You’re not going to believe this, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t find process improvement sexy. (Who ARE these people?) Technology is sexy, sure. That one’s a given. Training can even be sexy – or at least fun. When it comes to process design, however, no one really gets excited (you may have dozed of just now, come to think of it). Well, wake up, grab some coffee, and stick with me! We’re going to talk about how you can breathe new life into your organization – and it all boils down to putting a little focus on process.
Any transformation effort requires focus in three areas: people, process, and technology. Of these three components, process is without fail the one that gets neglected. It’s the last kid picked for the kickball team, it’s the nerd never asked to prom, it’s me in high school (I’m okay now – really I’m fine). Either way, the point here is that avoiding focus on process can wreak havoc on your improvement efforts.
If you ignore process, the balance of the trifecta will be skewed, rendering any strides you make in the people and technology departments far less impactful. For example, Best Practice training without process will give you a bunch of people running around using their new vocabulary words without any way of implementing them. It’s ineffective and, as a special bonus, deeply annoying. Likewise, spending all of your money on an enterprise IT Service Management platform without solid processes will only serve to speed up existing chaotic or cumbersome processes (a crappy process accelerated is a crappier process). This is how a lot of people end up hating their ITSM platforms.
So, if you’re experiencing pain and suffering, lack the time to do the things that matter, or find an improvement initiative has stalled, it’s likely because your focus is out of balance. Nine times out of ten, that unbalance is because the wholly unsexy process piece has been woefully neglected.
What’s that you say? You have defined processes and they’re holding you back? Hm. I’d argue you likely have overly complex processes in place and need to simplify them. For the record, this does not mean throwing all of your current processes out (as a few misguided Agile acolytes would have you believe). Having too little process brings its own brand of pain through chaos, confusion, and variability. Lacking (reasonable) control of how people work wastes a ton of time, effort, and money. Find the amount of rigor that’s right for your organization – it should bring consistency without bogging your teams down.
Think about a large, successful company known for consistency. How about McDonald’s? The Big Mac, for example, consists of two all-beef patties, (a specific amount of) special sauce, lettuce, cheese, (exactly two) pickles, onions, and a sesame seed bun. It doesn’t consist of these things occasionally – it’s every time (unless something goes horribly awry). Think of your processes this same way.
There are essential components to every process – things that must be completed every time. Figure out what those components are, document them, and ensure they’re executed consistently. This will also provide clarity around why you’re following the process in the first place, and help guide your team as they contribute to improving the process.
Starting Out Right
So, where do you start? Here are some simple steps to help you improve your processes.
- Understand what your core processes are. Identify the most common things you do (responding when things break, managing requests, controlling assets, etc.). If you’re not sure, Change Management can be a good place to start (seeing as so many incidents result from failed changes).
- Document your core processes. If you don’t already have documented processes, you can start with a simple checklist for everyone to follow. Get folks into a room, talk through how you currently work, and draw it on a whiteboard. If you have expertise in business process design, then you can map out your processes in something like Visio or Bizagi (that’s what we generally use to help customers map out their processes). If you want to add even more clarity, documenting a RACI model that defines who does what and when can be helpful (here’s a template to get you started). As part of this exercise, make sure your teams are looking for ways to simply how they work.
- Put all your processes in one place. Make sure everyone can easily retrieve new or changed process documentation. SharePoint or another collaboration tool will work well.
- Train, train, and train your staff. Make sure everyone is regularly trained on “how we work”. Retrain everyone periodically, particularly when processes change (which they should every so often). Processes, like sesame seed buns, can go stale. Look at them periodically and find ways to always make them better, simpler, or faster (this is where tools can help, but only after you have taken the time to define your processes).
- Manage your processes. Have a mechanism in place to regularly review and improve your processes. To do this, you absolutely must document two things (at least): 1. Why the process exists in the first place (what purpose does it serve?) 2. How the process will be measured to ensure it’s working the way it was intended (For example, with Change Management, you may want to measure how quickly changes are approved or the number of successful vs. failed changes each week).
Training and technology alone can’t bring increased speed and consistency to your work. It’s that third component, boring old process, that completes the picture. So, give process a chance. Brew up an entire pot of coffee, turn the stereo up to eleven, and begin the thoroughly unsexy work of process design (or go take a nap and let us do it for you).
Embrace the nerd. They’re the ones who end up running the show, anyway (I’m looking at you, Gates).