Monday, 9 April 2012

Bureaucracy of Process

There’s no advantage to introducing a framework or process if adherence to the process is more important than the process enabling the delivery of business benefits. Yet many companies get caught up in the hype of the process and forget why they introduced it.

Take Governance as an example. When it comes to projects some form of governance is critical to, at the very minimum, check the right things are being done. But breathe the word ‘Governance’ and a world of images flash by, people roll their eyes and groan, and various mutterings, most of them negative, can be heard in the corridors. Whatever it’s labelled in the end governance will resolve some problems and create others but so too will the introduction of any new process.

Companies can do a lot to help overcome the ever present lack of interest and negativity surrounding change by getting their house in order before blindly setting off down the implementation track. While not an exhaustive list the following are some simple pointers to keep in mind when introducing any program, project or operational framework or process.

1. Reason 
Define the problem the process is there to fix. What are the current problem areas? Why are they problems? What is or is not happening because of them? Without this level of clarity at the decision making level no one else is going to understand what triggered the decision and the problem the process is there to resolve.

2. Purpose
Define what the process is there to deliver. There may be a multitude of things that are wrong and ideally the process will fix all of them. This list needs prioritising. If the process is expected to deliver improvements in a number of areas each area needs to be drilled into until there is one or maximum two areas of initial focus. Attempting to improve all areas at once is a failure waiting to happen. Bite off small chunks at a time and as one begins to deliver move on to the next.

3. Roles and Responsibilities
The R&R’s - Easy to say, difficult to define, even harder to implement. Focus on defining the roles first and be specific. Who’s involved at what point? Where are the authority and threshold levels? Get clear about how the roles connect with other key roles and activities in the business. Responsibilities need to be specific. Waffle-words and consulting speak don’t tell anyone anything and add no value.

4. Reporting
This is the third R in the list - Who needs to know what, when, from whom and based on what criteria. Again, be specific. Minimise the pretty charts, checklists and over-convoluted reports. A good piece of advice recently heard was to ask the question: How would you like to hear the bad news? Get that defined, pay attention to exceptions and check compliance against the previously defined purpose.

5. Lifecycle
As each focus area is addressed it’s inevitable that some activities or ideas will work better than others. It’s important to remain flexible and willing to adapt as things change. Without this the process is pure bureaucracy and the anticipated improvements will be outweighed by the process.

Regardless of the process being introduced it needs to be clean, simple, clear and flexible. Without these as guiding principles the process will turn into a bureaucratic nightmare with people quickly figuring out ways to get around it.

What approaches have you taken to minimse bureaucracy when introducing new processes, frameworks or operating models? What worked and what didn't?