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How to pinpoint areas for improvement on your digital roadmap

Digitalization will change procurement as we know it, or so we are told. That sounds overwhelming and a little bit scary. However, I think that procurement is more than up to the challenge of digitalization. The first thing we need to do is create a digital roadmap, and in this series of articles, I’ll walk you through a four step process for doing that.

 

The first step, which I outlined in my last post, is defining the problem statement. The problem statement provides the focus for your strategy, gives you a true north for the team and helps you define what success will look like. Step two is to figure out where in this problematic process you have room for improvement, and you can do that by taking a deep dive into the process flow together with the team from step one.

 

Documented processes vs. actual processes
Long ago, I was taught a valuable lesson. I took someone’s process flow and assumed that it reflected what people were actually doing. It came back to bite me big time.

 

What I learned from that experience is that there is a big difference between the process flow that has been defined and documented, and what is actually occurring. In this step, we will take the time to clearly define what is actually occurring. What will emerge from that exercise is clarity on the opportunities for improvement. This is important because if you are going to change something, you have to create a clear “as is/will be” to describe the change. It also is critically important to helping you understand what you should prioritize first in your journey.

 

To identify and prioritize your opportunities, here is the approach I have found works best:

 

  • In my last post, I recommended you bring together a team of 15 people or fewer to create a problem statement for the process you want to digitalize. Gather all “process flows” that these people are involved in that is within the scope of your project. Ideally, you do not want to build the actual process from scratch unless you have to. Take all of those process flows and combine them into one big flow, indicating where there is conflicting information. I have found that using Visio is the easiest way to create process flows, but there might be other tools that you prefer.
  • Get the same group of people together. If you’re doing this on the same day as the problem statement meeting, or doing a two-day workshop, you’ll want to have this done ahead of the problem statement meeting. Be clear with everyone that the purpose of this session is not to solve the problem, but to identify and prioritize the opportunities for improvement.
  • Post the process flow you created up on the wall. Make it big, because we are going to draw all over it. If you do not have a process to start from, put up blank paper because you are going to need to create it in the session. This will take longer, so if you’re going to do it that way, plan that into your schedule. In my experience, you’ll need three additional hours.
  • Next, I like to reuse the same technique as in the problem statement session. Have everyone use sticky notes to write down what is not working for them within the process, one idea per sticky note. Then have them place their sticky notes in the matching place on the process flow on the wall. You will start to notice large concentrations of sticky notes, typically at the beginning of the process, and then at certain steps along the way. Those are likely your biggest areas for improvement.
  • Then, walk through each step of the process with a brightly colored marker, asking for each step:
    • Is this what actually happens today? If not, change it on the wall.
    • What does not work well within this step of the process? Write down all the answers.
    • Does this step create a rework loop (where you go back to previous steps to redo work)? Mark the loop on the process flow.
    • Do you have all the information or data to make an effective decision? Write down what data is missing.
    • Is the process step manual? Mark that down.
    • Is it prone to error? List the errors.
    • Does it take a long time to complete? Write down the estimated time if known.

 

At the end of this session, you will have this crazy masterpiece on the wall and a ton of areas for digital and process improvements. To close the session, create a summary of the session with the people in the room, listing the top areas of opportunity that were identified. People will probably be bursting with ideas at this point, but remember, and remind everyone–you are not solving the problem in this session. This is a listing of opportunities to tackle.

 

With that completed, you now have a problem you are trying to solve and a listing of opportunities to start tackling, and still all you’ve invested in is peoples’ time and a bunch of sticky notes. Nonetheless, you are well on your way to having a digital roadmap.  In my next post, I will cover re-imagining the process and building the plan.

 

Amanda Prochaska joined MGM Resorts, a Coupa customer, as Vice President of Sourcing Program Management in December, 2015. She is responsible for designing, implementing, and sustaining new, best-in-class programs and technologies to reduce costs or increase value for the company.

 

Before joining MGM, Amanda served as Associate Director of the Source thru Pay process at Kraft-Heinz Company. Prior to that, she was Director of the Procurement Global Center of Excellence & Capital Procurement at Kellogg Company, where she led a team accountable for purchasing transaction processing and strategy, managing a capital purchasing budget of more than $300M. She also is the author of “Procurement Unstuck”, a blog related to Procurement and Source thru Pay issues, where this series was previously published.