What is a Clean Sheet Review?
What is a “Clean Sheet Review” and how do you do one?
It is in essence a process of collective (or organizational) forgetting or wiping the slate clean and starting with a blank sheet of paper. Starting again from scratch.
Within the context of Business Process Improvement, a clean sheet review looks at the organizations requirements of the “as-is” or current organization and reinvents business processes to meet those business requirements free of the constraints of the existing organization. Ideally a clean sheet review ignores the constraints of policy and law as though there is no “as-is” organization and the review team is creating business processes from scratch to meet the business requirements.
The Clean Sheet Review as a business tool appears to have been first documented as a business process in a publication in 1981.
The methodology is believed to have been developed from a process called “Clean Sheet Redesign” where existing products or solutions were ignored and the problem re appraised without the constraints of the existing solution. One of the earliest documented formalized approaches was in the second world war when the Russian army tanks issued such destruction to German medium tanks early in the war that Hitler called for a clean-sheet redesign. This led to the agreement to produce what would become the Panther. In this approach rather than just look at continuous improvement, all previous designs of armament and firepower were ignored and the concept looked at with a fresh perspective without any existing constraints.
The transfer from using “clean sheet” as an engineering solution to a business one started in 1981 at the Annual International Industrial Engineering conference, Institute of Industrial Engineers (1981- ). Twin Cities Chapter, American Institute of Industrial Engineers
Where they “…suggest a business strategy based on a total clean sheet redesign of business processes without a corresponding total redesign to other concomitant organizational activities is like walking into the future facing the past”.
The kaizen or Total Quality Management movement in the 1980’s was the key driver for the methodology to be widely popularized and communicated.
Hammer & Champy were the final people to fully popularize the approach in their book “Re-engineering the Corporation” in 1993. This led to many organizations implementing ill-conceived processes as they took the “Clean Sheet” approach without thinking through all the complex relationships and inter-relationships of process and peoples reactions to process.
Several of the “big” consulting firms started their own version of this which they called “Brown Paper” activities.
Latterly this process has been included within many Six Sigma methodologies
Typically the process starts with a requirement or scope from the senior leadership of the business, stating what requirements need to be met by the processes the review will create, along with a deadline for delivery.
The review team (better for a team to look at this than an individual) starts with a clean sheet of paper and defines their own method and schedule for delivering business processes to meet the requirements of the business.
Direction of the team is kept to a minimum to encourage creative solutions unavailable to other methods that are constrained to developing from the “as-is” processes. This method therefore protects the opportunity to capture and exploit the creativity in the team.
Dangers & Organizational Risks
One of the risks or dangers associated with a Clean Sheet Review, is that many organizations are resistant to give a truly clean sheet to the process development team. Constraints are put in place which in reality means that the review is just that – a review looking for small step improvements.
The reality is in most businesses it takes a lot of guts, confidence and “bottle” to truly develop a process from a blank or clean sheet. This in turn leads to many in the profession using the term as a process but actually just making small changes and adaptations rather than the whole sale review and development of processes from scratch to ensure an effective and efficient process.
For the process to work it requires the team devising such a process to be both familiar with the outputs required and then isolated from the process on a day to day basis whilst developed and implemented. The design process also needs to take into account the impact of change on the people involved in the “new” process.