Business Process Improvement Flexibility

This video is the last in a series of three to look at what companies that are successful with process do differently from the rest of us. In this one, we will look at the requirement to build flexibility into process management.

Process is a moving target

It would be nice if we had a process ready to go for everything that happened in the working day. But in the real world, there are lots of tasks we need to perform that do not have a pre-defined sequence. Take a look at the average email inbox and you will find many instances of work that have no exact precedent. Yet all of it will follow a process of some sort even if we can only see it after it is complete. We call the sequence of these kinds of tasks “an unstructured process” and in order to deal with them successfully we need to have process improvement flexibility.

Now, it turns out that this is typically the most creative and valuable work that we do. So, we need to find a way to do it efficiently.

Unstructured Processes Cannot be Mapped

We can make routine or structured processes more efficient by mapping them out. But with unstructured processes there can be no map. So what can we do?

The first thing is to recognize that this kind of work exists and that we want a way to deal with it. Most companies just shrug their shoulders and accept things as they are. We don’t have to do that and acknowledging it is a first step.

Email is for messaging, not for task management.

Next, we need to extract our tasks from email. Email is for messaging, not for task management. Yet, 90% of organizations that I come across use email as a sort of workflow application. However, you will find successful organizations keep their tasks out of the clutter of email. They invariably have some sort of separate tracking system. In effect, they are making their tasks visible. There is no one perfect system. But fortunately, software companies are beginning to recognize this need. So there are plenty of applications to choose from.

Prioritization is Key

Once tasks are visible we can prioritize them. In the absence of any other guidance, people work on what they think they should or – more likely – what they want to. That is not necessarily what is best for the organization. But when the tasks are visible, we can see where we are with them. And what we have to do next. That gives us the means to set priorities across the whole of the organization.

But that relies on communication. How many times have you heard people in your team complain about communication? It seems inevitable. Studies show that where things go wrong in task completion is not in the things that people do in the actual work. Instead, the errors are more likely to occur in the handing off of work between individuals. So, find ways to pass information rapidly and accurately. There is no silver bullet here. What works for one team does not necessarily work for another? But what is common is that successful companies all make sustained efforts at ensuring communication is effective and swift.

This has been a very brief survey of what is different about successful organizations when it comes to process.

I hope it has given you some new ideas you can use in your own process improvement efforts.

There are lots of ways to improve processes. You can find out more by watching other videos in this series. You can get them on my website, theprocessconsultant.com.

Thanks for watching!
I am Ian James,

The Process Consultant.

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