Keep on Building and Trust the Process
Written by Gary Allwood, Head, IT, ABP
Edited by Drew Lazzara
APRIL 6, 2021
I am a big fan of process. A big fan. Good, robust processes have allowed me to demonstrate improvements, prioritize more effectively and create a more positive perception of the technology functions I’ve been privileged enough to lead. As organizations embrace new technologies and transform at increasing speeds, great process is also vital for dealing with change. But to many people, there are negative connotations around the word “process.”
It might be the poor delivery of a well-intended business-process re-engineering exercise, or the insistence on performing critical tasks manually when technology could provide automation. How many of us working in technology are asked, “It won’t take long, can’t you just do it?” or find our business partners have gone around us to get things done “on the side”? The persistence of these kinds of challenges often indicates that our processes aren’t good enough.
In the early days of my career, a senior executive said to me, “There is too much bureaucracy in IT; everything takes too long.” He was right. The processes he spoke about were ineffective. Before I left that role, he had an entirely different view and asked me to recover a failing business project. He did this because he could see the benefit of the changes we had made to our processes. Since that experience, I’ve reflected on what makes processes go wrong and what it takes to establish great ones.
Recognize the Bad and the Good
A process can be ineffective for many reasons. It may produce the wrong outcomes, seem overly bureaucratic or have low buy-in. People will try to bypass these processes because they think it gets things done quicker; some think they are too important to follow process; some might not even know the process exists. The intentions behind these failed processes could be to make things more efficient, to ensure appropriate accountability, to reduce costs, minimize risk – the list goes on and on. But having your heart in the right place is not the same as good process, and all too many organisations don’t find out that a process is ineffective until they’ve already implemented it.
At the risk of stating the obvious, a good process needs a purpose. It will be built from the ground up, and it shouldn’t be the process simply because “we’ve always done it that way.” When designing a process, you should give careful thought to the outcome, not just the output, and consider how to measure it effectively. The best processes have qualitative and quantitative measures to determine whether it meets its purpose. If contacting the service desk fills you and your colleagues with dread even though your service delivery manager is raving about how great their service metrics are, you need to rethink what you’re measuring and consider changing your process.
The best processes are easy to follow, well-adopted, invisible to the customer, deliver the desired outcomes and improve incrementally."
CIOs must ensure the senior teams understand the rationale for the process. In some cases, ask for patience and their support in getting things implemented. They are unlikely to be interested in the details of the process, but they will be interested in how it impacts them and their teams. Be clear with the benefits and assure them that you will track and measure the effectiveness.
Three Steps to Better Process
When looking to implement a new process or improve an existing process, the first step is to think about the outcome. A good starting point is to ask yourself how you’ll know if you’ve achieved that outcome. Define metrics that guide you toward that outcome, and complement them with a mechanism for assessing the quality of the process. You will need to speak to colleagues who follow the process or customers who see the output of the process to get a better understanding. You need to know that the process will give you the outcomes you’re expecting, so you’re not making a leap of faith. Trust the feedback you receive; stakeholders will know what will or won’t work. Do this in the right way, and you will be able to evaluate the efficacy of the process before you incur the costs and time of attempted implementation.
The second stage is to map out an initial framework of the process. Use the framework to get buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders. It is vital to get those individuals who will follow the process onboard, as you will find their guidance invaluable. Involve the customers to understand their needs and make sure they get the outcome they desire. It’s essential to explain the rationale and be clear on how individuals are involved and affected, and different stakeholders need different messages. Senior stakeholders will be interested in the value, customers in the outcomes, and the delivery teams in the “how.” While these perspectives require emphases on different aspects of process, your communication should still be consistent and constant to ensure everyone understands how they will be affected and why.
Your third step is to build on this foundation to design the implementation. Ask yourself: is the process simple? Is it efficient? Is it standardized? Does it deliver what it is supposed to? As you design the process, continually reinforce the measures that you need to understand its effectiveness.
Once you’ve designed it, go and implement it. Communicate well; this means using the right medium, the right frequency and the right tone. Use detractors to help shape ways of working; if individuals are fighting the process, get their input and understand why so you can address their concerns. If they raise more concerns, deal with them, too. And repeat. Use the metrics you so diligently developed as you built the process; set a baseline from which to work and track your achievements. Share relevant results with appropriate stakeholders.
Now that you have a firm basis for your process, make small incremental improvements over time. Isolate aspects of the process to evaluate. Is it still giving the desired outcome? Do you understand the impact of the change? If it’s positive, keep it. If it’s had a negative effect, reverse the change. There is no final step to implementing good processes; keep measuring, keep reviewing, and keep improving.
With the wrong processes, CIOs can find themselves being challenged in the wrong way by the senior team. With effective processes and measures, the senior teams will see the value you and your team deliver. Implement solid processes and let it work out positively for you. Be a big fan of process – the results are worth it.
by CIOs, for CIOs
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