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Archive for July, 2010

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very process oriented person. I’d much prefer you tell me my objective and get out of my way while I get it done. On the projects I manage I don’t typically care if you work from home, work from the office or work from your neighbor’s fishing boat, just make sure you get your work done. However, I understand that as firms grow and organizations expand the conflicting and competing priorities of employees and customers necessitates the development of processes to govern how things are done and in what manner scarce resources get allocated.  From a management and a value point of view this makes sense. It ensures the allocation is given at least some thought and that a organization strives for efficiency in it’s operations.

Imagine living in a house with one shower and 5 roommates. It would make sense to develop a process around who gets to use the shower based upon what time each has to be to class or work.  Any conflicts are worked out among the roommates (usually by one agreeing to wake up 15 minutes earlier). This is an example of designing a process to reduce the chaos of the morning rush and make the house more efficient. I’m OK with processes like these.

But imagine a slight change in the process. Imagine now that on Sunday night you had to submit your request for shower times for the week to once person in the house designated the Quality Assurance roommate. Then imagine the quality assurance roommate compiling these requests and determining where conflicts result. (You and another roommate both want the shower at 6:30AM on Monday – let’s assume you’re unwilling to share…) The list of conflicts is sent out to all the roommates for discussion at the weekly Sunday Assignments Meeting. At this meeting any parties having requested conflicting times get 5 minutes each to make the case why they should have priority over someone else. At the end of the discussion all the roommates vote and the loser has to select a different open time. Additionally if a roommate fails to show up to the Sunday Assignments meeting he forfeits any contested time slots.  This is a much more complicated process, but in the end it probably results in an equitable solution, despite the unnecessary overhead.  I’m not a big fan of processes like this, but I’ve learned to live with them. They are often the most fair and orderly way to conduct business.

Now imagine a third scenario: This scenario is just like scenario two except for some small changes. First, everyone must make their case at the Sunday Assignments Meeting whether or not there is a conflict for their requested time slot. So if you want the shower at noon on Wednesday when everyone else is at work you’ll still have to make your case in front of the group. Additionally, we’ll add a lock to the shower that can only be removed by approval of a majority of the roommates. So now if you fail to show up to the meeting you’re not allowed to shower ALL WEEK.  When you petition the quality assurance roommate for an exemption because you have an appointment on Sunday he says, “Sorry, if you don’t present at the meeting and give everyone else a chance to ask questions or object  we won’t know if there’s a conflict. It’s just not a risk we can afford to take.” He seems to miss the fact that all time slots are submitted earlier Sunday This is an (extreme) example of a process run amok. The objective – equitable and efficient allocation of shower availability – has been completely subsumed by the process itself. We’ve lost the forest in the trees. What happens in this instance is the shower lies unnecessarily empty because someone missed a meeting and everyone suffers because one of the roommates has not bathed in a week.

When you design and implement processes, be sure to keep the objective in mind. Activity is no substitute for results and activity that impedes results is intolerable. Aim to make operations more efficient and NEVER have process that gets in the way of the goal.  Where you end up is far more important than what road you take to get there.

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