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District Business Transformation

Part 2

by Namratha Bharadwaj and Terry Denoyer

Illustration of people working together on a project

Undesired Outcomes

A second grade teacher splits her time across two classrooms to fill a vacancy in her school.

A mother is asked for the same paperwork multiple times in registering her child.

A family waits in limbo for the delivery of services to their child with a disability.

The local police department is not consulted on matters of school safety.

The district loses track of a student as he moves from pre-k into general ed.

These are a sampling of issues communities must deal with when a school district’s central office employs broken administrative processes. In our first post in this series, we tried to frame the problem and outlined potential steps forward.

Taking the Initiative

PK-12 district offices across the country face similar challenges when it comes to their day-to-day operations: manual, ineffective, redundant processes as a root cause of sluggish, backlogged or inefficient operations. Recognizing the issue is a huge first step - but it is just a step. The challenge of fixing these outdated processes to serve their intended “business” functions, (e.g., school registration, budgeting, hiring teachers), can seem daunting. Where do you start? What do you fix first? What support (resources, funding, etc.) do you have/do you need? 

At Thru, we are management consultants. Many of us are also former teachers. So we do what good teachers do when assigning a big group project: (1) we define the project by highlighting what’s important, (2) encouraging students to outline their solutions, (3) help them chunk up the work over the duration of the project, and of course, (4) holding regular check-ins to share insights and ensure the work is proceeding on track. We recommended in our first post that the district start by identifying someone to facilitate the improvement effort - which in teacher speak, is assigning a project leader. 

The problems didn’t appear overnight, and savvy district leaders know they won’t be fixed overnight. A business transformation won’t make adequate progress without a person that can dedicate substantial time to it. This would be someone who can interact with different groups and collaborate to generate insights and make decisions. The role could be termed, “Business Analyst.” This person should be somewhat familiar with the district and empowered to work with stakeholders across the community. Transformation initiatives are, of course, also fueled by direct leadership participation in the work, (i.e., cabinet level). Without active, regular focus on the initiative, the effort is prone to failure.

Outside and within the education industry, this kind of work has gone by many names: business process re-engineering, business analysis, streamlining, business process management. For PK-12 central offices, we are using the term district business transformation. And any transformation effort should begin with a period of discovery; gathering information on how processes work, who performs the tasks, in what sequence, and where are things breaking down? The answers to these questions come from many sources and the information may need to be patched together to fully answer a question. 

The Business Analyst (or equivalent) supports the transformation effort by: 

  • Identifying all respective stakeholder groups and invite their participation

  • Conducting interviews in and outside the Central office

  • Identifying and review key information, like strategic plans and reports

  • Collecting and analyze relevant quantitative data, (e.g., financials, student data)

  • Conducting follow-ups to fill gaps in data and understanding

  • Documenting the findings and/or workflow in various forms

The findings in this discovery phase should be documented incrementally, hitting on key themes identified throughout the course of discovery. One approach is to document the existing business workflow(s) via flow charts capturing and displaying all of the key steps and milestones of a process. Stakeholders can then examine the flow charts (or any process findings) and highlight where processes currently break down, where redundancies exist, and where improvements can be made. Another approach is to identify and document all of the individual inefficiencies and redundancies in a given process(es) to prioritize the areas to improve (in the next step). 

In the course of the business transformation effort, special attention should be paid to those issues that (a) are repeated across business processes, (b) affect several processes downstream, (c) are family-facing, and/or (d) cause the most frustrations, (delays, roadblocks, backlogs, etc.). These are opportunities to make the most significant impacts in the way the district does business.

The Preferred Outcomes

The second grade teacher can focus on the needs of the students in her classroom.

A mother registers her child with the school district in 15 minutes or less.

A student’s disability is identified and addressed in a matter of days, (not months).

The district is in constant communication with the police department and have co-designed preparedness plans.

A student matriculates seamlessly from an Early Intervention program to a preschool to his elementary school.

Stay tuned for part 3 in our series about building and communicating improved business processes. This is the second in a series of posts we're planning about the paths school districts can take to modernize their "business" processes, including the implications and challenges in doing so. Namratha Bharadwaj and Terry Denoyer are working with district leaders, researching, and authoring our thoughts in this space. They can be reached via the contact information below or on Linkedin.

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