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Making complex policies visual for the web


Another session at Brainstorm, this time a case study from Genentech. Genentech has many policy documents that are interrelated, complex and lengthy and yet essential to operations – employees must understand them and follow them. As Genentech has made progress on its process management initiative it has found that getting the participants in the process to follow the policies is really hard. With this in mind they have looked for new ways to help people understand the policies. The processes involved tend not to be tasked-based but information-based – highly iterative, interactive processes. People performing these processes used all sorts of ways to try and find out what action to take, what decision to make – they called people, asked their staff to find out etc.

As an example, Genentech has over a thousand cost center managers. There is a wide range of policies relating to managing cost centers and compliance with these policies and regulations was a challenge. Training was not viable so they went out and sought a visual approach to this. To address this they looked for ways to improve the visual communication of the policies – not just words, but visuals too.

Just because the end result would be visual they could not avoid the analysis work – they still did a bunch of analysis to develop decision trees, role analysis, metrics, process maps etc. But the idea was to extract from this the key things a cost center manager had to do. After an interactive process with a real focus on simplifying whenever possible they found four key areas of activity – what to do when someone became a cost center manager, what to do when someone is added to your cost center etc. These four activities become the core navigation of the system while help/contacts, forms/tools and FAQs were common classifications of information. Each had a brief (10 second) animation and some content about the activity. Users could also view the big picture and see all the animations as a set.

A similar effort was focused on simplifying contracts – help people understand when they need a contract and which kind. Complex decision trees and process maps were built but the process remained complex – the master decision tree had more than 350 potential outcomes as well as many different groups for handling different kinds of contracts. And this really mattered at Genentech as they are very decentralized – lots of people can initiative contracts.

They built a short wizard – focused on asking the right few questions quickly – and in 4 steps of just a few choices each were able to identify if a contract was needed, who the right contract group was and payment details. Getting the order of questions right was crucial and making defintions (for goods v services, for instance) user context-sensitive helped people understand the definitions better. The first two questions then narrowed the range of exceptions so that the user could easily scan the list and say yes or no to the exceptions.

Of course contracting is part of a broader process – Procure to Pay. The process models are also displayed visually and each step links to some visual information of the policies that impact that step. The use of more visual representations has really helped people find and follow the policies. She referenced Vizthink a community on visual thinking and XPLANE, the company they worked with.

This last product sounds like the kind of interactive/reflexive questioning that rules vendors are adding to their products (notably Corticon, Blaze Advisor and Idiom). In both cases it seems to me that an opportunity exists for more automation of these decisions as well as visual support of them.