A word that is music to my ears yet sends so many others running for cover. How many times in the run of a week do I get that “Oh here she goes again” look? Usually good natured since most people in my company have begun to appreciate the value of well structured projects and products. However I still see it.
A large part of my job is related to understanding what customers need, matching technology features to those needs and then defining the process to deliver it. Since communication, collaboration and documentation are such important aspects of each project, it’s important that we have good processes in place to facilitate these activities.
As a Microsoft Gold Partner and software development company, we have a lot of different technological tools at our disposal to help us manage these processes and automate tasks. However it is important to understand that no matter how great the technology works (and how I do love it) – it is nothing without the process that it supports. Technology is an enhancement to a good process but it is not a substitute.
Process exists whether you recognize it or not. Any activity you perform has a process. You drive to work. There is a process that brings you from your kitchen table to your desk. You brush your teeth. There is a process. Imagine putting your toothpaste on your toothbrush after you finished brushing. Not very likely to happen since it’s a process you have performed so often throughout your lifetime that you have become completely unaware of its steps. The reason why you were able to learn how to do this right so quickly at a young age was because a) you had good instruction from your mother or father b) if you did it wrong you were probably sent right back upstairs to do it again, thus cutting down on the time you had to play with your friends c) it was logical - the steps were easy to remember because they made sense.
Many people at some point in their life became scared of the word process. Even though they unconsciously perform thousands everyday – somewhere along the line somebody taught them a BAD process. Bad processes are ineffective and inefficient. They cause people to spend more time worrying about HOW they are doing things than focusing on WHAT they are doing.
Good processes define what comes next for people. They improve how information is transferred and stored in relation to an activity. By establishing efficient systems you allow your team members to focus on the issues that require their specific skill sets.
Think back to my example of driving a car. This is a process that you probably learned quite a while back. When you first started everything was new and your probably had some hesitancies and fears. However once you performed the process over and over - everything became more natural (hopefully). You became a better driver because you were able to spend more time looking at the road and what was ahead of you than looking at the speedometer or worrying about when to switch gears.
Processes allow team members to better react to issues and risks since they are not burdened with decisions on inconsequential tasks. Decision making and creativity can be left to more important items that directly affect the customer?s experience or product.
Ever go to a grocery store looking for 5-6 items and walk out forgetting one. Chances are you did’t have a list or a plan when you entered the store. Maybe you even got so distracted picking up other items that you forgot about the milk. Not a big deal in this setting I guess - I mean the kids can have orange juice in their corn flakes can’t they?
Now let’s change the setting to an important software development project where the customer identified 10 very specific requirements - and you develop an application for them that meets just 5 of the requested requirements plus 12 others that they really couldn’t care about. I think this could be considered a big deal. An effective process in this case, would have smoothly carried us from the requirements analysis stage, right through to the post project analysis meeting where the customer explains that they are very pleased with this new application that solves ALL of their problems. Now that my friends is where the music comes from.
Effective processes help you to make sure that critical tasks are completed and never skipped. Perhaps you have a project manager that needs to be notified whenever a change order is requested. By creating a change management process, resources can be required to notify their project manager or team lead before accepting changes. By having tools like Sharepoint or even custom developed applications, automated messages can be sent to team members based on activity in a specific web folder or directory. When a team member receives a change order request, he fills out a form and saves it to a library, and the project manager is notified immediately of change via an automated email message. By having a collection of these requests stored in a centrally accessible area – team members and leads are better able to make decisions and prioritize.
By effectively establishing and documenting processes, it becomes easier to scale your team and company since new members can easily be added. Valuable resources can be freed from repetitive time consuming tasks and bought in on additional projects to help your company grow.
The Things to Remember.
There are a few things that you should remember when you attempt to implement new processes or change existing ones in your organization:
- Every activity has a process. The question is whether the process is efficient or effective enough.
- Don’t over complicate things.
- Avoid duplication of information or effort.
- Provide an appropriate level of instruction and documentation.
- Don’t forget to work with your team to make sure you are considering all alternatives. Remember they are probably better at doing their job than you are.
- When working with a group to define a process - focus on what activities they currently perform now. Try to retain as much as possible in the first pass through. If optimization or re-engineering is required you should try to implement in stages.
- Once a process has been defined - look at ways in which certain tasks can be automated or made easier. Consider the use of templates, tools or information systems. Encourage team members to share areas they feel could be automated or improved.
- When implementing multiple new processes to a group that contain similar tasks, try to be consistent in how these are performed. In other words, make sure the round red button always does the same thing.
- Don’t be afraid to look at how other people are doing things - they might be doing it that way for a reason and might not mind showing you why.
Ineffective processes leave people with wounds. Try to avoid implementing steps that result in your staff feeling locked down. The goal should be liberation. Let people spend their time doing the things they love about their job. Allow them to see the value behind the process and subsequently feel more positive towards it.
By gradually introducing change in manageable stages, it becomes
- easier to train users or groups on the new way of doing things
- demonstrate the benefit of each change
- spot some things you might have missed in your design.
By completely overhauling how a team does their work - you run the risk of losing them for good or disrupting the quality of service being offered to your customers. Unfortunately that is a process you have no control over once it happens.