Reinvent the Business Processes That Failed You During COVID-19 Crisis

By April 28, 2020Power of the Profession
200424 April Cover

Like I’m sure is the case for most of you, my life today looks different than I ever assumed it would. I assumed that I would always be able to work out of our corporate office, shake the hands of colleagues and clients, and travel to keep up with family and friends. At this moment, none of that is possible.

The crisis around COVID-19 is also challenging many of our assumptions about how work gets done. From S&OP to supplier audits, many of the traditional business processes that worked so well before the crisis are now making work more difficult — or are impossible to complete. Just like my life, those processes were designed with assumptions that are no longer true.

While our current operating environment is not a permanent state, we can’t go back to believing those assumptions will be true again once this crisis is over.

As we move toward recovery, we won’t simply be returning to the world as it was. Early data from 2020 Gartner surveys on workforce planning suggests that remote working could increase up to 41% following the pandemic. Budgets and spending have already been slashed. And if past pandemics are any indicator, consumer demand in different industries could return in a flash, in waves, or not at all.

If we are going to return to growth quickly coming out of this crisis, we need to begin preparing for that new reality now. The first thing we can do is to codify lessons learned by reinventing the processes that failed us during the crisis.

Our 2019 study of quality process changes revealed three lessons supply chain leaders should heed as they look to revamp their processes coming out of the crisis.

Don’t Just Streamline, Reinvent Processes

Given the different-in-kind needs of a post-pandemic environment, we need to go beyond traditional process improvement methods like streamlining and help our teams think boldly about how work can be done. We call this bold thinking “process reinvention” and we found that it is twice as effective as streamlining at achieving the flexible processes companies need during and after this crisis.

To reinvent your processes, follow two steps.

First, and critically important, start with a blank slate. We need to ensure process design isn’t limited by legacy practices and to come up with new ways of working. A blank slate makes this possible.

Second, focus on ruthless simplicity as you reinvent the process. Ruthless simplicity can be defined in three principles:

  • Challenge the necessity of every proposed process element.
  • Take advantage of technology improvements.
  • Create space for process users to exercise judgment.

As you reinvent your processes, look for inspiration from innovations that have begun as a result of the constraints from COVID-19. For example, social distancing and corporate travel bans have led to widespread virtual supplier quality audits and inspections. Historic volatility in demand has led some organizations to move away from pure forecast-driven demand planning to rely more heavily on an assumptions-based collaboration process.

Focus on What’s Critical, Not Just What’s Broken

COVID-19 has revealed problems in processes across the supply chain. But which ones to reinvent first?

Our study indicated that prioritizing based on two variables — current state and future need — will help you balance the need to respond to problems now while allowing you to prepare for opportunities in the future (see figure).

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To figure out which processes you should reinvent, conduct a quick assessment.

For the current state, reflect on your organization or business unit’s COVID-19 response. Ask yourself:

  • What major obstacles did you face in your COVID response?
  • What organizational constraints hindered the success of your response?
  • Which processes…
    • … slowed you down?
    • … led to underperformance?
    • … failed you entirely?

For the future state, hypothesize what scenarios will impact operations during the recovery. How will customer demand respond? What bets will the executive team make to return to growth more quickly? Then, for each process, ask yourself, “If left unchanged, how would this process impact our ability to operate during the recovery?”

Combining the current state and the future need ensures we are reinventing processes that are failing us now and will significantly impede our ability to succeed coming out of the crisis.

Act Now 

The COVID crisis has exposed gaps between current processes and what our business needs in order to perform in highly uncertain times. We can learn from this. As we begin to emerge from this crisis, we have an opportunity to learn from what worked and what didn’t. By reinventing processes that failed us during the crisis, we can ensure our organizations exit the crisis stronger than they entered.

Bryan Klein,
Research Director,
Gartner Supply Chain
[email protected]


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