4 compass points for successful business process improvements

November 15, 2019
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • Business Process Improvement Review
  • Enrollment Management
ornate compass standing on its side on top a granite surface

In today’s hyper competitive environment for higher education enrollment and the great sensitivity to the costs of attendance, it is imperative that college and university enrollment, academic and student support units (service units) provide added-value service. In my view, service units whose managers consistently demonstrate that their unit has achieved the measurable outcomes that their stakeholders value and expect will thrive.  Those that cannot do so will lose institutional confidence and influence.

Service units should give continuous attention to the improvement of their business processes because they, individually and collectively, directly impact how satisfied (or dissatisfied) their various stakeholders are with them and the institution. Business Process Improvement (BPI) provides service unit managers with an essential platform to enable their units to consistently meet the expectations of their stakeholders for value-added services.  This article focuses on four “Compass” points to guide successful BPI efforts.  

1. Focus on the Expected Outcomes of BPI

[A] business process is the set of steps a business performs to create value for customers… [The] series of events that bring together people, technology, and information in ways that create valuable outputs.” (1)  [Bold type in original.]

It is important to remember that business processes are a means to an end; not an end unto themselves.  The key words in the above definitions of business processes are “value for customers” and “ways that create valuable outputs.”  To deliver value/valuable outputs, identify the measurable outcomes (value) that the business process, when executed successfully, is expected to deliver to each of its stakeholder groups. A review of some of the marketing literature indicates that there is no one way to define value, but that the customer, not the service provider, defines value remains widely accepted as the core understanding of value.   

Service units often have multiple groups of stakeholders, both on and off campus.  Prospective and current students (and their parents or guardians) are, of course, the primary stakeholders because a college or university cannot carry out its mission and continue to function without them. The institution’s senior leadership are also major stakeholders of the service units and expect those units to demonstrate they are providing a good return on investment by consistently achieving expected outcomes. 

2. Efficiency AND Effectiveness

Efficient: productive of desired effects especially: capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials…). (2)

Effective: producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect... (2)

A service unit’s business processes must ultimately achieve both effectiveness and efficiency to the greatest extent possible. It is likely, however, that some degree of compromise will be necessary in trying to satisfy both sides of the equation.

It is very easy for service units to mistake process for outcomes by not remembering that efficiency does not always equate to effectiveness.  It is, of course, very important to be efficient because both the service unit’s and its stakeholders’ time, energy, and fiscal resources are limited.  However, if we chase efficiency without giving strong attention to effectiveness, it is false economy.

Effectiveness:  I recommend that the BPI process start by concentrating on stakeholder expectations for effectiveness.  Then the process should be run though the efficiency filter, with any compromises determined after that point.

When reengineering a process for effectiveness, initially do not consider service provider resource limitations.  Fully imagine the ideal ways to serve students though the process.  Referencing industry best practices can be a good starting point, but remember in today’s competitive marketplace, the bar will constantly be raised by industry leaders and disrupters.

Efficiency:  In this stage, concentrate on students’ expectations for efficiency such as ease of use and expeditious completion of the process. Then, consider efficiency from the perspective of the service provider and senior leadership.  Since service unit managers are officers of the college or university, they clearly need to be in line with the expectations of senior leadership.

The Compromise Process should factor in not only cost, time and effort factors, but also possible limiting factors such as service unit and institutional cultures, politics and organizational silos. Relevant laws, rules, and regulations must be followed. 

Improvement on relatively complex processes is likely to be iterative, not the one and done home run.  To quote one of my early mentors, “Produce don’t perfect.”  Continuous improvement is a foundational tenet of best-practice Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM).

3. Metrics and Analytics

Metrics and analytics are a crucial component of the BPI effort. They help ensure project success and stakeholder confidence and support.  The following are several key examples:

  • Metrics to define success:  The specific outcomes the business process is expected to achieve for each of its stakeholder groups must be defined in measurable terms.
  • Operational metrics:  Each step of the business process must be accompanied by specific metrics to define what that step is expected to accomplish.  The implementation of the process should also be monitored via metrics to ensure that each step is on track for success or, alternatively, to alert the manager to take timely corrective action if a step is not on track.
  • Assessment metrics:  These metrics help determine if the process, when implemented, has met outcome expectations. This entails comparing the actual results with the metrics that were specified to define success. 
  • Progress metrics are very important because, as mentioned above, improvement on relatively complex processes is likely to be iterative.  These metrics are very important to maintain stakeholder confidence throughout the business process improvement project.
  • Analytics.  The SEM profession has made significant progress in using data analysis to better understand how to make its work more effective and efficient. Some are applying the great potential of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to help provide their institution with precious competitive advantages. 

4.  Confident Stakeholders and Service Unit Champions

Word-of-mouth is the most powerful, believable, and effective form of “advertising.”  A service unit needs champions who spread the word about its value-added successes. Stakeholder Advisory Groups can help secure champions for a service unit when they are genuinely valued as a team member by the service provider.  The Advisory Group can be an excellence resource for identifying the service unit’s processes that need more immediate attention.  They can provide important feedback on where compromise, if needed, would be the most reasonable in improving the process.  

Constructive, but candid advice on the work of the service unit should be welcomed.  The service unit manager and process owners should periodically report on assessment and progress metrics to its stakeholders via dashboards that include concise text to provide context about what the numbers mean.  The reports should facilitate frank collaborative discussions about the good and problematic aspects of the actual process outcomes and the specific BPI steps that will be taken to achieve the expected outcomes. 

Stay on course for value-added status!

It must be emphasized that a commitment to value-added improvement will only thrive in a culture that embraces and sustains it.  That said, successfully reengineering and executing a process that is important to a service unit and its stakeholders can help build such a culture.  It fosters unit pride in collaboration, service and success.
Works Cited
1. McDonald, Mark (2010). Pocket Mentor, Improving Business Processes. Harvard Business School Publishing.
2. https.www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.  Downloaded on  10/7/2019.


Some of the ideas and text were taken from the author’s AACRAO publications, especially Managing for Outcomes: Shifting from Process-Centric to Results-Oriented Operations.

For more information or to contact Dr. Sigler, please visit https://www.aacrao.org/contact-us/consulting, email consulting@aacrao.org or call (202) 355-1056.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.