Design for Process Exceptions

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Process exceptions are productivity dampers. Some exceptions are caused by human errors such as incorrect data entry. Others are triggered by unanticipated situations such as a customer request that doesn’t fall into any predefined categories. With evolving customer needs, exceptions will arise more often. They pose as challenges to established operating processes.

Despite efforts to minimize the occurrence of exceptions, they are inevitable. Businesses need to address them to ameliorate their negative effects.

These negative effects include:

  • Bottlenecks—in most cases, an exception calls for someone to review the situation and take action. This introduces delays in completing the overall workflow. The delay could be minimal when someone is able to resolve the exception quickly. Otherwise, a choke point might result, generating ripple effects on downstream work.
  • Employee frustration—the exception sets off an alert to an employee or a manager who is responsible for the work. The goal is to resolve the exception as quickly as possible. That person might know what to do or seek advice on how best to handle it. The search for a solution could turn into a frustrating chase when no one has been designated as the go-to person for resolution.
  • Customer dissatisfaction—poor handling of process exceptions has an effect on the customer directly or indirectly. For example, a utility account application with special requests is directed to an account rep to assess whether the special requests can be accommodated. The review will take time leading to delays.

To minimize the effects of exceptions, businesses need to devote appropriate effort to understand the sources of the exceptions and design proper solutions. This applies to existing operating processes and designing new processes for automation. Here are several techniques to better manage exceptions.

  1. Examine the sources

Exceptions could be caused by an error, a lack of materials to complete the work activities, a gap in the information needed, unavailability of the desired manpower, or missing a specified timeline. There are many other reasons. Knowing the source of an exception allows you make provisions for it. Errors can be dealt with by conducting training or incorporating detailed checks and balances in an application to minimize them. Information gaps can likely be handled in a similar manner. For other triggers, a more in-depth understanding affords better solution designs.

  1. Understand the frequency of occurrences

Some exceptions occur more often than others. The frequent occurrences justify more attention because they repeatedly usurp resources from other priorities. The information on frequency of occurrences also provides insight on whether you could treat the exception as one-offs. The infrequent outliers that have little impacts would be dealt with differently from those that have significant effects.

  1. Assess for standardization opportunities

For exceptions that occur frequently and have significant effects, it is not sustainable to rehash a new solution every time they arise. The business will experience a multiplier effect on productivity loss.  Instead, standardize a solution to deal with these frequent exceptions. In other words, the exceptions become a ‘normal’ operating process because there are known conditions that could be incorporated in the solution design.

  1. Eliminate the exceptions

This calls for a review of the business rules. There might be conditions and rules that are not necessary any more. For example, an expense approval might not be required when the expense has been pre-approved. By removing the need, the business eliminates the exception caused by a late review by the approver. As the business has full control of these rules, making the proper refinement will simplify operations, eliminate exceptions, and expedite workflows.

It is pertinent for businesses to understand whether they qualify as true exceptions or to harmonize them to become part of the standard operating model. Share on X

Exceptions are deviations that require additional efforts to bring the work back to the normal work stream. It is pertinent for businesses to understand whether they qualify as true exceptions or to harmonize them to become part of the standard operating model. In designing the solution, consult employees for their input on the triggers and effects, and do take a big picture view with a customer-centric focus.

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