Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Get those processes out of your socks!

Last summer I was building some sand castles with my son. At a certain moment I looked down and there, at the bottom of my skinny white legs, I saw two size 12 feet, doing their best to get burned in the sun.  As I have those feet quite a few years now, I wasn’t really surprised by that view.
But suddenly my toenails drew my attention. Ten toenails that I’ve had all my life. I never thought about ‘m consciously.  Because they never caused any problem.  And that made me write this “Procesje”.
Toenail wise, I’m lucky.  So now and then I cut my toenails when I take a shower. And when I feel them stinging in my shoes very sporadically, I might give them some attention.
But I’ve heard other horror stories.  Unguis incarnatus, Onychauxis, or removal of a nail without any sedation.  Brrrr. 
Nice Emiel, but what has this toenail-talk to do with processes?  Quite a lot I think, because;

  • Processes originate during the birth of a product or service.
  •  After that, processes will keep  growing. Unnoticed.
  • This often goes together with a decrease in Process awareness.
  • Processes only get attention when they “hurt”.
  • That’s why it might be smarter to check the condition of your process so now and then.

The birth of a process
Like we get our nails at birth, a process is born at the launch of a product or service. Because, as you know, a process is a means to deliver a product or a service.  A product or a service that hopefully solves the problem of a customer.
At the birth of a process, a lot of things need to be taken care of. Think about answering (and implementing the answers) the following questions.

  • What needs to be done (workflow)?
  • Who are capable to do that?
  • What supplies are needed for that?
  • What information is needed for that?
  • What supporting tools do we need to acquire?
  • To what rules of third parties do we need to comply?

And then it’s time to get to work. That’s the most important of course. As long as processes are not executed, customers are left empty handed.

Processes continue to grow
After a first process launch, you often see that attention to the original process design decreases.
Of course the work is done.  And when something is not going so well, you might see some adjustments. People leave, people come.  Maybe some citizen developers add some fields on an electronic form.
In short; in a drive to help customers, several aspects of a process keep growing. Possibly unrelated and unseen.

Process Awareness disappears
As long as process keep growing and nothing bad happens, I’ve seen often that also the process awareness in organization disappears.
People are just doing their jobs and the people who were part of the “birth or the process” might be gone already. That’s just what happens in organizations.
Is that bad? As long as things go well, who am I to say that you need to be process aware?

But unwanted things can happen
Suddenly customers start to complain. Suddenly the market seems to be more interested in your competitor’s products or services. Employees get sick. Some kind of inspection knocks on your door. The auditor doubts if he should prolong your ISO certification. And some shareholders are not so happy with the financial results.
Things start to hurt. What to do? Restructure? Fire people? Cost savings?  Panic!
Strangely enough, I’ve seen the above happening quite some times. So, wouldn’t it be smarter to get your processes out of yours socks so now and then? To trim them a little bit when they are not hurting yet?

Check your processes so now and then
Probably nothing new you would expect from a process freak, but regular process checks can prevent panic actions like the above, I think.
Like I expressed in my story about BPM cycles, checking processes can happen on different levels.

  1. On Strategic level where you check the usefulness of the process (so, actually the product or service)
  2. On Process design level where you check if the process performs as designed
  3. On Casemanagement level, where the progress of all cases in the process is checked
  4. On Case level, where the progress of an individual case is checked

Applying all levels brings peace in processes
Setting up all these levels of “process checks” isn’t easy.  Many times I’ve seen it been limited to level 2, where so now and then the performance of a process is audited.
I know it’s not my business, but I think a little more attention can prevent you from improving useless processes. Or from being too late because you start improving when customers already decided to call your competitor.
Al these levels of “checks” together is what I would call “Managing by process”.  I think it will create peace in processes:

  • Reassurance for a customer that her/his case gets individual attention
  • Reassurance there is enough flexibility to manage all cases currently in the process
  • Reassurance that  when a change of the process design is needed, you don’t keep on tweaking the process ad hoc. 
  • Reassurance that your processes deliver useful products or services

So, get your processes out of their socks before they start to hurt. 
Happy processing!