Thursday, July 14, 2011

You Are The Traffic

There is a sign on a busy stretch of highway in Luton which says "You are not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic." Really makes one think. Many have been the times when we have been wistful about ideal scenarios and how we wish things were better around us. What we probably do not realise is how much we contribute to the problem itself.

If we are not engaged in working towards making things better, then definitely we are making things worse. If we do not provide the solution we are a part of the problem. My exhortation to you today is -


Look around you in your work environment and I am sure you will be able to make a list of 10 processes which hinder your work in some way or the other, making you inefficient or making you spend family time at work or making you put in heroic efforts. And as I have noted earlier in my trilogy on The Elusive Business Process, heroic efforts are a sure shot indication that things are being run in an ad hoc manner.

Here are a few tips on how to identify what is not working in your organisation -
1. Hours spent in escalation calls and on e-mail - If your employees are spending most of their time handling e-mail, it is a sure shot indication of processes which do not work. Any transaction which cannot be handled by the process, lands up in the inbox. The amount of time your team spends on e-mail will be directly proportional to the time you as a manager will spend on handling escalation calls and mails.
If you are encouraging completion of transactions on e-mail, you are contributing to the problem. A transaction handled on the e-mail, while resulting in temporary instant gratification, does not solve the problem permanently. Primarily the information and the solution remains confined to the few people involved in the mail. And reply-all does not solve the problem either.
2. Innovation in routine transactions - Innovation is good. But we do not want all our employees to start innovating in their daily routine chores. That is supposed to be run blind-folded and only taken up for process improvement or SLA impprovements. Routine can even be questioned as to whether it is indeed adding any value to the company. But once established as a required value-add task, it should not have to be perforce improvised upon to get anything done around here.
3. Personal interactions and rapport get things done - Another clear indication that process is not working. All good behaviours in themselves but as tools to get work done, it indicates your organisation will not survive the next round of exodus. This also leads to processes which get enforced for few people and get bypassed for few others who have a good rapport.
4. Lack of workflows and automation - Lack of software or existence of software which does not have workflows is another factor leading to things that do not work. Basically this leads to a breakdown of information flow across functions that are supposed to deliver the goods or the as a whole to the customer. Either it does not work fast enough or it does not send the right information to the right functions at the right time. The key requirements to make the organisation work as one unit are integration, communication and empowerment.
5. Process for the sake of process - If anybody ever tells you that you need to do particular steps because a) managements says so b) SOX says so c) we have always done it this way, be assured that 9 times out of 10, you have come across a non-value add process. Question Why and question it five times before blindly following such processes.

Processes exist to enable business and not to hinder it.