Do you know your processes?
I have found that while processes are an integral part of an organisation, in many cases, employees are unaware of them or have only a partial understanding of them. In some extreme cases, there are simply no defined processes.
While this may sound surprising, the fact is that people tend to work in silos and don’t have an overview of what are the exact steps needed to produce certain results, especially when the steps of a process are spread across several departments or units. Also, when you can function without a set process, you don’t necessarily see the need for it. However, having supported many organisations with documenting their processes, I can affirm that well-defined and clearly laid out processes are a necessity. And in a world where knowledge is key, where processes are not documented, when people leave the organisation, the rationale behind doing things in a certain way is often lost. As new employees join the organisation and background information is no longer available, interpretation begins, with much room for misinterpretation.
When employees are directly engaged in a process, they may find it difficult to question the way things were done as it is assumed that there must be a valid reason for doing things in a particular way. Often, the organisation will also tend to stick to its processes, including the flawed ones, and justifying it with: “This is the way things were always done”. When pushed by management to rethink their processes, employees may suddenly be tempted to propose major changes, without considering why things were done in a certain way. Thus, despite good intentions they may create unintended new problems.
Regardless of how complex the process may be, it must be understood and documented. Going into the nitty gritty details should not be avoided, as sometimes they prove to be crucial for the process to function well. Experience in process analysis is required to be able to avoid shortcomings, and to assess what is really important. Relying on general theories and perceptions to make decisions is not recommended; just because it worked for another organisation does not mean that it will work for you.
While it may require effort to properly document a process, it is worth the trouble because clarity helps employees be more efficient and that in turn will bring about better results. The general trend is, however, to wait for particular situations to arise to start documenting processes. For instance, just before an audit, after being pressured by end users’ complaints or when having poor results. I argue that starting early will not hurt, as processes are the foundation of an efficiently functioning organisation.
The challenge is that documenting processes clearly is difficult and may take time. If, as a manager, you don’t read your own process documentation, it is unlikely that your employees will. Based on my experience, I have developed a process documentation methodology called “Know Your Process” (KYP) because I have found that digestible and user-friendly supporting documentation on processes are very necessary for any organisation to function efficiently. Because they enable employees to consult them and not lose track of how the work should be done. Introducing such documents can make a big difference and put a stop to the drift towards bad practice.
Briefly, if you want to improve overall quality of service you are providing both within and outside your organisation, you should really know what your processes are and document them appropriately. This is the first step towards improving efficiency and quality that may be much needed.