Why we hate Process

process-improvementProcess improvement (PI) specialists have historically dealt with the challenge of implementing PI initiatives in any organization – especially the resistance to change from the people impacted by the change. Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of great folks at Adobe, where among other people, we met Devin Rickard who is responsible for that exact same task at Adobe.
 
His efforts and Kanban’s ability to enable evolutionary PI truly resonate. This guest post by Devin highlights the challenges of PI and exhorts us to re-focus and think about PI from the perspective of the main beneficiary of PI – the Customer!


Below is the guest post by Devin Rickard, Business Programs & Process Improvement – AdobeI hate process! There I said it. It may sound blasphemous coming from a person such as myself who makes a living designing and improving business processes, but I know I am not alone. I’ll bet many of you, upon reading “I hate process!” feel just a little better inside, relieved and thinking “yes, someone finally said it!” Others perhaps are a bit shocked and embarrassed, preferring that it be called the “p word”, or a “p- bomb”, or in print “P$#@*^”.

All kidding aside, most people are either indifferent or disdainful toward the topic of process. Just take a quick look on Glassdoor.com, a web site that collects and publishes employee feedback. Without too much digging, you will come across reviewers that describe their respective companies with terms like “process heavy”, “too many processes”, “needless processes”, and “no process”.

Typically, when someone says we have too much process or not enough process, what they are really saying is the processes that are most important to them do not perform in a way that meets their expectations. Put another way, the effort they put into following a process does not equal the value they receive in exchange.

The term “adhocracy” was first popularized by the author and futurist Alvin Toffler to mean the opposite of bureaucracy. Where bureaucracy is used to define an organization or system that is overbearing, slow, highly controlled, and difficult to change; adhocracy describes an organization or system that is unknown, out of control, in a state of constant change, and defect prone.

It is my belief that bureaucracy and adhocracy, when used to describe process, are 2 extremes that result in unintended consequences. Moreover, we are likely to drift toward one of these extremes when we start with the wrong goals in mind. For example, if my goal is to establish a highly controlled process, I will also receive the unintended consequences of redundancy, slowness, rigidity, and a lack of innovation. Likewise, if my goal is to establish a process that is unencumbered, I will receive the unintended consequences of rework, non-traceability, non- repeatability, and product quality defects.

The question then becomes – how do we create processes that avoid the two extremes and the pitfalls that come with each? The answer is to start with the simple goal to “Meet or Exceed Customer Expectations.” Consider for example the number of customer support issues that are created because the customer received from us something that didn’t meet their minimal expectations. Be it a product that would not correctly install, an incorrect or difficult to understand invoice, an account that could not be transferred between countries, etc. the result is the same – the customer’s minimal expectations were not met, and we had to expend additional resources to (hopefully) make the situation right.

Starting with the goal of meeting or exceeding customer expectations may sound overly simple. And that is because it is. In order to meet or exceed customer expectations, we have to know two things. First, who really is The Customer? And second, what does the customer see as being Critical to Quality? HINT: It is rarely what we think it is. These are issues for a later article.

So you see we hate process because the processes that we most rely on often do not meet our needs. And they burden us with unintended consequences to boot. The fix is to establish processes that meet or exceed customer expectations – and this is what Business Process Improvement is all about.