Process with a Purpose

Process is the oil that runs the machine of technology delivery. But if that oil is not changed regularly, it gets old and turns into a sludge that could impair the machine.

Process has turned into a modern four letter word for some. In many cases that negative reputation has been earned. Process helps businesses achieve efficiency by defining a repeatable and consistent way of doing things. It helps onboard new employees and keep current ones focused and effective. It helps business achieve consistent results. But when process gets in the way of innovation and delivery, it fails to accomplish these lofty goals. I prefer to focus on “process with a purpose”. What purpose does the process serve? How flexible is it to allow for exceptions and individual initiative? How easy is it for others to learn, understand, and follow it? And, most importantly, what value does this process bring to your organization and your customers?

Us humans will, by our very own nature, follow the path of least resistance. A process will either enable efficient delivery or will hinder it. And we will either follow it or work around it. Every single process in an organization should be evaluated in this context. Processes that hinder efficiency need to be either improved or deleted. A process that hinders efficiency is a straight jacket that discourages creative problem solving. Sometimes reinventing a wheel is preferable than spinning one endlessly.

The process of evaluating and improving processes (aka “process improvement”) never ends. A process that was good yesterday may not be good today. You need to recognize the fluidity of modern business and build in enough agility into your process improvement effort to respond to this challenge. There are plenty of proven models and tools to help organizations assess and improve their processes.

I’m a big fan of Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). I’m also a big fan of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) approach. But I prefer to use these as guides, or as a framework. The reality on the ground will dictate how many of these concepts are applicable and bring value to a particular situation. A focus on value will make a process improvement initiative a lot more successful.

I’m a firm believer in the crawl-walk-run approach. Before you start talking process improvement, you need process definition. Do you have a process library? Or a simple list of all your defined processes? Is it a 500 page manual nobody reads, or is it in an online repository where you can solicit feedback from users and collaborate on improvements with process owners? Working your way from a CMMI Level 1 to a Level 5 is quite a journey. But it requires flexibility and adaptability. It may require unique and unorthodox approaches to challenges to suit the particular needs of your organization and your customers.

As with the implementation of a PPM tool that I’ve written about before, you will need to leverage proven tools and methods of systems delivery and change management. That’s a given. But my advice is to never take your eye off the ball – “Does this process have a purpose?” “What value does it deliver?” If you don’t have good, solid answers to these two questions, move on to the next one. It’s better to have a small set of good processes that deliver value and have purpose than have a 500 page manual nobody reads.

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