Every organization has fossilized processes and procedures. The process that your organization’s Complication Committee got that bonus award for developing. The once-simple procedure that is crusted over with extra forms and approvals like barnacles on a ship hull. The “we’ve always done it this way” process which everyone agrees is a chronic headache but can’t be changed because Bobby Bureaucrat thinks it’s perfect. The procedure we’re still doing quarterly even though no one can remember why, or figure out who is using the results.
Fossilized processes and procedures are slow, frustrating, and inefficient. They’re costing you time and energy better spent in other ways.
Leaders should convert the time spent whining about a fossilized process into fixing it. Examine your processes and procedures through the four lenses of trust, clarity, simplicity, and records.
Trust. Where are there extra steps because of lack of trust? Where is information being missed because of too much trust? Are there parts of the process that can be eliminated if you simply grant more authority to people close to the process execution?
Clarity. George Bernard Shaw said “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” Where is there communication confusion in the process? Where are you capturing too much or too little or the wrong information at each stage? Where can checklists and forms be created if they don’t exist, or cleaned up if they’ve become monstrously complicated?
Simplicity. Well-intentioned people add complexity to processes and procedures to cover more use cases. Often parts of a process are little more than cover-your-butt-in-case-X-happens. What’s the 80/20 view on risk of leaving out complexity that only applies one time out of 40? Go back to the fundamental questions – What problem are we trying to solve? What are we optimizing for?
Records. Organizations often need to keep records for legal and financial reasons. This is simply professional behavior, and failure to keep records correctly will have painful consequences. But you can still review a fossilized process and ask where you’re keeping too much information. Strive to make the record creation and storage “automatic” as part of the process, rather than adding manual steps.
These four lenses will help you spot problems and generate alternatives. A small investment of time and energy to improve a process will help everyone in the future. The only people who won’t be pleased are the people who prefer complaining to doing the work required to improve a process.