A few weeks ago, an article on FastCompany caught my eye – 5 Ways Process Is Killing Your Productivity. The article is excerpted from a book by Lisa Bodell, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution. It seems fitting that I share my thoughts on process as I review the PMBOK (R) in anticipation of finally getting a PMP certification from the Project Management Institute. I’m knee deep in one process after another, and I’m only studying. I built my career on process, primarily in the realm of project management. It is the subject I most consider myself an expert on, but it took me some years to learn how vital the balance between process and everything else is.
One of Bodell’s 5 points is that leaders are too focused on process and not enough on people. I agree that this is one of the most egregious errors leadership can make, and I’ve been guilty of this in my own past. It’s easy to look at process as the means to overcoming business problems. It’s also easy to develop processes that others have to use without realizing how cumbersome they can be. Process is only one element of an effective productivity model. From an operations perspective, people and tools need to make that list, too. I worked for and learned a lot from someone that really bought into the triumvirate of People, Process, and Tools. It guided us to examine all three to determine where our problems were – but, in retrospect, I think a problem lay in that effort itself. We were focused on problems, and that put us in a frame of mind where we were inherently looking for something to blame – the people, the process, or the tools. When we felt the process and tools were in decent shape, heads started to roll. Sometimes that’s necessary, and we were undergoing significant change at the time, but I still learned about the importance of people more than anything else through that experience.
In manufacturing and supply chain systems, the concept of Just In Time (JIT) production means carrying only the inventory necessary to produce the next ‘batch’ of goods. A manufacturer invests less in inventory or materials that simply take up space in storage somewhere, reducing carrying costs and improving return on investment, assuming the right tools are in place to make sure necessary materials arrive “just in time” to create the next set of products.
I think the same concept should be applied to process. We should strive to use just enough process to help get the job done, but not so much that it impedes progress, generates a lot of bureaucracy and sucks the life out of employees. There is a legitimate need for repeatable and measurable processes in many business contexts, but as a leader, don’t forget to keep an eye on the cost of that process. Innovation is vital in today’s business world, and process can too easily become a major barrier to innovation. I just added Bodell’s book to my shopping cart at Amazon, and I’ll review it after I’ve read it.