No Pains No Gains? Asking the painful questions in Change & Transformation

When working on any change, or transformation, programme we are all familiar with the activity of gathering and documenting the pain points through Process Mapping from across the business. We understand the value of this. 

However how much time have you spent thinking about how and, perhaps more importantly, when you capture them?

Of course talking about, and recording, pain points is useful for many reasons. It helps to focus in on where the issues are and how the issues are perceived. It brings a human perspective, giving participants a stake in the change and feeling like they’ve been listened to.

Starting your Process Workshops

However, the timing and the approach you use can have a significant impact on the overall programme. In a recent webinar, on ERP Implementation, one of the consultants highlighted the challenge of starting off process discovery interviews by asking about pain points.

“In times of change people can become suspicious, especially when an outside consultant has been brought in. We found that when we started asking about what was wrong with the current ways of working some people would become very defensive and close up.”

Another challenge with asking about pain points, in isolation, is that they tend to be subjective. Admittedly to some extent that’s OK, because you want to see how people feel. However consider that it also means that it’s much harder to size and prioritise a problem. Remember that, different people may articulate the same problems in very different ways, making your task of deciphering them way more complex.  

Getting the right Pain Points in Process Mapping

Daniel Kahneman, in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, describes the concept of ‘Substitution’. This is where you are asked a complex question but in the interests of answering quickly your intuition substitutes the complex question with a simpler one that has an immediate answer.

To put it into context, imagine you are asked: ‘what are the pains you experience in your job.’. There are probably many. Each have varying degrees of importance and impact to both you and / or the business. However, trying to first remember and then assess each of these is a complex exercise. 

Therefore you are likely to substitute this question in your mind with something easier to answer such as “what was the last pain you suffered in the course of doing your job?”. You then list the pains and importance by the order in which you remember them. It seems logical that the most important pain is the one that springs immediately to mind but actually as Kahneman points out, this is likely to be an incorrect assumption.

Want to learn more about Processes – read our Ultimate Guide to Process Mapping here

Using As Is Process Mapping as a Solution

You could consider instead running an As-Is process mapping workshop. This gives people the chance to first talk about how things actually work today. One of the most important benefits of running a live workshop is that people align on how they believe the process works. Very often people involved in a process have a different view of how it works. Therefore the problems or pains will be approached with a different set of assumptions.

This activity allows the individuals to think more objectively about the process and its problems. It will remind them of issues that hadn’t immediately come to mind and help them re-evaluate other pains in context. The participants  synthesise and analyse the shared knowledge in order to come up with a more accurate picture of the pain points.

Consider when to talk about Pain Points

The next time you are planning process discovery sessions for a change or transformation programme consider when you will raise the pain points. The key to success isn’t just recognising that that pain exists at the end of the day, it’s putting it in the right context. After all, a pain point by itself is nothing, the learning it brings is where the magic happens. 

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