Processes – Love ’em – Hate ’em – Improve ’em!

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Processes – people either love them or hate them!  There’s no middle ground. If they love them, then they learn and follow the steps, determined to make them work, and coach their colleagues so all can use them consistently.  If they hate them, then they refuse to use them reasoning that it is a waste of time; they insist that they can do the work quicker another way.  But their other way may not be documented, vetted, nor users properly trained. If a process is perceived to “take too long,” then maybe it’s time to invoke your change management process for continuous improvement so as to assess what steps are no longer valid or need replacement.  It is not prudent to simply “stop using the process” because good or bad, the process may still be needed.  Having “no process” will cause more chaos than using one that people perceive as a waste of time.

If a process is perceived to “take too long,” then maybe it’s time to invoke your change management process for continuous improvement.

We are all familiar with the “Ah-Ha!” moment of acclamation when we get it, that is, when we cross that barrier from confusion to knowing, e.g. how to execute the steps properly to achieve the tasks or deliverables.  It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that energizes us to proceed. However, the contrast is much more foreboding.  It starts with a little “Oh No,” repeated many times, even by the same person, till it reaches critical mass as “How Stupid!”  This critical mass can be likened to a very large crater that appears when a volcano has gotten so hot that it blows its top off.  Its force spews debris and pours lava out, changing the landscape so much that it is no longer recognizable.

Consider a scenario, your company process for fund approval to procure parts is an important one to the life of your company.  If you spend too much, you could go bankrupt, but if you don’t spend when needed, then you can miss an opportunity to make profits.  In case you haven’t noticed, usually this type of process is in the form of an IT application with rules governing authorized users, authorized levels of approvers for certain dollar amounts, and preferred suppliers.  Each of these rules can change based on policies set by senior management   Usually, these changes are in the form of constraints designed to reduce the risk as perceived by senior management.  However, the risk may be perceived differently by the people who have to procure the parts in time to make customer deliveries.  This friction as the two groups reach and push on the “approved/not-approved-yet” barrier intensifies until approval is granted and the process continues so the team can meet its deliverables.  Notice that I didn’t say “approved/rejected” because eventually the parts have to be procured in order to meet the deliverables.  Thus everyone waits until the magical moment when approval happens.  

 Let’s look at an “Oh-No” example.  There was a situation when funding approval was needed ASAP because senior management had delayed in granting its approval using the established process.  To remedy the situation, the executive took it upon himself to go into the procurement system to enter “approved” with the perception that he had saved the day and the project team could now proceed.  However, this did not happen.  The buyer, who was awaiting the approval signal in the procurement system, was still getting “pending approval.”  The help desk was engaged to assess the situation and found that so many constraints had been put into the system on approvals that it would take “a long while.”  The buyer said that the project did not have the time to wait and proceeded with a workaround by getting a printout of the request for approval and walked it to all the managers including the executive for their signature approvals.  Once obtained, the buyer was allowed to proceed and with expediting, was able to acquire the parts in time for the product build to deliver to the customer on time.  In the meantime, the procurement system “processed” the executive’s approval which finally “arrived” in the buyer’s box, 3 weeks later.  A mere “Oh No” became a “How Stupid!” moment.

In conclusion, celebrate the “Ah-Ha‘s,” but recognize the “Oh No’s” and investigate them as possibly the time to revise your process before critical mass is reached.  I say revised, because there may be another explanation like there are so many new users due to a re-organization, that formal training is needed. You decide.


Additional Reading

How to Achieve Operational Excellence in the Private Equity Industry
Improving the Order Entry Process with Lean Six Sigma


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