Time is the Elephant in the Room

by | Jun 14, 2020 | Change |

‘We can’t do that. The staff are too busy already.’ This is one of the age old responses to change and one I hear often when discussing responsible data practices.

All organisations have rules.  Ways of doing things.  Some of this is culture, but a lot of it is codified in business process, policies, and operating models.  Whenever we engage with change we run into process, policies, and models.  

The assumption is whatever is new is an add on to our existing processes. One more thing to do. Therefore it is natural for the response of busy or overstretched people to say ‘we can’t.’. This should be expected.

When discussing ‘consent for data collection’ with Fatima, she told me it is already done. “There’s a phrase we use. The community facilitators say it to each person they register. Basically asking them to say they consent to us collecting their data. The facilitators don’t have the time to explain what the project is about and why we need their data and so on.”

The process was fixed and the metrics used (how many people are registered each hour) were also fixed.

In order to move beyond this, we need to map out the existing business processes. It allows us to ‘see’ how things are. And for the avoidance of doubt, map out the processes as they happen in implementation not what the ideal is. And then reimagine them. For the change you seek to bring out – an idea or new technology – it will need to fit within the ‘rules’ or business processes of the organisation. It can challenge them, even remove some of them, but part of embedding change is building the new rules.

Fatima wasn’t opposed to how we were recommending improving capturing consent. She was being practical and realistic. “What if the awareness raising about the project, what data is needed, why, and so on was done before the community facilitator even started registration. And then the role of the facilitator remains mostly the same, she is primarily checking for understanding and capturing consent.”

‘That might work.’

“And what if we ensure our community help desk teams are fully equipped to answer questions about this as well? They can be present during the registration process to help field questions.”

The discussion continued. We had to look at each step along the process to understand what activities were being done where. Sometimes we needed to break activities into smaller ones. Then we could rearrange them. There was familiarity but also difference.

I learned a lot through the exchange. Ideas need friends to succeed, And in this case, one of the friends needed was ‘the process.’ Ideas and new technology can often fall at the first hurdle because the elephant in the room of time is not addressed.

This was a fairly simple change in a business process. When your idea or technology you want to introduce requires an operating model rethink it is a whole other matter.

Photo by mana5280


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