Rumor. Legend. Myth.

by | Continuous Improvement

Do you know the truth about your business processes?

It is often amazing how much successful business executives know about their business. Their dedication and focus on their enterprise’s success is impressive, often awe-inspiring.

And yet, over and over again, we find in our continuous improvement work that there are blind-spots that exist in business’s awareness of how they do what they do; meaningful disconnects between the way people assume things work and the way they really work.

As part of our work, we are often briefed by management teams on how their business processes work. Sometimes the briefs are supplemented by PowerPoint slides with some very nice flow-charts and so on. Then, when we spend time with the folks that are the actual hands-on operators of these same business processes, we find out how things really work.

Nasty effects

Unfortunately, the way things really work do not always support the strategic vision coming from the executive team, and this misalignment can have nasty effects.

Gears showing that business processes matter

Why does this happen? Is there a grand plan to overthrow corporate’s strategic plans? Willful acts of malice to harm the organization? Lazy, slothful behavior by people that just don’t care?

Sometimes maybe; but our experience shows this is not usually the case at all. Usually, what we see is a process we call “unguided evolution”, a phenomenon that happens in almost every organization.

Unguided Evolution – A real-life example

Joe gets hired in 2012 to manage Fulfillment. He is trained thoroughly in his job, given written procedures and some flow-charts, and maybe even a guide from IT on the specific keystrokes he is to follow when using the system. Everything seems a-ok.

In 2014, Bob leaves, Joe gets promoted, and Kathy takes over Joe’s job. Joe explains the job to Kathy and lets her know that a few of the things in the procedures have changed, though the procedures have not been updated. Kathy goes to work and quickly finds that Shipping is not doing things the way the procedure describes, so she has to do a few of her tasks differently.

Down the hall is Ken. For a while now, he has been seeing some strange things when he looks in the system. He talks to Kathy and comes to understand what she is doing differently and why. Ken adapts and goes on.

And on and on. When something finally brings all these unmanaged changes to light, usually something negative in the financials, the situation is finally investigated.

What we find

When we review a scenario like this, we often compare the written procedures (remember them?) to what we find is really going on, and we try to determine where things have gone off track. When we ask folks how they know what to do in such an environment, the answer is almost always a variant of the same expression, “We just know.”

What are the consequences?

A graphic showing that a missed goal from an unplanned process change.

When we compare the new business process to the original, we often find that some unintended consequences have crept into the picture. The most dangerous situations are those where a series of process changes have resulted in a situation where the new processes are no longer in alignment with management’s strategic objectives.

In other words, the new process is not achieving what management truly wants. When we explain all this to the operations-level folks, we often find that nobody has ever told them about strategic objectives, and that they are simply performing tasks and activities in accordance with the way they have been trained. We often find that they have been trained by the person who had the job before they did; or worse, by the person that sat next to the person who had the job before they did.

What are the motivations?

In situations like this, when we dig into the motivations behind each change in this chain of unguided evolution, we typically find that each person involved was confronted with change, and that each person adapted his or her behavior to deal with that change in a way that they thought would best serve the company.  Yes, there was often an element of how-to-keep-my-job-the-way-I-want-it, but there was almost always a belief that the changes that were adopted served the company’s interests.

It’s Evolution, Baby

And why aren’t these changes communicated upward? Why isn’t anybody checking with senior management to see if all this is ok? The simple answer is that these types of changes tend to be evolutionary versus revolutionary. They happen slowly, little by little, piece by piece; no single change ever seeming very consequential in itself.

Dripping Stalactities symbolize business processes changing slowly over time.

However, as in the natural world, where tiny drops of water can slowly take down a mountain, these unguided series of changes in your business processes can unravel parts of your organization’s strategic plans. And, by the time these effects show up in your financial statements, a lot of damage can be done.

What can be done

Every business needs to give its processes the proper level of attention in order to ensure that the business is continually improving. This is at the heart of the continuous improvement focus all smart companies are maintaining today.

While it is tempting to try these efforts in-house, it makes a lot of sense to turn to experts when it comes to your key continuous improvement projects. With its highly experienced team, and its strong background in Lean Sigma, Kaizen, and other proven continuous improvement methodologies, Hudson Business Analytics has the right people and the right methods to help you get the job done.

Hudson can help

Let Hudson Business Analytics show you how we can help you successfully implement your next continuous improvement project.