Decaying processes, like rotten meat, really stink
I looked last month at How Not to Annoy Your Consultants. This month I wanted to tackle one other issue mentioned in Scott Berkun’s book Making Things Happen, namely processes.
Scott defines a process as “any repeatable set of actions a team decides to perform on a regular basis to make sure that something is done in a certain way.”
Since poor processes are often a source of annoyance, this is something of an extension of last month’s post but it’s more than that. Processes are required in any business. Even the one man artist has a consistent approach to a project that is really a process. But processes are a lot like meat, they are fantastic when done right but they decay quickly. Simple processes that are given a lot of work up front have the longest shelf life. To go ahead and butcher this metaphor, think beef jerky. (The puns are free.)
By their very nature processes decay by:
• Increasing in complexity
• Not changing with the business
• Not changing with technology
Decaying processes are worse than decaying meat. Both can make you sick but meat at least warns you with that funny smell and odd color.
Every process needs a review at least annually. Every process…period.
Scott goes on to present a simple formula for evaluating the Return on Investment for a new process along with guidelines for creating better processes . Business owners and executives should pick up Making Things Happen and zip through chapter 10. Go do that now. This means you Dwight. Don’t worry, you can expense it per Mark.Go on.
Ok. Now that the executives have gone we can talk about real process issues. Sometimes there are processes that you can’t change. For managers in the middle this requires a lot of finesse. An example would be a practice manager, department head or even project manager trying to deal with processes that conflict with their employees ability to get work done.
What kind of processes keep people from getting work done? Maybe it’s a stupid process that doesn’t permit the scheduling of sick time. So surgery doesn’t count as sick time or do you not want be warned when employees will be out for surgery? Stupid. It could be a legitimate process poorly implemented. Expense reporting is a legitimate process but with a few crappy forms and complex approval processes it’s possible to increase the difficulty to near homicidal levels.
Well meaning executives can still create stupid processes and sometimes it takes a while to get them to change their mind. What should managers do with poor processes in the mean time? Well Scott tackles that as well and the three options are:
• Shield your team from the process
• Bet against the process
• Ignore the process
Shielding the team from the process may mean taking on extra paperwork or creatively interpreting the rules. The best consulting managers I’ve ever had are experts at this. The problem is that stupid processes, even if poorly enforced, are a drag on morale. The success of betting against the process depends on the organization.
In other companies I’ve bet my Dynamics GP career against Siebel, Solomon and Navision initiatives over the years and come out better every time. Open revolt is not recommended, feet dragging and passive/aggressive behavior works better. It also helps a lot if you are really good at what you do.
Finally, just ignoring the process can sometimes work. Ignoring the process also works well for processes that are not highly visible, grossly unrealistic or physically impossible. For example, if a process requires time to be submitted by Friday at 5pm but in the history of the company no one has ever processed that time before Monday morning, feel free to push the limits.
There is one other thing I would add for stupid processes. Consider the consequences. If the CEO declares that not following the process will result in termination. Follow the process. Wait it out and keep trying to change the CEO’s mind. If the penalty is a slap on the wrist, maybe, sort of, if you get caught. Don’t get wound up about it.
Now you’re asking, does I.B.I.S. have stupid processes? Yep, we’ve got a couple. In fairness it’s fewer than some companies I’ve worked for and only a few of them are Dwight’s fault. Every so often one of us gets worked up about it and sometimes the issue gets fixed. Sometimes it doesn’t. Draw your own conclusions about how the consultants deal with that.