I was looking for some inspiration in this New Year; a way to look differently at the world of process improvement that I live in. I especially wanted to make it relate better to those that are often the most difficult to convince of the desirability, even “good-ness” of processes, those in the “front end” of a business: customer service, purchasing, IT, project managers, estimators, salespeople, designers, marketers, etc.
I use some great tools and a great methodology for business process improvement, and the reason that I like them is that they are simple. It does not mean that they don’t take some time and effort to use effectively and gain the maximum benefit. Everything worthwhile takes a certain amount of commitment.
I grabbed a book off my shelf that I had not looked at in a while. It is an old book, in business book terms, but it has not aged. It is called “Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster”, by Bill Jensen. I randomly opened to one of the many pages with a corner I’d folded over and came across this:
“WHAT DESIGN CHANGED THE HISTORY OF PARIS?
Guess again. Think practical . . . think sewers. Thanks to the Seine, the Romans called Paris Lutetia: City of Mud. French novelist Victor Hugo devoted 15 pages in Les Miserables to Paris’ sewers. Why? More growth, more waste. And at some point, waste removal had as much impact as social, cultural, and political forces.
“. . . At some point, content becomes waste. So content design has to include waste removal. Have you designed a sewer system? Is the process for getting rid of content as easy as flushing a corporate-wide e-toilet? . . . Without hassle-free procedures and tools, you are forcing knowledge workers to swim in their own waste.”
Well, that paints quite a picture for me. In process improvement, efficient elimination, (no pun intended), of the superfluous, outdated, and difficult is as important as the improved process itself. Every day, when they see barriers, people use workarounds to get things done in their jobs. Sometimes these workarounds, shortcuts, and “stealth” actions have become, in fact, the best ways to accomplish certain tasks. It’s up to those of us who facilitate process improvement to recognize and coax these informal improvements out of the shadows in the corners, be happy that improvements are happening around us, and rapidly flush the old processes down the corporate e-toilet.
Processes, done well, simplify.
We all need a jump-start now and then. What are some sources of inspiration for you in driving out waste or improving processes in your area of your company?