Taming the monster process

This post is about implementing what Forrester calls a collaborative process or what Gartner calls an unstructured process. It's a process that is not automated for transactional purposes, but is more fluid and driven by people, which accounts for about 80% of all business processes.

I have had a number of meetings with customers about creating and kicking off new collaborative/unstructured processes for their departments. They are very excited to make a new difference. In fact, they are so passionate, they don't realize they will probably make the top two big mistakes.

Mistake Number 1 - The monster! 

Our hero sits down and figures out all of the details to make her process awesome. She has devised over 300 steps and is proud that every one of them will make a difference. She's creating a good beast to kill the bad beast like in the new movie called Pacific Rim.

Here are some thoughts on why this approach often fails and what to do about it:

- To much of a good thing. To much content, especially when it's too detailed can overwhelm the users on day one. If you loose them at the beginning, it will take a long time to get them to buy in. And if they don't use it, your time was wasted.

How about keeping it simple and high level. Add just enough content to cover the critical basics. The people who will execute the process may be able to figure out how to fill in the cracks. This also gives them more power and accountability to come back with new ideas to add more content into the process. It will then grow organically.

- Vacuum. The process is built in a vacuum, meaning the people in the field are not part of designing the process. The new process may not have the right steps needed for real application. It may be too structured, and sticking to one view point may mean missing out on all of the other fluid parts or possibilities. The result is a backlash from the users.

Instead, get others involved in collaborating with you while designing and testing the process. Insights from others will help define what you may miss. They may also provide ideas on how to simplify. Finally, giving others the ability to collaborate with you will help them feel ownership and therefore execute the process with the same passion as you.

- Paralysis. I have known some people to take months to design a new process. They get overwhelmed with day-to-day priorities that come in and out. They get stuck with getting back on track since they need to rethink where they were. This eventually leads to being perpetually stuck with business as usual, forgoing creativity, innovation, and growth.

Rather, trypicking a day with a couple of your colleagues and super users and hash out the first sections of a process that can be executed next week. Or you could complete the entire process at a very high level, get people to start using it for real, and then revisit it for improvement with feedback in a few weeks.

Mistake Number 2 - What training?

Our hero finally has the new process ready and is excited about getting it deployed and used. She gets the team together and reviews the cool new process. She asks for feedback and everyone is quiet. Oh, it must be ready then. No objections? Cool. Jump right in.

We're all used to going to a class, workshop, or meeting on how to learn something new. However, how many times do we go back to our daily work with good intentions only to get go back into the same routine? Since collaborative processes are driven by humans rather than machines, it's hard to institute a new process when the old one still works, somewhat.

I have learned the hard way that providing lecture training to a group of 20-30 people is very ineffective, although it is efficient. When it comes to learning, efficiency does not guarantee effectiveness. My firm now provides training programs that are very personal with a low student to teacher ratio, such as 3:1 or 4:1 at most.

Consider taking the time to give enough training so the students understand the new process inside and out. That's the only way you can ensure they will not only adopt, but take a lead in being creative and providing feedback to improve it over time.