Why You Can’t Skip the ‘As-is’ Process Analysis

With a background in process analysis I have always believed in the necessity of ‘as-is’ process mapping and measurement. Now working on Fluxicon, I had talked to a few people who told me that ‘as-is’ process analysis is overrated and should be kept short or best skipped if possible.

Instead, one should start from a green field and map out the process together with the employees as it ‘should-be’. Some of the reasons given were the following:

  • Companies are not willing to pay for ‘as-is’ process analysis anymore (they want best practices implemented instead)
  • ‘As-is’ analysis is frightening to people as it may uncover errors they have made or lead to downsizing
  • One is too much limited in the thinking by how things currently are, disallowing truly new and better solutions

So, how important is the ‘as-is’ process analysis after all?

I was confused and decided to turn to people who should know: The open Lean Six Sigma group on LinkedIn. I asked the members of the group whether you could skip the ‘as-is’ analysis, and their answer was an unequivocal “no!”.

You can join the discussion here or read my summary below.

‘As-is’ process analysis

‘As-is’ analysis is the assessment of the current situation in various aspects:

  1. What is the problem? The problem is usually defined from a customer perspective. For example, if you call a call center for a broken device then you don’t want to tell the same story over and over again to different people, and you want the repair done fast.

  2. How are things done? This relates to the actual business process1 but also to the incentive structure of an organization. For example, are agents in the call center rewarded for speedy answers and transferrals rather than for actually solving the problem?

  3. Where are the root causes of the problems? A deeper analysis of the current situation with the problem in mind. For example, are there unnecessary communication steps between the call center and the repair center that—if removed—could speed things up?

After having a clear picture of the current situation and its problems, one then sets out to map a path of improvement steps towards the desired ’to-be’ situation.

Why you can’t skip ‘as-is’

I got lots of great comments. Below, I summarize and quote some of them2 for you. You can find the full discussion here.

You need to know where you are if you want to reach your goal

The map metaphor came up to highlight the necessity to know where you are starting out in your journey.

Francisco: You cannot plan any change properly if you don’t know what your starting point is. It’s like starting to plan a trip without knowing where your trip is starting from, you won’t know how much petrol you will need, or whether you need a car or a train.

Sophie: We’ve identified we’re at point A, we agree we want to be at point Z. How do we make that journey? Are there any other decision points along the way? Maybe the terrain doesn’t look as we expected it to when we started our journey (budgets, resource, buy-in, tools). We need to know where we started from AND not only where we want to be but how we know when we’ve arrived.

Essentially, the ‘as-is’ forms the baseline for the whole improvement process and it’s a risk not to do it well.

Karl: I totally agree with the need for ‘as-is’ before the ’to-be’. I have worked on a recent I.T. project where the customer didnt want any ‘as-is’ analysis. The risks of this were explained to the customer, but they declined. As a result, gaps and risks were missed and the project timeline was extended. This was a clear example of needing to do the ‘as-is’ stage, so my advice is do it and you’ll save yourself money, time, stress, angry customers and upset fellow work colleagues.

Eugene: I have always considered the “As Is” fundamental to getting the true measure of a project’s success level as well as the basic area problem definition and true corrective action process. I suppose it would depend on the industry and problem but I have seen way too many cases in past business of the process being correct and well documented but not followed or adhered to.

It’s an opportunity to socialize change

Fear of evaluation was turned down as an argument because it should be dealt with in different ways. Essentially, it is a management problem.

Frank: It is unfortunate if the employees fear it is an evalution. Not being clear on the goals of the effort, insufficient support amongst the formal leaders, or an informal leader in the ranks spreading that fear are all possible causes for that fear.

Jeff: I believe the people piece - the fear of evaluation - needs careful handling. Reinforcement of the idea that the purpose is not to catch people doing something wrong, but to find out what everyone (including management) IS doing, and even to catch them doing something right, will help people feel more at ease with sharing.

Furthermore, the fear of downsizing should be addressed through clear and open communication about what happens if, indeed, the improvement program leads to less people needed to do the job.

Mohammad: Some companies encourage their people for improvement activities by announcing that if any process releases some resources according to new improved methods of work, the resources released will participate in Kaizen Teams and have more training to be in quality circles, and other improvement activities, which people find more amazing than their previous regular work.

Even further, it was stated that particularly during the ‘as-is’ analysis one has the chance to involve and empower people to gain acceptance and support from the team that will be responsible for doing or managing the processes.

Frank: It is difficult for employees to develop ownership in a process if they are not fully involved in its development.

Jeff: Since knowing the “as-is” condition is critical to knowing if improvement is made, use the handling of its discovery as an opportunity to build workers’ confidence and help get them to open up about their ideas and suggestions in Improve.

Be: Ensuring a complete As-Is process analysis helps to change the culture of the organization. As some have mentioned, people don’t like doing ‘As-is’ analysis because it uncovers ugly truths. Part of a true lean transformation involves creating a culture where problems are not hidden, they are raised and treasured as opportunities. Sounds cliche, but never the less remains true.

Mike: I have observed another benefit in almost every project I have facilitated, team dynamics. The projects I have worked on involved multiple functional areas. Each area has optimized their processes over time which has contributed to the whole problem. Members from these areas begin to see the impact of their individual processes on the whole and as a result begin to work together as a team to improve the whole.

Don’t repeat old mistakes

It’s the opposite side of the coin of not wanting to be influenced by how things are done right now: If you start over from scratch, you are likely to make the same mistakes again.

Vera: It was amazing to me how easy it was in healthcare for things to slide back into the “as-is” without clear cut understanding about as-is and why it needed to change. Possibly because “as-is” is so inbedded as “the only way” to do a process.

Join the discussion

More reasons were mentioned, such as that one should leverage what is already in place, and that ‘as-is’ analysis is needed to build a business case. But the three themes above really stood out.

Do you have anything to add or object? Let us know in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn here.

  1. In case you are wondering, this is where you might throw in process mining to complement and validate your discussions with a more complete and objective analysis of current process flows based on existing IT data. ↩︎

  2. I slightly edited some of the comments for brevity. ↩︎

Anne Rozinat

Anne Rozinat

Market, customers, and everything else

Anne knows how to mine a process like no other. She has conducted a large number of process mining projects with companies such as Philips Healthcare, Océ, ASML, Philips Consumer Lifestyle, and many others.