If you have worked in a big company, you have been told “there’s a process for that”. This post will look at why the process, as much as we love to hate it is essential for long term success.
Some people are very good at their jobs! They know instinctively what needs to be done and how to do it. I love working with these people, we all do! Maybe you are one of those people. But, even if I have a team of high performers, I still need process.
Maybe someone on the team is changing roles. Maybe we just hired someone new. A team is usually a mix of junior and senior team members. If you have rock stars on your team, I think a manager would want to bring some junior people onto that team to learn from the top talent!
When different people do the same task the quality is going to vary. Some people will do it really well, some people will do it reasonably well, others will not do it well at all. Those who are underperforming at a specific task may be very talented people but perhaps they are new to role, or this particular task is not their area of expertise. Ever met a great programmer who seems incapable of filling out a time report or expense report correctly?
The result is a widely varying level of quality, the quality level changes depending on who did the task or even depending on how alert and busy someone was on a particular day. (I have days when I write carefully thought out blog posts, and I have days when I knock out a couple of short paragraphs and point to a video to meet a deadline). Quality can vary tremedously as shown in the graph below.
So how does process fit into all this? Well when you define a process, you guarantee a mimum level of quality. By having a checklist or a set of steps that you *must* complete and that you complete *every* time you undertake a task, you ensure the quality never falls below a certain minimum standard. If someone new joins the team and all they do is follow the process, at least you know the task was completed acceptably well. Likely not as well as if it were completed by a senior team member, but it got done! If your junior team members can complete this task that may free up your senior team members to do other things that require their specific expertise!
Basically a process throttles the quality. So you end up with something like this
The lower red line indicates the minimum quality guaranteed by following the process. The upper red line indicates the highest quality that can be reached when you follow the process. So, following the process is great for the a new team member or someone who is not an expert on that task because they know following the steps in the process guarantees an acceptable output. Some of you are cringing at my terrible drawing skills above. But at least I centered the drawing on the page, and I set it to the recommended size for this blog (300-600 pixels wide), and I removed the shadow background on the image. I am a lousy artist, but at least I have a process I follow when I add an image to a blog post. Nobody is going to yell at you for doing a a lousy job if you followed the approved process. If you ever do have somebody accuse of of not doing your job properly when you did follow the process, then it’s clear your process needs updating. This may be an opportunity for you to be a star by being the person who identifies the need to update the process and works with the team to update the process so the next person who comes along doesn’t have the same problem you did!
But what about the rock stars on the team? Do we make them follow the process as well? After all you can see on my professional looking chart above that if I follow the process I limit the quality level that can be reached. My strongest team members may be able to achieve a greater level of success by not following the process! Good for them. But don’t I want the entire team to be successful? Don’t I want my top team member to not only do their job well but to help other people improve? What is it about the process that limits their ability to perform at their best?What information do they have? What tricks have they learned? I look to my top performers to help me improve the process so that everyone on the team does their work better. So for all of you who took one look at my graph and cringed, I ask you: If I was on your team what specific steps could I take whenever I am drawing a graph to make it look more professional? What tool should I use? are there particular colors I should select? a particular font? Yup, I know all those things affect the quality of my graph. (now you are wondering am I really that horrible at drawing or did I do it this way just to provide an example… I’m not telling). They key is that I look to the experts and the rock stars to help improve the process. That way you raise the quality of the output for everyone!
Now, before you go off to your boss and start suggesting improvements for all the existing processes, I do want to point out another very important aspect of processes! A process can be used to guarantee a minimum level of quality, but sometimes steps in a process are there to ensure we are compliant with the law, or to ensure we can track important information. So if you are trying to convince the boss to remove steps from a process, it’s a good idea to try and find out why the steps are there in the first place! I hate scanning all the receipts and attaching them to me expense report but since Revenue Canada requires the company to have copies of my receipts we can’t just take that step out of the process. Though I would like to thank whoever it was at the company who improved the process so we can just scan and email them in now. I used to have to send in physical copies. The work doesn’t end when you define a process, you should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to make the process more efficient and more effective.
So next time someone tells you ‘we have a process for that’, your response should be ‘awesome I am glad to hear it’. If you are new to the task, you have instructions on how to complete your task with the confidence. If you are a subject matter expert then I fully expect you to look at the process with skepticism, and if you think the process can be improved, talk to the process owners! Let’s make it happen and make everyone look like rock stars!