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  Observe Process in Action

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Observe Process in Action (A SPRINT Phase II task)

Task Description

It is vital to gain first hand experience of the baseline process in operation. This will involve the BPR project team members immersing themselves in the workplace. This style of investigation is known as ethnography. Ethnography has recently become popular as a method for capturing requirements for IT systems. An example is included here. In particular, it captures the informal or undocumented aspects of users' work which are all too often overlooked in conventional systems analysis.

In addition a Metrics investigation may be useful in certain kinds of workplace observation (e.g. call centre). A guide to conducting a metrics study is included here.

Task Implementation

This task may happen before, after or at the same time as stakeholder interviews. It is likely that the observation will help redefine the scope of the overall investigation by highlighting areas of enquiry, and even unearthing new stakeholders.

The observation should take place in all of the workplaces where the process takes place (e.g. area offices as well as head office) since there may well be differences between locations.

The observer should take detailed real-time notes of the observation, and try not to distract from the 'normal' processes of the workplace, in order to get as accurate a picture as possible of the process in action.

Observations ought to be:

  1. Coordinated - so that the work fits in alongside stakeholder interviews, and is undertaken by the appropriate staff
  2. Timely - so that 'peaks and troughs' in the business process are covered
  3. Planned - so that staff in the business area are aware of why and when the observation is taking place
  4. Comprehensive - so that all workplaces where the process takes place are covered
  5. Unobtrusive - so that the work being observed is as 'normal' as possible

An observation should look for:

  1. Sources of inefficiency - things that interrupt the excepted process
  2. Work that does not add value - work undertaken which is unnecessary or double counted
  3. Work that does provide benefits but was not expected - may be tasks that are not in the job description
  4. Critical incidents - record the nature of the problem, how it was dealt with and any impact it has on the process

An ethnographic observation begins by being relatively unstructured but as it proceeds, the observation creates its own structure. E.g. Identifying a set of descriptive categories describing the activity observed; or identifying appropriate "metrics" that need to be collected.

Observing process outcomes is a substantial task, may involve more than one person, and will generate a large amount of information.

A typical observation will include the following sub-tasks:

  1. Produce an observation schedule (similar to an interview schedule) where you can plan what observation is needed, where and when it will take place and who will undertake it.
  2. Completion of structured and unstructured notes during the observation. Structured notes might be appropriate for observing a telephone or counter service, where certain information is logged for each caller or visitor. (e.g. see Observation Sheet) Unstructured notes may supplement the structured notes, or be stand-alone. (e.g. you may accompany an employee on their 'rounds' and take very brief notes, only to write them up more detailed when you are back in the office.)
  3. Regular meetings with the others involved in the observation - in order to (a) make sure that you are consistent in your observation and (b) identify further observation tasks that may need to be undertaken
  4. Collecting of existing information relating to your observation (e.g. using 'monitoring' statistics for the period of your observation.)


Detailed informal notes, that should be written up as close to the time as possible. Initial observations might be entirely informal, but from this, a more formal recording process might be developed (e.g. completing a sheet for every visitor to an office, noting 'footfall' - how many visitors pass through on a given day.)

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