“Why do we keep following the process if it doesn’t work?”
You’ve probably heard something to the effect of this before or have even said it yourself. After all, what could be worse than following a set of rules that either isn’t logically consistent, doesn’t bring good results, is impossible to follow or all of the above?
As a consultant, I often work on aspects of marketing operations in the enterprise and am a rather process-oriented person myself. The first thing I often do when performing discovery on a new project or meeting a new client is to ask questions about the process of how things are done, how success is determined and other items related to how things are operationalized.
While teams can often focus on other aspects of the work, I have found that process is often overlooked as being important. However, when planned and followed through well, the processes used to create, implement, measure success, and do this repeatedly, have the potential to be one of the most important aspects of any initiative.
In this article, I’m going to help you explore what the issue with your process might be. Is it the process itself, or is it how it’s being followed? Let’s look at three questions you should ask yourself before you abandon a process completely.
Is your process clearly articulated?
This seems pretty fundamental, but you’d be surprised how many times there is a lack of documentation of an important process. This means portions are verbally explained, and those explanations may vary depending on who is sharing them.
A good process is clearly defined, documented and available to everyone who is affected by it. A good test for this is to go through the steps yourself and explain them from start to finish. You might learn that what you may have assumed is logical, straightforward or common sense is actually a lot more convoluted than you thought. This is why we do customer journey maps as well—you learn a lot by walking in someone else’s shoes!
In other words, if you can’t clearly describe the purpose of your process, the steps used to follow it and how you can determine if it is working well or not, how can the rest of your team possibly be successful with it either? Being able to clearly articulate these three aspects can be the difference between success and failure.
Does everyone understand it the same way?
We just talked about making sure a process can be explained easily and the power of how being able to explain something helps you understand it better. Let’s dive a little deeper and make sure we avoid the next pitfall.
What if two people claim to have a thorough understanding of something, but they both understand it differently? While it’s possible for this to happen with even the simplest of things (does anyone remember the viral “dress” phenomenon of 2015?), it is more likely to happen when you are talking about a detailed, multistep process where there is plenty of room for error.
As important as being able to explain a process yourself is, is the need to make sure it is understood the same way by everyone that will use it, or that is affected by it. If you don’t, you have many well-intentioned people doing the wrong thing but believing they are doing it right.
Are you following it consistently?
Finally, let’s talk about consistency. After all, what good is a process if it is only successful the first time you use it? One of the benefits of a great set of processes is the efficiency and scalability that come with the ability to repeat it over and over again successfully.
When you are able to repeat a process and achieve the same or better results, you will also be able to analyze and identify ways to improve it. This consistency forms the basis of Agile and Continuous Improvement approaches, and it is the only way you and your teams can continue to get better at what they do.
No process is perfect the first time a team performs the steps involved, but that’s not the point. In order to achieve optimal results, as well as to continuously improve, you need consistency in the way you do things. Having that “apples to apples” comparison allows you to have a better analysis of the pain points as well as the aspects you’d like to keep intact.
As you can see, defining and having a process alone isn’t enough to solve the challenges that it may be meant to solve. You need to make sure it is clearly articulated, that there is a common understanding across the teams who are affected by it, and it needs to be followed consistently. Once all of these factors are true, you can determine if your process needs improvement or adjustment. Don’t give up on process before you do these things, though.