Process failures can cause missed deadlines, escalated costs, and wasted time. Some can even be career-threatening and yet, process failures are common.
Processes help guide us through planning and execution and can help us understand when things are going well or not so well and, in either case, what to do about it. Good processes are critical to success and keep you focused on what’s important and what isn’t. A good, mature process makes results easy to predict, and gives you confidence that the predicted results will be achieved.
The first characteristic of good processes is that they’re documented. Of course, the documented processes should actually be followed, too. No process is perfect, and processes are rarely “one size fits all.” It’s important to tailor how a process is used for the specific situation at hand. A good process not only helps guide you through cookie-cutter situations, but also helps you intelligently and appropriately determine what steps may need to be performed differently for a given situation. Good process definitions help make certain nothing is forgotten or ignored. You should also document the parts of the process that you aren’t following, and the reasons for not following, as a means of communicating and for ensuring buy-in from your stakeholders. That documentation can also drive future process changes.
Mature processes also help define the skills necessary for the resources who would use that process, reducing reliance on “tribal knowledge.”
So, you have well-documented processes and yet, they remain “shelf ware.” Why? It could be that the defined process is too rigid, or that it’s so thoroughly defined that the amount of documentation is simply too intimidating or difficult to understand. It could also be that the intended users of the process want to continue to do it “their way,” and are allowed to do so. These are all attributes of process immaturity, preventing predictable and reliable results.
There is rarely a reason not to follow established processes. If a process doesn’t apply, then it’s either the wrong process or it needs to be adjusted to accommodate your situation. Processes have to be flexible or they won’t be followed. Reasons for mandatory process steps must be well-explained. A good, mature process also accounts for flexibility when faced with different needs. In this way, one process can be tailored for many similar situations.
Processes also need controls, checks and balances. This not only helps drive repeatability and predictability, but it helps build information to help change the defined process so that it better fits future needs. Any process should evolve over time. Would you want a jumbo-jet pilot following the same pre-flight process created for a propeller-driven airplane in 1959?
So, good, well-defined, flexible processes are important, and following them is also important, as is keeping them current and relevant. Good processes, appropriately followed, are the path to predictable, repeatable results that drive solid business results.