W  I  L  L      B  E  A  U  C  H  E  M  I  N

"Having information is painful and troublesome."

That  surprising observation was made by computer science pioneer Calvin Mooers back in 1959.  Why?

"If you have information you must first read it... then try to understand it. ...Understanding the information may show that your work was wrong. ...Thus not having and not using information can often lead to less trouble and pain... ."1

That is the challenge with process improvement and documentation.  Even with a perfect process perfectly mapped, people will only follow it when it is easier to do so than not (to paraphrase another of Mooers' observations).  

Three ways to increase adherence to a process:

A

Automate the process as much as possible.

B Build the user interface to enforce or promote the process.
C Compose end-user and role-player  documentation to be user-friendly.

 Nabisco:  Automation to remove bottlenecks and promote adherence

SITUATION

Nabisco Refrigerated Foods Company (NRFC), a division of Nabisco, had been a maker of margarine, yogurt, and microwavable omelets until Nabisco sold its brands.  While it operated, NRFC's Quality Department was responsible for vetting all requests for product and packaging changes. Review and approval was needed by the managers of Purchasing, Package Engineering, Marketing, and other groups.   One designated person, the Coordinator,  administered the process of review, approval, and publication of changes.  With that current person's departure from the company, a six-month backlog of change requests built up.

I was hired to fix the problem and maintain the process.

ANALYSIS

  • There was only token adherence to the process because the process simply had collapsed six months earlier.
  •  
  • Any solution would need to simultaneously address the six-month backlog even as new requests came in.  There could be no catch-up period.
  •  
  • The Coordinator role consisted mostly of editing MS Word documents and sending email messages --- simple, but vital for tracking and implementing changes across hundreds of product specification documents.
  •  
  • The greatest weakness in the process was that it had depended on one specific person.

My solution would therefore need to address four areas:

  • Speed.
    Accuracy.
    Adherence & Trust.
    Transferability of knowledge.

 

SOLUTION

I addressed all four areas by creating Q-Track, an MS Access/VBA application.  Q-Track provided:

Database of all change requests, their priority score, and status.
Automated email and tracking for the process.
Automated reminders to reviewers.
Automated edits and edit-tracking in MS Word documents.
Generation of a weekly newsletter to the community of interest. 

I developed Q-Track iteratively, with the major features, above, being implemented over several weeks.  It was critical to restoring the process and building trust that I organize the entire backlog of requests and move each forward to their next step quickly.  On that priority I built the foundations of Q-Track, building it out as time permitted. 

Adherence to and trust in the procedure was also promoted by a weekly newsletter I generated with Q-Track.  This newsletter reported all proposed and approved changes.  It was a weekly reminder of management's expectations about the process and a demonstration that the process was working.

As for transferability, the automated features reduced the Coordinator's hours per week by 66% and eliminated the complexity of the role.  It could be quickly shifted to another employee, even on a part-time basis.

The Q-Track application was so successful that it was soon adopted by both the Planters/Lifesavers and Food Service divisions of Nabisco.

HIDTA Task Force:  Unconventional process documentation

SITUATION

The Northern New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA) was a joint federal, state, and local drug enforcement enforcement task force. It investigated and eliminated international heroin smuggling organizations operating through Newark's airport and seaport.  I was contracted to train and oversee a staff of  intelligence analysts as well as to provide intelligence support myself.  

There were always six to eight major investigations going on at any time and several in the early stages.  Due to the nature of their work, the investigators were usually out of the office.  My challenge was to keep both my analysts and myself focused on delivering actionable intelligence to help  move investigations forward.

ANALYSIS

  • "Actionable intelligence" was our deliverable.
  •  
  • Most of the analysts were on six-month assignments through their military reservist units.  Therefore, I was regularly faced with having to train new arrivals.
  •  
  • When investigators did return to the office, they needed to know immediately what the status of intelligence analysis was for their investigations.  When they were not in the office, the analysts supporting them needed to remained focused on delivering timely results.
  • The analysts needed a simple method of knowing what to do next --- simple because they were already burdened with a tremendous amount of information.

  •  
 

SOLUTION

I created a large wall chart:  "The HIDTA Intelligence Cycle."  It consisted of three concentric rings:

The inner ring was the activity of the intelligence analyst, divided into individual tasks.  Each task had its own short procedural manual and standards, so the chart and the documentation were synchronized.

The outer ring was the subsequent activity of the investigator.  This could be to organize a surveillance plan, subpoena particular types of documents, or seek a warrant.  

The middle ring was the bridge:  the questions whose answers enabled the investigator to do the action necessary at that particular stage of the investigation.  This is what is meant by "actionable intelligence."

The chart helped orient new arrivals, both analysts and investigators, to how the Task Force conducted  intelligence analysis.
At a glance, an intelligence analyst knew what task they had to perform next and what the outcome had to be.  They also saw how that task moved the investigation forward.
In briefings to investigators upon their return to the office, the chart provided a common reference in discussions of progress, next steps and bottlenecks.

Shown below is an abstract of this chart which, due to its confidentiality (not to mention my fading memory), I cannot represent in detail.

For this and my other work for the Task Force, I received awards from the Task Force and from the US Customs Service (now Immigration & Customs Enforcement), shown on my "About Himself" page.

 

1.  Quote from Calvin Mooers.  Morville, Peter.  Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become (Sebastopol, CA:  O'Reilly Press), 2005.

Website designed and created by Will Beauchemin.  Graphics 2013 Iconshock by Unusual Minds and 2002 Riverdeep Interactive Learning Ltd and its licensors.  Map graphics 1988-2012 Microsoft Corporation and/or its suppliers.  Except as noted, website 2015 Will Beauchemin.