Elimination of Process by Process of Elimination

When I first started working at a large corporation, I was fresh out of school, where my life ran on minimal scheduling. I went to class, studied, and worked on my projects. Work was completed in time for when it was due, and I showed up to my classes (most of the time). I followed whatever few rules there were, because there weren’t very many.

Process by Ivan Walsh

Process by Ivan Walsh on Flickr.com

At my company, however, there were rules for everything. Want to make a small change to some text in an error message? Make sure the change was properly requested, documented, signed-off by the appropriate person, and only then can you check it into a test region. Want to put it into Production? Be prepared for a few days of paperwork and waiting for approval. Want to make it simpler to make small, routine changes? There’s a process for making changes to the process too.

I don’t question the need for process in any business – in fact, without any process at all, a business is doomed. Did you get a new client? Make sure you’ve documented that in your financial statements. Did you buy a new computer? Make sure you list it in your expenses, as well as in your company’s assets. Trying a new marketing strategy? Prepare some metrics to assist in determining how successful the strategy is.

On the other hand, as a company grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain both flexible and in control. That is, you as the owner are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the business. You’re responsible for the image your business has. If someone in your company makes a blunder that costs you a customer, you have to absorb that.

At the same time, you want to trust your employees, and to give them the flexibility to get the job done, to take initiative for the benefit of the company. You don’t have the time to micro-manage (a topic of its own that I won’t get into here).

The end result is that your risk increases, because you can’t know everything that’s happening in your business, much as you would like to. As a result, your processes must adapt to changes in how your business operates, but at the same time, not become bloated to the point that your employees are either gaming the process, or ignoring it.

To do so, what I would recommend is that you take a look at the processes you have, and make sure that it is proportionate to the task to which it applies. For example, the same standards should not apply to which brand of coffee is used as applies to making a decision to hire someone.

Look at any process you have in place. The purpose of process is to reduce the risk associated with having multiple decision-makers. If a given process does not reduce that risk, then it should either be replaced, or eliminated. If the decision to be made does not expose your business to a risk, then the process should be dropped.

Time spent on dealing with process is wasteful, and yet, many companies find that they spend more time with the process than they do with actual work. Make sure you’re not one of those companies!