Process – one thing that everyone knows is important for someone else to do. It may be the most unglamorous part of business that gets more bang for the glory than anything else. Most business people know that creating a process is very important, but writing down the steps in a process may be the most difficult thing for any business to accomplish. It certainly can be a challenging and tedious task. Nothing has so many reasons for delay or avoidance that is so critical. By examining the ‘reasons’ that we delay or avoid writing a process we find the motivation or justification to allocate the time and resources necessary to get it done:
- We have other jobs to do
We cannot expect different results if we do the same things. Making time to make changes needs to reflect the costs in time associated with the change. Management needs to provide time or extra money to make it happen. It is not fair to expect staff to do extra work if they are not compensated for it or provided time in their schedule to make it happen. The conflict resides in accomplishing all the other work that is required while this work is done. If management does not prioritize the work, then staff cannot be expected to do so either.
- We may not agree with all the steps
If there is disagreement, then there are probably inefficiencies that have not been addressed. We may never get everyone to agree to every detail. The willingness to listen, compromise and support new ideas is essential. We have to consider the options and work hard enough to address the important points in order to find an agreeable way to accomplish the work. Working hard and collaboratively increases the ownership of the process and thus the desire to use it. Some argue that a bad process that is followed is better than a perfect process that is ignored. Having a consistent approach allows assessments to occur. When a consistent process is used the results and the process can be measured for effectiveness. If the results of the new process do not meet the expectations, then modifications will occur. With the need for future improvements and the inevitable changes in technology and markets, the process will likely be updated anyway. Make it good and follow it consistently. Measure the results and continue to improve. Do not allow perfection to prevent progress.
- Resolving conflicts in writing requires agreement
One of the important reasons to write the document is that it forces the understanding to be clear. Discussions do not mean agreement until they are written. A benefit to this clarity is the ability to schedule work fairly which leads to reduced stress. A common example is the expectations of management versus expectations of staff regarding how much time is required to do a job correctly. If there are obvious conflicts with expectations of how much time a job requires, then more resources may be needed and/or different assignments may be necessary. The process clarifies roles and responsibilities. Once all the steps are listed with enough detail, it is easier to understand the total time required to perform the work. It may become clear that some staff are over or under-utilized. Without a clear definition of responsibilities it may be that those doing the work and those managing the work do not have the same expectations. Once both sides are in agreement in regards to the steps and responsibilities there is a better chance to agree as to how much time is necessary. Having these discussions establishes expectations for both those doing the work and those managing it. This can result in modified assignments, different staffing, more training and many other changes to allow the work to improve.
- It takes time for everyone involved to review
This issue is similar to the first one with a slight variation. Some of the work to document a process will likely be done individually. Once a document is written it must be reviewed to ensure it was captured according to the agreement of the entire team. Otherwise, that one person can write the process according to his sole perception which may not reflect the group’s intention.
- Writing is hard for many people.
There is a minimum skill required to document a business process, but it does not require literary perfection. Start with an outline and use screen shots if a computer program is involved or just add pictures if the process involves only people or machines. Write a straight-forward list of steps in the simplest terms possible. Sometimes a simpler less erudite approach is the most helpful to those doing the work.
The bottom line is that the process definition is the means to clarity of roles and responsibilities that defines how the work of the business is done. Taking time to document it requires communication, clarification and decisions. It provides a foundation to measure expected effort and ascertain if the process is efficient. It lays the ground work for future assessments that may lead to additional improvements.
For those companies that do not have written processes, start small. Identify the important work and break it into smaller pieces. Start with an outline and do not set the expectation for perfection. Establish a schedule to accomplish the process documentation over a 6 month period. Set milestones and follow-up. Make sure the work is spread across enough people to avoid unfair assignments and burnout. Celebrate the work that is done and allow time to make revisions so that no one feels paralyzed that they must write perfect documents initially. If you become completely stuck, find a sample document online that you like and use that for a starting point.