Innovation Company Mitigates Risk Using Process Documentation and Design
This privately held innovation company purchases, develops, and licenses intellectual property. It owns one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing IP portfolios, which it licenses to the world’s most innovative companies. Investors include a mix of Fortune 500 companies, individuals, and institutions.
The company’s relatively small Financial Analytics and Systems Team (FAST) had come together through several organizational changes and now owns ongoing responsibility for some of the most sophisticated, custom-developed systems and tools used throughout the company. They chose to leverage a business process perspective as a solution to capture undocumented institutional knowledge from their team members.
The company had adopted a large-scale ERP system to handle its accounting. However, managing the lifecycle of an IP asset involves much more than simple debits and credits, so the development of several proprietary tools and systems transpired.
FAST are the developers and administrators of these systems and tools. Consequently, this team housed a great deal of institutional knowledge inside the brains of its team members, a situation recognized as being quite risky. This realization was the underlying reason for calling in outside expertise.
We started by clarifying what success would look like, which came down to two lists — “must haves” and “nice to haves.” Must haves included an inventory of key processes and systems, documented key processes, staff cross-training, and the identification of risks that could not be mitigated. Nice to haves largely revolved around improving team dynamics and growth.
Our approach was fueled by the desire to improve teamwork. As a result, we initiated a project where the team performed a great deal of the work in facilitated sessions.
The team developed and prioritized an inventory of key processes, systems, and tools. This initial exercise identified the complete set of items that needed to be addressed to fully mitigate the risk on which the project was focused. Prioritization allowed the team to focus its initial energy on those items that presented the most risk to the organization. In addition, for each system and tool, an owner and one or more backups were determined to fuel the subsequent cross-training effort.
We then documented key processes, sub-processes, and activities. Early in the project, we realized the risk we were addressing resulted directly from the diverse approaches the team members were using to perform the work. So we documented the key processes that captured the diversity of their work. We then reviewed and developed a common approach to the underlying sub-processes and activities. This normalized the process, provided the foundation for many of the key project outcomes, and allowed the team to sustain the documentation catalog they were developing inside this project.
We then facilitated meetings that provided cross-training to staff members. In these meetings, the staff was trained to identify the specific procedures that needed documentation — later this documentation was developed by the tool/system owner.
The team also realized that it needed a way to assure consistency with the common process and improve the speed of responses to customer requests moving through it. To enable this improved performance, they implemented short, daily meetings to review ongoing work. To make the work backlog visible, we implemented a Kanban Board aligned with the team’s sub-processes. The board was initially prototyped with paper on a wall and later moved to a web-based tool.
To house the documentation, we developed a simple shared repository using a single Word document catalog as a hub. Each documented procedure was hyperlinked to the catalog, creating a series of “spokes.” This prototype design was to be moved to either SharePoint or a Wiki after the project’s completion.
Through this project, the team was able to create a catalog of sustainment and administrative routines associated with the 33+ high priority systems and tools. We also provided process documentation as the foundation for improved performance, governance, and continuous improvement.
The project improved management effectiveness and reduced teamwork backlog by 50%. Along the way, we were also able to improve FAST’s teamwork and identify new opportunities for growth.