Thursday, April 3, 2008

In defense of 'Process'...

Most of us don’t like the word ‘Process’. We think that processes come in the way of doing our job (yes, it is true). We think that we can do a better job without processes. But fortunately, we are very far from being right. At an elementary level, processes can be looked upon as the equivalent of traffic rules that we follow, when we drive. Without the rules in place, there will be chaos and traffic jams and we will never get to the destination in time. To extend the traffic analogy further, even when the rules are there, sometimes we find traffic jams or slow moving traffic. This can be taken as an example of a badly defined process and a situation which is in desperate need of process improvement.

The bad name Processes have got is mainly due to the way they (Processes) have been defined, implemented and used. I believe that processes when defined properly help people do the routine chores in a more efficient manner. Over a period of time, Processes also help improve the general minimum standard in an organization. When the minimum standard improves, the process becomes a type of intellectual capital called structural capital .

The purpose of this short article is to define the term ‘Process’, elaborate on the term, introduce a few concepts and help fuel a debate (if possible) on the concepts discussed.A Process can simply be defined as ‘A set of activities that help to deliver a predictable result’. The sequence of the activities need not always be linear. Attributes like Purpose, Structure and Rationale characterize a Process. The definitions are as given below.

  • Purpose: What is to be achieved and why, aka ‘the Goal’ of the Process
  • Structure: How the goal will be achieved
  • Rationale: The reasoning behind the Structure

Process Definition and Implementation:

  • Processes need to be understood and defined. This means that a person or a group defining the process has to think through and understand the Purpose, Structure and Rationale of the Process.
  • Smart Processes are those Processes that actually help a person do an activity better than how he or she would do in the absence of the Process.
  • People who define and implement Processes should also remember that Processes are valued only when they are simple to use, i.e. the structure is easy to understand.
  • Implementing a process can be defined as the way to achieve the Goal of the Process. ·
  • A good understanding of the Goal will help realize a structure that will deliver maximum benefit out of the implementation.
  • Generally we use Information Technology to implement a Process.

Process Improvement and Re-definition:

  • While using a Process, the Rationale behind the process has to be understood by the end user, to derive the maximum benefit.
  • This may or may not be applicable for one time usages; this definitely applies for the Processes that we use daily. For e.g. at work, we use Processes that tell us, how to manage projects or how to do code-review or how to track customer payments.
  • If we understand the Rationale, we will also realize that there is nothing like a good Process for ever and that every Process has got an ‘Expiry date’.
  • Also, the environment in which a Process is used changes and evolves over a period of time. When this happens or people start feeling that a process has become an over head, it is time to re-look at the Process.
  • This brings us to the idea of Process Improvement and Re-definition. Using the attributes of a process defined at the start of the article, we can say that Process Improvement happens when the Structure and Rationale change, while the Goal remains a constant. A Process Re-definition happens when the Goal itself has changed and we have to start allover again.

Resistance to Change:

  • When people try to bring in a new way of working, they are always met with Resistance to Change. ·
  • Statements like ‘We have always done it in the present way and we don’t need a new way to do’ or ‘it doesn’t work like that’ are all symptoms of Resistance to Change. This also happens when people are not aware of the bigger picture and for them, the change may look un-necessary.
  • Educating people about the necessity for change does work, but difficult times need a ‘this is how it has to happen’ attitude to bring in new processes into practice.

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