Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Weekly Tip – Don’t use the word ‘Process’

To some stakeholders, ‘Process’ is a dirty word and only applicable to certain disciplines where it is a mandatory requirement for some reason. So, just don’t use the word ‘Process’ and you may get the outcome you want. My tip is;
  • Clarify the outcome
  • Clarify who does what by when
  • Make and record agreements
  • Create an enduring relationship
  • Map the process and keep it to yourself

You may want a little more detail, as well as thinking “We could easily record this in a process map!”, so first, let’s understand the people involved;

Process Lovers;
For those of you who love process maps or talk in terms of process steps, and render your thoughts with lines and boxes, you may be frustrated that some stakeholders have zero interest in your efforts. Maybe you’ve been involved or ran DMAIC event and seen what can happen when people get together, understand their process in a visual way and make amazing improvements to that process.

Process Haters
For those of you that at the mention of the word ‘Process’ you cringe at the idea of process mapping or steps, you may agree in principle that it’s probably a good idea, but it’s just not for you. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences, or just not convinced it’s the way to work.

Process Agnostics
For those of you who are not too bothered either way, you may be happy enough to look at a process map, but you are comfortable with informal agreements too. As a process agnostic you may have considered getting your process(es) mapped, but it all seems a little too inaccessible.

Who is right?
All parties want a successful outcome and all believe that their approach to doing business is the right one. The Process Lovers think that the best way to communicate about business should be in an orderly and documented way, Process Haters on the other hand believe that we should stop messing around and get on with it.  Process Agnostics are happy either way, but will probably do business in a similar way to the Process Haters. So nobody is ‘right’ but if either side think action needs to be taken to improve business and customer outcomes, then we need to think carefully about our approach.

My experience tells me that Process Lovers are in the minority, especially at a senior level where decision making can be essential. As such, it’s down to the Process Lovers to do the hard work and not use the word “Process”.

How do we talk about process without talking about process?
There are different ways to do this, and I’ve certainly made a few mistakes along the way. Here are the ways I’ve found most effective;
  • Clarify Outcome – Be careful here, conversations often get muddled, are you talking about issues with a successful business outcome or a successful customer outcome? For example, you might have a great quality product that the customer loves, but the cost to produce has resulted in that product becoming unprofitable.
  • Who does what by when* - This is the most important of all, if you can reach a consensus on this with all stakeholders, then you pretty much have a process you can draw and keep to yourself.
  • Make and record agreements – Sounds obvious, but I’ve been in too many meetings to remember where minutes and actions were not recorded. A shared summary can be enough.
  • Create an enduring relationship – You may have clarified the outcome, agreed on who does what by when and made and recorded agreements, but these changes need to be embedded over a period of time. Building an ongoing relationship with the stakeholders concerned, in a way they want to communicate will get best results.
  • Map the process and keep it to yourself – If you really want a process, draw one. But keep it to yourself. You don’t have to hide it from anyone, but don’t take it to a Process Hater and expect them to thank you for it. You never know, over time as trust is built up, those Process Haters and Agnostics may realise that you benefit from referring to a process or procedure (you are a Process Lover after all), they may even ask for a copy.

Right now, let’s be realistic, as a Process Hater, or agnostic you are probably jumping for joy and shouting, “No more talk of Process! Yay!”, whereas a Process Lover may be considering other aspects of what a coordinated process effort, or even what a simple process mapping workshop can deliver. As a Process Lover myself, I can empathise, but go back to the point of what a process is. If you have stakeholders that won’t engage with you because you use the word ‘Process’, then it has already failed. So, in these cases, Don’t use the word Process!

*This phrase I picked up from the Manager Tools Podcasts (available at www.manager-tools.com), and was in the context of Project Management, but I think is perfect for process too.

No comments: