Posts tagged process improvement
Rigidity = Fragility

"We need to harden this process...make it more robust. Too many things are slipping through the cracks". How many times have you heard statements like that? Things that don't fit the process take extra time to resolve, so we make sure that the process covers as much as possible. As issues arise, we tighten the process still further. Spell out the entry criteria. Map the process steps in great detail. The problem is, of course, that no matter how much detail we have in the process, things still don't always fit so we document and harden even more.

We create processes and because we are humans working with incomplete information, there are gaps. Our natural instinct then is to fill in the gaps. Tighten the process. Specify, document, enforce. The problem is that this simply doesn't work. The real world conspires against us. Customers don't always want the standard product. You may have a carefully documented 30 day SLA but that doesn't help a bit when a key customer rings up and says "We know it's usually 30 days but we really need it in 10, can you please help? If not, your competitor has said they can do it in 10 days." You may only sell in lots of 100 but what happens if a good customer rings up and asks for an extra 35 because they have had a spike in sales but don't have the space to store another full hundred? The more rigid we make our processes the more often they break down.

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The Black Ecconomy

When you work in a large company, one of the things you hear quite often is “we have to follow the process”. Large companies, for very good reasons, have a need to standardise their processes. If you have 50,000 staff, having one way to do things makes a lot of sense. No matter where someone goes in the organisation, the process for ordering a new pen, or whatever, will be the same. The problem with defined processes though, is that unless they are regularly reviewed and cleaned up, they tend to accumulate complexity. Each time something happens that is just outside the normal way the process works, someone will add some extra checks into the process to make sure that that situation is now covered. Over the years it will collect enough of these extra checks that your carefully considered and streamlined pen ordering process now requires a 10 page form, 15 signatures and about 4 hours (and in some companies a pint of cockerel’s blood). The end result is that everyone spends all day looking for pens.

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