“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” -Seneca
As humans, we are constantly evaluating our own choices. Am I eating right? Am I working out enough? Am I saving enough money for retirement? This list goes on forever and is what drives us to constantly improve as people.
The same evaluative questions can be applied to business.
- Is there an emerging technology that we should be using?
- Are we focused on the correct market?
- Do we need to pivot?
- Are our customers happy?
Once again, this “list” of ways we decide if our business is living up to its potential is long and impacts everyone from the C-suite to the entry-level worker. The difficult part in life and in business is deciding if change is needed and where to start.
Why You Should Review Organizational Processes
While the decision for where to begin self-improvement is highly personal, it is a nearly universal truth that the starting point for business improvement lies in processes. Processes are what makes a business run, they are the evidence of strategic vision (or lack thereof), and they are the surest place to look when product or output fails to match the customer’s expectation. If processes are not designed correctly or effectively evaluated to find improvement areas, a business might not be reaching its potential.
Resistance to change and process improvement can run deep within a company’s culture. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common forms of opposition when it comes to process evaluation and improvement, as well as why these attitudes represent barriers to efficient, effective, and productive organizations.
If the Process Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It
There has rarely been a time in my career when I heard “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” that it didn’t mask process issues and often a lack of understanding of the goal of the program, product, or organization. At its core, this reasoning is a rejection of root cause analysis and self-reflection.
- How do they know their processes aren’t broken?
- Is the business operating at its most efficient level?
- Are the designed business processes being followed?
The answer to these questions can be complex, and most employees might not have the answers outside of their piece of the process. Perhaps most telling, the most common pushback I’ve gotten to asking process questions is, “we don’t know our processes, but what we are doing is working, and we don’t want to change.”
This answer is usually accompanied by multiple spreadsheets and word documents that only one person can decipher, without an acknowledgment that single points of failure are the contradictory of a mature, established, and effective process.
“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” also serves to mask instances where individuals have their own method that doesn’t line up with organizational processes. This answer is often not about the business; it is about an internalized version of the process, the creation of ad-hoc steps and shortcuts that have been adopted over time. Tools or steps that evolve over time and improve iteratively can be good.
The issue lies in the process of not updating with institutional maturity. The problem becomes:
- not knowing what the steps are
- a way to determine what should be kept as a standard, and
- what should be eliminated because there is no value added
Understanding the answers to these questions and how they relate to the original design of the process can improve the efficacy of the organization.
Remember, innovation in companies often happens with frontline employees; leadership needs to trust the experience of their employees working the processes every day to find improvements. For this to happen, employees must be part of the process examination process.
This Is The Way We Have Always Done It
Always is a loaded term; dealing with absolutes from one person’s perspective will most likely not reveal the truth. “This is the way I have always done it,” or “this is the way I was told to do it during onboarding” is likely closer to the truth. While this is commonly referred to as institutional knowledge, I prefer to think of it as institutional tradition, convenience, or lore – a way of performing the process that is not written down.
Institutional norms have positives and negatives. There can be workarounds or streamlined steps that are more efficient, but institutional “knowledge” can also bring with it the fear of change or wanting to revert to how things were done X number of years ago. The original design of the process relied on knowledge, technology, experience, and capabilities at that time.
Institutional norms become problematic when changes in employee knowledge, experience, and capabilities, along with the implementation of new technology by the organization, disregard the role processes play.
If processes are not reviewed before implementing new management software, existing problems will carry over, minimizing the positive impact on the business. Aligning capabilities of new technology and skills of employees and reviewing business processes is a fundamental step if the organization is exploring new process management solutions.
Jay Galbraith’s STAR model, which breaks down organizational design into five areas – Strategy, Structure, Processes, Rewards, and People, provides great insights when trying to gain an understanding of why the organization is operating in its current state and what will be impacted by change. If new or different technology is used, do training programs need to be created or does a partnership need to be sought to provide employees with the skills and knowledge needed?
“The way we have always done it” is about being comfortable, unwilling to change, unwilling to acknowledge that processes could be better, or a perceived act of survival.
Organizations that are struggling to survive might be scared to innovate. They could see any risk as too great, avoiding innovation and growth to play it safe and just make it to the next day. This thinking fails to recognize that their core issue could be the processes they have in place.
I Don’t Really Know What Our Processes Are, But They Work
“I don’t really know what our processes are, but they work” might be the most frustrating answer because it highlights a fundamental lack of organization and intentionality.
Encountering an organization with no defined processes, relying on each department head or individual to complete the work their way underlines the need for scrutiny.
Choosing which process should become the standard or finding a way to combine the different processes into one is undoubtedly difficult, and at times contentious. However, isn’t it better to use an existing process versus starting from scratch?
Starting Point: Is there a historical reference for where the process started that can be used as a baseline for examination?
Using different processes to complete the same objective can lead to duplication of efforts, overtasking of shared resources, and variable results based on who completed the work. Additionally, business capabilities that are the building blocks of the business strategy can become varied across a process based on individual preference if there is not a defined standard and method of accomplishment.
Capabilities and strategy must be aligned for business success. Defining and analyzing all business processes with cross-department implications is not just about that single focus. It is about the health of the whole organization.
The impact of undefined or poorly defined business processes will reach across the organization, impacting decisions. Decisions that should be geared toward improving an organization instead become about treating the symptoms of poor process execution.
But are these decisions made last-minute, reacting to a “fire,” or actually solving a problem? On the surface, it might appear that previous pain points have disappeared and the correct solution was implemented.
However, over time if the root cause of the problem within the process is not addressed it will reappear, and often in a more entrenched way.
Of Course, Our Processes Execute the Strategy
One of the most difficult hurdles in any organization is tying the group’s strategic vision to the discrete processes to ensure both are speaking to the same goal.
Robert Kaplan and David Norton, in their book The Balanced Scorecard, identified that 90% of businesses failed to successfully execute their strategies. Let that sink in for a moment. Only one in ten organizations successfully executed their business strategies when the book was written.
If we go back to the STAR model, there is a direct relationship between processes and strategy. The strategy defines the processes that are needed and the processes that execute the strategy.
If these are not aligned, it is less likely that an organization will be executing the strategy. Every step of a process should be informed by the strategy of an organization; if there are process steps that don’t speak to the strategic goals of the organization, either the strategy or the process (or both) needs to be evaluated.
Evaluating business processes and workflows are not solely about identifying pain points or unseen problems. When starting an endeavor with the preconceived idea that you will find a problem, this becomes the focus.
Accepting that there is the possibility of inefficiencies or broken processes while remaining open to identifying deviations that could improve on the baseline is key for a successful evaluation. There is also the possibility through the departmental auditing process for organizations that do not have defined processes to find that one of their employees has already created a process solution, i.e., desk instruction.
How Can Kolme Group Help Your Organization?
At Kolme Group, we’ll align your PPM Tool implementation with your business processes to better focus your team on main business priorities. We’re here to support you whether you need help optimizing your PMO, remediating troubled portfolios or programs, providing leadership to your critical initiatives, or even coaching and training to your team, Project Management consulting is at our core, and Kolme is here to help.
Click to Find Out More About Kolme Group to learn more about our services and how we can support you.