92 counties. 92 different ways to do the same thing.  In 1995, I discovered a truth: figuring out how people do their jobs is complicated. The complication comes not from what they do, but from the different approaches each person takes to get the job done.

In 1995, I was a young, naïve consultant in Indiana’s cash assistance policy unit and I was assigned a simple task: design a desk aide to improve the quality of data caseworkers provided to County Prosecutors’ Child Support Enforcement Offices.  After sending my draft desk aide to county offices for review, I received a flurry of responses telling me two things.

  1. What I provided wasn’t how things are done.
  2. I should look for a new line of work.

The key issue I discovered in 1995 was that no one had taken the time to develop a step-by-step process for what caseworkers needed to do.  Central Office provided a broad policy with some parameters based upon computer system constraints, but the implementation of the policy was left to the county offices and each office had its own ideas. The net result was a hodge-podge of similar processes with varying results and limited means to determine whose way worked best. That’s where business process management comes in.

Documenting what people do allows leadership and workers to see how things are being done as well as identifying pain points, redundancies, bottlenecks and other issues that adversely affect worker output and efficiency.  The goal of business process management is to create and document standardized processes with measurable outcomes.  This allows organizations visibility into their current operations and when change comes – and change always comes – provides insight into what business areas or processes would be affected by the change. Additionally, business process mapping allows organizations a clearer vision into how their various processes interrelate.

In 1995, the issue I encountered was that caseworkers didn’t understand how incomplete or inaccurate child support referral data affected their workload and their clients’ long-term well-being. As result of the responses to my draft desk aide, I teamed with members of the Child Support Bureau to write a training manual and more robust desk aide outlining how the data submitted by the caseworker is used by the Prosecutors’ Office in establishing paternity and issuing child support orders. We also established regular meetings so that the Child Support Bureau could report when the quality of data waned and what counties seemed to be having problems. The new training material and desk aide greatly improved the quality of data sent to the Prosecutors; and, over the next few years, problem areas identified through ongoing meetings between the cash assistance unit and the Child Support Bureau led to computer system enhancements, data exchange improvements and policy refinements establishing set process all counties would follow.

92 counties. One way to do the same things.