Article by Duncan Haughey, PMP taken from Project Smart.
Having good reliable processes is the cornerstone of a successful business. Processes are there to make sure there is consistency and robustness for repeatable activities. However, not all processes are good processes and in the worst cases may actually hold your business back. This was clear on one particular project I worked on recently…
The project struggled because the process for implementing the IT infrastructure had not been adequately communicated and the key decision makers had not been identified. The IT department provided very little help in the early phases of the project. It soon became clear something was wrong, especially as the team members, who wanted the project to succeed, were being heavily constrained by the process. A clear case of a poorly thought out and unwieldy process delaying an important business project. So what lessons can we learn from this?
The Unwieldy Process
Don’t blame your people because you have large unwieldy processes. Ask whether your processes are fit for purpose. If you are making your people clear many hurdles and they struggle, then you’re trapped in a ‘process obstacle course’.¹
Answer: Review and simplify your processes. Ensure there are clear roles and responsibilities and you have accounted for all scenarios not just the main one. Test run your processes on paper with the people who will use them and improve them from their feedback.
As we know, good processes are a route to success. Conversely, poorly conceived processes are a route to failure. Poor processes are often hidden if ‘heroes’ in your organisation deliver projects in spite of them. Don’t assume that project success equals good processes, there’s always room for improvement.
Answer: Talk to your people to understand where the pain points and road blocks are, and update the processes to remove them.
The Process Impasse
If a process can result in an impasse you must consider whether it’s fit for purpose. On a recent project the stage and gate process said that if the project crossed more than one year, the total budget for all years needed approval by the senior stakeholder. The senior stakeholder in this case was happy to sign off the current years expenditure, but not the following years. The project was already passed all other gates with approvals received, Finance department sign-off given, in fact other than this one approval it was a model project administratively speaking. The project manager was pushing for project approval and to moved forward to the build phase, but the Project Management Office was pushing back, insisting on approval of the total ‘cross-year’ budget. Neither side would move. The result was the project moved to the build phase without approval, an undesirable situation, but inevitable with the business pushing the project team to deliver on time.
Answer: With any process, make sure it isn’t possible to reach a point where you are unable to move forward. In this case, it should have been possible to agree a scope for year one with a budget and a separate scope and budget for year two, so each year could be approved separately.
Keep it Simple
You may have heard the acronym ‘KISS’ when it comes to working practices and processes. It stands for, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ and while I would not advocate using this with your colleagues and customers, you can keep it in mind when creating new processes or improving existing ones.
The best processes are those that are kept simple. They are easy to understand and have clear steps and outcomes.
Answer: Look at each step in a process and ask whether it’s necessary. Can it be removed? Does it move you towards your goal? The fewer steps in a process the better, so think ‘KISS’.
If you become too process driven you risk losing sight of the business goal. Make sure you keep your processes simple, verify them with people who will use them and avoid processes that can result in an impasse. Good processes will drive your business towards its goals, but poor processes can and will hold your business back.
If things aren’t working for you, don’t blame your people, blame the processes and take steps to improve them.