and doggedly seek the root cause. Do not just automate paper intensive work without challenging why it’s needed. Challenge if standardization is what is needed – is the process brittle or adaptable? Is the process broken because those doing it can’t focus on getting the work done because they are being constantly interrupted?
  • Get outside the process model – literally. Go and hang out with the employees in the area you are tackling. If you are helping to redesign sales, go on sales visits, help input information and do administrative paperwork. Observe how many times a salesperson is pulled in multiple directions and distracted away from what they were trying to do? What errors occur from these distractions? What useful information is not recorded or lost because of limited time? Assess how many distractions are interfering with optimal performance and ask the salesperson what are the distractions. How much time is an employee spending “doing their job” vs. time addressing email, IM interruptions, etc.
  • Don’t try to “fix” things until you have a good understanding of the bigger picture. (I’m not saying don’t make things better, but don’t make something that’s useless easier to do!) Look at the other factors that may invisibly influence how the work is done – the wrong metrics, lack of accountability, fractured decision making, etc. Align the work that is being done with the outcomes.
  • Can work processes be redesigned to let others know that an employee is focused on a task and should not be disturbed?

Your thoughts? Anyone looking into this now and want to share?

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Category: bpm-strategic-planning  gartner  organizational-change  

Tags: brain-aware-enterprise  distractions  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio




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