Red alert: “It’s complicated” forecasts trouble ahead!

The thought of tackling something complicated can reduce engagement and impact confidence. From using technology to defining relationships, “it’s complicated” should be a red flag. The same is true when it comes to building process improvement goals.

To people starting on the process management journey, process maps and procedure documents are anything but simple. They can be a confusing maze of shapes and lines, call outs and connectors, and notes tangled on a page full of acronyms. Even processes that seem like they should be straightforward can span several pages in a sprawl of spaghetti-like symbols.

Unfortunately, because this experience is so common, projects that invest time and resources in process mapping also tacitly accept that those process documents will never see the light of day once the project is completed.

This is not a new problem. Since the emergence of process mapping in the early 20th Century, to the explosion of process documentation that came with the evolution of business software solutions, organizations have created a wealth of process information that just goes to waste.

It still happens, and while everyone knows it, in most cases change has been slow.

Why procedures don’t connect with teams

In the book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, the author examines why processes and procedures don’t connect with teams. Gawande quotes Dan Boorman, the head of Boeing: “The reason is more often that the necessary knowledge has not been translated into a simple, usable, and systematic form.”

It’s not that teams are lazy or unwilling to comply with procedures. With the way processes are captured and presented, it just looks and feels too complicated.

That posed a challenge for Boorman and his team, so they “buckled down to the work of distilling the information into its practical essence… They sharpened, trimmed, and puzzled over pause points.” They were in pursuit of a simple, clear presentation of the core truth of their processes, and those could be executed.

It was an intense exercise, but a worthwhile one. Within a month of beginning the exercise, Boorman reports that “pilots had the new checklist in their hands – or their cockpit computers. And they used it.”

Those last four words are the key: And they used it.

Not every organization has the time and resources to invest in distilling a single process to the extent of that example from Boeing, but there are still valuable lessons there.

By continuing to produce processes that consist of an expert’s download of their knowledge, the results in our businesses won’t change. The documentation will be too intense to digest for the average team, and so paper-based manuals will continue to be ignored and neglected, and the process improvement goals in the organization will grind to a halt.

Keep it simple, sunshine

Making processes simple to find, understand, and users will have a significant impact on your process improvement goals. Some of the benefits include:

  • When teams can locate process information easily, grasp its application to their work, and execute it properly, errors diminish rapidly.
  • Teams that understand the written process can compare it to the actual practice and spot problems or suggest improvements.
  • The people that know the processes best can innovate, and do it faster because they have clear guidelines to start from.
  • Collaboration between teams or business units is easier with clear process handovers and protocols to guide the interactions.

It seems obvious, but so many organizations are still missing the importance of process clarity. Part of the challenge is the diversity of process authors in an enterprise-sized business. Usually, the drive to capture processes in this context comes from a few common sources:

  • Technical writers and ISO manual authors working on compliances
  • Project-focused teams supporting specific change initiatives
  • External consultants brought in to deploy specific solutions or systems
  • Automation experts or software specialists trying to implement automated workflows

It’s not that these people are getting processes wrong. If anything, they’re getting them very right. They’re achieving exactly what it is they’re aiming for, but process simplicity is unlikely to be an outcome if it isn’t identified as a success measure from the outset.

Success is what you make it

Those different process authors all have a different perspective on what process success looks like. They’re a diverse group and bear little resemblance to the teams on the ‘shop floor’ who are responsible for actually owning and applying the knowledge that the experts collect. To the experts, success could be:

  • Evidence of completion of an audit pass with reduced or zero issues
  • The successful completion of a project, with all technical milestones, met
  • The signoff of technical specifications for a product or system
  • Management acceptance of technological solutions applied to existing processes

One thing is certain – none of these relate to the outcomes that teams dealing with customers every day are looking for. That means the process culture of the organization is being unintentionally held hostage by the experts, while the people who are working with the processes day-in and day-out receive little or no procedural support.

These are the people who are expected to pick up new processes and run with them. These are the teams that have to front up to the customer when processes break down and have to improvise fixes when procedures aren’t clear or accessible. They don’t have hours to absorb complex diagrams and pages of procedural explanation. They need something clear and helpful, just like those pilots at Boeing did.

As Atul concludes, it’s not because they don’t want to do it right or are too lazy to carry out instructions. It’s a direct result of trying to use information that was never created to be useful to them.

A vital and living process improvement culture doesn’t happen without cooperation and contributions from across the board, at every level of the organization. To develop a world-class process culture of continuous improvement and engagement, businesses need to weed out the techno-speak of traditional process maps and drop the idea that firing weighty procedure manuals at business teams after projects are going to inspire process improvement goals.

The language needs to shift. The focus needs to shift. And the measure of success needs to shift. Want to see your teams engaged in process excellence, collaborating on continuous improvement as part of their daily work? Then make it simple. Make processes clear. Bring them the information they need in a way they can interact with it, and watch what happens when everyone is invited to join the process improvement conversation.

 

 

Interested in learning how the Nintex Platform can help your organization achieve its’ process improvement goals? Click here to schedule a live demo.

 

 

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