Process, People and Tools

Many companies today continue to look for efficiencies and business improvements by trying to create better processes. The idea seems to be that if the process is perfected, employees will be able to follow it, speed will be increased and mistakes will be eliminated. I understand the concept and the idea, but I don’t know if I agree that improving the process alone will actually deliver all the improvements that are being sought, or promised.

Processes are based on the idea of repeatable events. If functions or events are similar enough, then you can create a process to make sure that similar events are handled in a similar manner. The idea is to assure consistent performance. Manufacturing products, paying bills, inputting orders and the like were some of the first and most successful beneficiaries of good process creation. The concept has also been extended, at higher levels to other business functions such as sales, marketing and service as well.

The issue with process seems to arise when a good general approach is taken too far. If a good high level process works well, shouldn’t it be extended to more specific applications to make them work even better? My view is probably not.

My view is that Simple is Better.

By necessity the more specific you make a process to enable it to handle more and more variations in inputs and desired outputs, the more complex you make it. I have commented in the past that if your Sales compensation plan is longer than one or two pages, that it is most likely too complex and you are probably not inciting the desired focus from your sales force that you are looking for. I think the same can be said of your processes.

There needs to be a relative parity between your processes and your goals. If we can maintain a focus on relatively fewer and simpler goals, then we should also maintain a focus on relatively fewer and simpler processes. The question then becomes do you run the risk of decomposing your business goals and processes into progressively smaller and simpler levels to the point where you lose the ability to manage the overall business with any continuity. It becomes the equivalent of trying to manage the growth of each individual wheat stalk in the field, instead of trying to manage the growth of the wheat field.

There will always be a human factor associated with our business process. People make decisions based on the information they have and the goals that they are pursuing. Instead of trying to reduce the impact of the human factor by trying to create processes that prescribe decisions for them; we might do better to focus on the information and the tools that provide it to them, as well as the actual decision makers that we are asking to act on it.

Pilots spend multiples of hours in simulators facing manifold situations honing their decision skills so that when they are placed in similar real life situations they can follow some relatively simple processes to quickly arrive at the right decisions and take the correct actions. The average business leader does this while on the job. The business leader must base his decisions on situations that he has seen in the past and adapt them with the new information (or lack of new information) to the current situation. Hopefully either the leader’s experience translates well to the new situation, or the information supplied is sufficiently available and accurate to enable a good decision.

The pilot has multiple tools and gauges on his dashboard that immediately provide him the information that he needs as a basis for his decisions. While we have seen significant gains in the tools and gauges area for the business leader, it has been my experience that these capabilities have grown up over time as more of a happen stance instead of a cogent and integrated plan for providing needed gauges for management information.

It takes good people, good tools and simple processes to get good decisions and actions. Focusing on more detailed processes without paying attention to the people or the tools that they are using seems to be an activity that will only provide decreasing relative value returns for the investment. Spending more time on preparing business leaders to be ready and capable of making the types of decisions that they will be asked to make, and investing in the informational tools that will provide the accurate and timely information that they will need to make those decisions will probably provide greater benefits to the business.

Leave a Reply