How do you do what you do?
Last week I wrote about the six steps of improving your processes and workflows. Now it's time to dig a little deeper into each of those six.
Step 1 - How are we doing this?
When you first started out you put in place work-flows for what needed to be done. Chances are things aren’t being done that way anymore, and if they are the people on those teams aren’t happy about it. Maybe you hired some smart people and let them figure it out. Are they still there, in the same role? Was their process designed in cooperation with other teams, or is everything in silos?
And why should anything be done the same way as before? Your company has changed, you’re bigger, got more customers and offer them more choices. You’ve entered new markets, you have different regulations to follow and have more suppliers.
Your world has changed. Why would doing things “the way we’ve always done” still work?
It usually doesn't.
I once worked with a team where everything got done more or less on time and the stakeholders were mostly happy. At a senior management level everything looked fine. Meanwhile those actually doing the work were making a heroic effort to deal with the multiple legacy processes they had and the corrosive effect of a team lead who wanted to control everything. Frustrations were high and burn-out of a few key people was a very real risk. If that happened the wheels would come off th
e bus and a crucial part of the organisation would grind to a halt.
Fixing that started with asking: How are we doing this?
What is the process the team is using to get the work done? Who is doing what?
Then you listen. Really listen. Listen to understand, not to respond. If you’ve ever practiced active listening, this is a great time to use that skill. If you haven't it's a good time to learn.
Look for bottle-necks - one person doing a lot of manual steps. Or one point of contact with stakeholders.
Then ask why? What’s the reason things are done this way? I guarantee you’ll get a lot of versions of “always done this way”. Nobody says that phrase anymore, we’ve been conditioned against it, but it’s still there. And don’t be satisfied with the first answer, there’s usually more to it. Keep going, there will be a deeper reason, and you’ll find connections between different issues.
Yes, all of this takes time. But it's the only what to get to the heart of what is going on and why.
Once you’ve got all the information write it up and produce a work-flow diagram. Then go back to everyone you talked to and get them to confirm their part. You might not want to show them the whole diagram at this point - they can be very ugly and the goal isn’t to scare people.
This will give you buy-in to the idea that things have to change. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people didn’t realise how bad it is.
Now all you have to do is figure out how to make it all better.