I had an interesting discussion last week where a very capable manager was complaining about being stretched and not having sufficient time to capture the process. Critical information was trapped in the heads of key personnel and this made it difficult for new staff to get up to speed without impacting those experts. Also, many process and ownership related problems resurfaced on a regular basis because there was never time to capture the outcome of the previous debates. Focusing solely on business-as-usual [BAU] is a trap. Few companies want to simply maintain existing performance; most want to improve it in significant ways.
The key problem that was unearthed had three components: (a) low levels of ownership among the supporting staff, (b) a low profile associated with non-BAU activities and (c) an unrealistic expectation with respect to the required quality of the captured information. All of these together made the activity seem too enormous to begin and so it was continuously postponed. This is a common problem and the best way to deal with it is to break it up into manageable chunks that can accomplish something useful in short sprints.
If you consider the situation described above the answer should become obvious. First there needs to be some level of prioritization so that the most important processes are captured first. Secondly, the manager needs to delegate the process capture activities. In my opinion, the best place to capture a process is where it is being used on a regular basis. Additionally, doing this will free up some time for more strategic thinking, removing obstacles and providing support. Having initiated the activity it needs to be afforded an appropriate level of priority and visibility. Improvement projects need to be reported upon alongside BAU and appropriate actions taken to keep them on track in the same way that any other metric is managed. For as long as people these activities as something that gets done in ‘spare moments’ they will never move forward because some other priority will always supplant them. Finally, don’t go for perfection – go for progress. This last point is, potentially, the most important one. Does a process need to be captured in a 40-page manual right from the start? In my view if you’ve got nothing then photographing a whiteboard or scanning a hand-sketch is a step forward. If such things are captured, issued for use and later reworked from end-user annotations, then an evolutionary mindset can be fostered and the workload associated with continuous improvement kept both manageable and focused.
Often it is an assumed need to ‘go for gold’ that prevents things ever getting off the starting blocks. A blank page looks daunting but people find it much easier to point out the flaws (or opportunities for improvement) in an existing model than come up with one of their own from scratch. Having something, anything, on the table allows this process to gain momentum. Also, delegating ownership keeps maintenance of the process at the level where it adds most value and is easiest to control.
So, next time you have something that you know will add value if only you could find the time to fit it, try doing the following – break it up, prioritize, delegate, maintain visibility and focus on progress rather than perfection.
Start. Learn. Adapt.
“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.” – Dale Carnegie