Process Doesn’t Have to be “a Process”

Composite of Calendar Pages and Clock

Lately it seems like the word “process” always has “lengthy” in front of it. Just suggesting that something is going to be “a process,” especially while rolling one’s eyes, implies that it’s going to take a while. Why’s this the case? Why should a perfectly normal word referring to a sequence of actions undertaken to achieve a goal provoke such unanimous subconscious disdain and fear?

Even in the business community, the word carries a strange and undeserved reputation. Some business leaders assume that Business Process Improvement is fundamentally time-consuming or difficult compared to other types of bottom-line improvement initiatives. In reality, Business Process Improvement is like anything else in business; there is a risk of going overboard, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a good Business Process Improvement project. As long as process stakeholders are engaged and cooperative, the project has clearly defined goals, and the project has strong executive sponsorship, there is no reason a process project needs to live up to the misconception of being time-consuming.

Thinking about this on a practical level, a recent Business Process Improvement engagement comes to mind in which the client was aware that things needed to change around their monthly KPI reporting process. Process participants also knew that change was needed, and were committed to cooperating in order to improve it, while the executive leadership provided clear goals and strong sponsorship. From this foundation, we were able to move from current state discovery to future state improvement recommendations in 10 business days.

If the gap between current state assessment and future state recommendations can be bridged so quickly, where does the “process improvement is lengthy” misconception come from? It is true that Business Process Improvement efforts tend to spin their wheels when headstrong stakeholders insist there’s nothing wrong, or when clear goals aren’t forthcoming from management. However, this can easily be avoided. Leaders interested in process improvement need to identify when the proper conditions are present, or create them, for a process improvement effort to take place. Wherever those conditions are present, process work truly can be a quick-hit, high-ROI proposition.

If conditions are not appropriate for future state dreaming and road mapping, just taking the step of evaluating and understanding your current state is a valuable investment on its own. Understanding your current state can take a variety of forms, but for the most part, it gets measured in weeks, as opposed to months.

Another short-duration tactic is conducting and publishing a Process Inventory. This is a valuable exercise that enables management to take stock of and manage processes like business assets by creating a visual depiction of them.

You can also document the steps and controls that exist within processes to create Process Maps. Similar to Process Inventories, these maps are valuable tools for managers, process participants, on-boarding trainers, auditors, customer service representatives, consultants, and anyone else who would ever need to understand what you do and how. Often the simple step of setting the process down on paper can have an impact on the effectiveness of that process by highlighting the necessity of adopting a single standard execution method.

As you can see, these high-level current state efforts can be quick and yield a wide range of benefits. If you are facing process challenges with limited resources, consider taking steps to evaluate and understand your current state, create a Process Inventory, develop Process Maps, or any combination of these tactics. There is a wide range of options when it comes to Business Process Improvement, and plenty of them involve big returns in tight time frames.

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