Process… just the mere use of the word can spread fear and panic in the workplace. This sad reality exists for a reason - 100% of companies unnecessarily suffer from a process problem. They suffer to varying degrees, but they are nonetheless suffering. The good news is bad process is one of the easiest things for leaders to remedy. By simply being willing to stop the madness and reclaim the asylum from the lunatics (inept leaders, lazy managers, and fee happy consultants), huge gains in morale and productivity can be quickly achieved.
With the plethora of conflicting information written about process design, implementation and management, combined with the nightmares we’ve all experienced as a result of bad process, many executives fear the pain associated with flawed process less than they value the benefits created by good process. How sad it that?
Here’s the thing – It’s not what you know, but what you don’t know about process, or perhaps what you’ve allowed process to represent that has left you fatigued and frustrated. I’m going to crawl out on a limb and make a bold claim: by the time you’ve finished reading this piece you’ll find the topic of process no longer creates untold amounts of brain damage, but has transitioned to something you’ll find altogether invigorating – trust me on this one…
One of the ways successful companies gain a competitive advantage is through creating process advantage. The problem is most companies are buried in process disadvantage. Good process is sophisticated (not complex), efficient (simple) and effective (usable and value added). Good business processes serve as the central nervous system for your organization providing a framework for every action, decision, activity or innovation to flow from and through. There are many who would say process stifles creativity and slows production, and while I would concur this statement is usually the case with bad process, nothing could be further from the truth as it relates to good process. Good process serves as a catalyst for innovation, which in turn optimizes and accelerates engagement, collaboration, work-flow, and enhances the overall productivity of business initiatives.
So, here’s where the fun and excitement comes in – I want you to place your business processes under the microscope using the following 7 points as filters for what processes you create, keep, refine or discard moving forward:
- The Right Mindset: If your business processes are perceived as a rigid set of mandates and rules, rather than a set of flexible guidelines – you’re in trouble. Good process should provide a fluid framework to inspire creativity not stifle it. Sound process encourages the use of good judgment, it shouldn’t insinuate people don’t have any judgment. Believe it or not, good process should allow people to take risks not preclude them from doing so. The debate shouldn’t be one of systems vs. talent, but systems and talent.
- The 20% Rule: I’ve yet to encounter a business that couldn’t eliminate 20% of their existing business processes and be better for it. You; yes you, are allowing the expenditure of precious time and resources on silly processes that add no value whatsoever – they should be eliminated immediately. Bad process is indicative of an unhealthy mindset that justifies anything currently existing as valuable. The fastest way to inject a breath of fresh air into your business is to give permission space to your workforce to tell you where bad process exists and then to do something about it.
- Design Matters: While good process can be inspired from anywhere, it should be designed by those closest to the work. Imposed mandates from above while often well intended, are rarely as effective as organic initiatives created by team members who most frequently interact with said process. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing consultants to “install” a “best practice” process. Rather, allow your team to create a next practices solution. By choosing the latter over the former you’ll save considerable time, money and frustration.
- Simplicity Matters: If your process isn’t simple, it’s going to be very expensive, not very usable, and probably not sustainable – put simply, it will fail. Whether evaluating new processes, or determining which ones to reengineer or discard, make simplicity a key consideration. Remember this – usability drives adoptability, and simplicity is the main determinant of usability.
- Don’t Think Product – Think Outcome: I know this will offend some, but process is not a new software program or application. While toolsets can enhance process or can become a by-product of process, they do not in and of themselves constitute process. Don’t get caught in the trap of perpetual spending or development as a solution. Recognize if you’re caught in this trap it’s a symptom of bad process not a reflection of good process.
- No Band-Aids: Good process is not reactionary. A series of bubble gum and bailing wire solutions put in place in haste as a knee-jerk reaction to the latest problem is not good process design. Process by default will never provide the benefits of good process engineering by design. Think long-term, and if you must, bridge with a phased solution, but be planful in approach.
- No Panacea: While good process will help optimize any business, it will not make up for shortcomings in other disciplines or functional areas. Process is not the main driver in business, but merely a critical support system built for enablement, delivery, accountability and measurement.
Good process comes as a by-product of clarity of purpose. It is the natural extension of values, vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives and tactics. It is in fact working down through the aforementioned hierarchy that allows process to be engineered by design to support mission critical initiatives. Recognition of the fact that you don’t start with process design, but that process design should be used as a refining framework to enable better execution is critical to the development of good process. Process is the part of the value chain that holds everything together and brings and ordered, programmatic, yet flexible discipline to your business.
Good process results in a highly usable infrastructure being adopted across the enterprise because it is effective for staff, and provides visibility and accountability for management, all of which increase the certainty of execution. Good process across all areas of the enterprise will result in elimination of redundancy and inefficiency, better engagement and collaboration, shortening of cycle times, better knowledge management and business intelligence, increased customer satisfaction, and increased margins.
I encourage you to not let apathy, negative experience based upon results of bad process or flawed implementations, or the fear of the unknown keep you from benefiting from the numerous advantages created by good process engineering. I would also strongly encourage you to evaluate all of your current processes so you can discard or re-engineer (simplify) bad process and improve upon good process, striving for excellence in process design. Now go to work and unleash some goodness of process…