Wednesday, 28 February 2018

How shadowing can be useful tool to help you understand a process

How shadowing can be useful tool to help 
you understand a process - 
Leah March, 
Process Improvement Facilitator

What do I mean when I say shadowing?

I’m sure any poor person that has had me shadow them would say shadowing is me sitting 
with them watching a process and asking lots of obvious questions for ninety minutes whilst 
making copious amounts of illegible notes.
Process shadowing traditionally involves an observer and the process actor. Shadowing 
activities are usually kept to no more than ninety minutes with one person and involve the 
process actor undertaking the process (or portion of the process) as normal whilst explaining 
the steps as they go along to the observer, who may ask questions to clarify points and insure 
they have understood correctly. Shadowing can be a useful technique to gather insight into 
the technology, people, customers and resources involved. After the shadowing exercise it is
 then the responsibility of the observer to record what they have seen and to share it with the 
process actor to allow them to check and verify.

Why is it helpful?

Warts and all
Shadowing can help you to see the process in reality and all the critical process steps, some
 of which can be missed during a workshop exercise as they have become second nature to
 the process actors so are not relayed from memory e.g. extra spreadsheets they have to make
 a note in, all the places they have to search for a particular pieces of information or even searching 
for a working stapler.
Shadowing can also help you to identify key issues from the point of view of the process actors that 
they may not feel comfortable raising in a workshop setting.
Build relationships
Shadowing can help you to build relationships with the teams you will be working with when improving 
a process helping you to gather greater insight into how people feel about the process, systems and 
resources e.g. forms, printers involved.
Shadowing on a  1:1 basis allows the observer and process actor to discuss issues and ideas for 
improvement in a way that is often not possible in a group setting, this can help to ensure that the 
observer fully understands the root cause.
There are always exceptions or ‘special cases’
I have found in the past when mapping a process in a workshop setting it is often difficult to capture all
 the process exceptions or ‘special cases’ as there isn’t the time or they don’t involve the majority of 
people present or we can become bogged down in the differences and trying to fit them to the majority 
process. Alternatively we just do not know about them in the workshop as they don’t come to people's 
mind until they happen. Shadowing allows you to first see the exceptions as they come up and 
observe how they are dealt with in reality, making sure they are not skated over.  

When is shadowing particularly useful as a method for understanding the process

  • When the process is large and complex with numerous possible exceptions
  • Process where there is no process documentation already available to sense check against
  • When it is not possible to gather a representative group for a long enough period to conduct a 
  • When the process requires a high level of interaction with systems as a removed process 
    mapping exercise will not necessarily allow you to gain a full understanding  

Pros and cons

There are numerous tools that can be used to help you understand a process including; process 
mapping, process stapling, process walkthroughs and process data analysis such (e.g. process time, 
staff time, errors and customer feedback). It is often necessary to use a combination of different tools 
and as with all tools there are pros and cons to shadowing.
  • Allows you to understand and capture each process step - including those which may be 
    unintentionally left out when the process is explained rather than observed. It is often these 
    steps are the grit (frustration points) in the process.
  • Engages the people actually doing the job who know the what is and isn’t working.
  • It is more personal and allows the observer to build a relationship with the people doing the job 
    so that they can gather insights that might not be shared in a group setting.

  • Costs a lot of staff time, both the time of those that have to give up their time to allow you to 
    shadow and the observers to shadow and then write up and share their findings. It is often 
    requires much more facilitator (observer) time than a workshop.
  • Picking the right time can be difficult as it is often most valuable to shadow at busy times when 
    you are more likely to see the reality of the process. It is important to avoid shadowing tasks 
  • Need to shadow an appropriate sample size to make sure that you are getting a true picture as 
    there is not the natural validation that you would achieve by numbers in a workshop setting.

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