The People and Process vodcast Episode 2: What makes a good process?

James Crawley: The last time we spoke we ended up with a question. “What’s a good process?”  Now, I want to change it up slightly to “What makes a good process?”

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, well, technically there are a few things.

So a good process is dedicated to achieving a single customer meaningful business, meaningful outcome. So it’s doing one thing. That one thing could be quite big and abstract at the top level. So “Keep Promise”, and you can increase in granularity. So “Walk Dogs”,  until you reach the lowest practical level, which might be something like “File VAT return”.

James Crawley: Okay.

Next thing, a good process is managed by a single role from start to finish. Other roles might help, they might get involved, but only one is responsible for the whole thing.

Thirdly, a good process is a bit like a map. It guides the person to the destination to the outcome that you want, but it allows flexibility of route to get there so they know where they’re getting good heading for. And they can choose different ways to get there.   But it also has a compass built in because you are going to get lost in the dark at some point because no process can predict every eventuality and the compass reminds the person running that process of the promise of value that you’re trying to deliver and that means they will know the kind of thing they need to do to get back on track.

James Crawley: Okay.

Kirsten Gibbs: Lastly, a good process is a prompt, not a prescription. It’s like a musical score or a set of building drawings.  It tells people what to produce, not how to do it.   They already know how to do it because that’s why you hired them or trained them.

James Crawley: So give me an example of how that would work then.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, take dog walking. So for my dog walking client, the process we put in place for running a dog walk takes the dog walker through what they need to do to turn up at the house, collect a dog, turn up at the next house, collect the dog, take them all to the park for the walk.   What it doesn’t need to do is tell them exactly how to treat the dogs in that process.   So for example, dogs have very different personalities. They have different, they actually have different kind of places in the pecking order of the group of dogs.

And you leave it up to the dog walkers judgment to decide how you’re going to get dogs into a car based on what they know about the process, what they know about dogs, and they know about those particular dogs that they have with them. You don’t need to spell that out.

James Crawley: Okay. So how do we humanize this then?  To put a good process in?  We don’t want to turn the workforce into robots, but we do want to deliver, for example, a consistent experience for our clients irrespective of who the client talks do within our business.

Kirsten Gibbs: Well, the thing to remember is that consistent doesn’t necessarily mean the same or identical. What it really means is consistent with your promise.  So the client feels equally valued through that interaction as they would with any other interaction with your business and they as they would with any other person in the business.

James Crawley: So the key then before we develop any process is to get to understand the business fully.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yup.

James Crawley: Not only the products but also the DNA of the promise that you make to the clients. And that comes from all people within the business, not just the managers or the owners.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yes, exactly. So a, a nice illustration of this kind of thing because it makes it very easy to see for everyone is I worked with a company that, that runs dance classes and their whole model was quite different from the normal dance class in that they provided partners for the, uh, the clients who knew how to dance. So they’d get lots of young European amateur dancers and they would practice with the clients. So the whole metaphor for that business was a kind of Cinderella. “You will go to the ball.2

So the franchisee’s role was host of a party.  And because they’re the host, that means they knew they were organizing the teacher, they were organizing the venue, they were organizing the partners and they were inviting guests. And the whole ethos of that, the whole promise was “you shall go to the ball.”

James Crawley: Okay. So you talk about writing a score and you mentioned earlier about musical notes. How does that humanize the process?

Kirsten Gibbs: Well, a score tells your musicians what to play, but it allows interpretation. So and depending on, depending on the personality of the business, there can be quite a bit of play in that.

So if you’re a very, um, if you’re a very tight business, you might have every note written, but you probably still allow people to have put in their own grace notes every now and then.

But on the other end of the, of the spectrum, if you like, you could be jazz, so you can leave eight bar gaps for somebody to do their solo in.  All you really care about is that the end in the right place and they come back in the right place, but they can do what they like in between. Actually they’re going to be in the right key probably. But the point is there’s a lot of freedom.

James Crawley: it’s  that adaptability,

Kirsten Gibbs: yeah.

James Crawley: Okay.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay. So I think we’ve defined what makes a good process. So the question really is why are processes sometimes not adopted.

James Crawley:  So the answer to that would be they probably aren’t good processes.  Now that doesn’t mean that the inappropriate processes for the business, but it means that a fundamental step in the creation of that process has been missed. And in my experience, that step is normally the inclusion of the business in its design and creation.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay.

James Crawley:  So we said before about humanizing the process. If people feel ownership, they’re more likely to adopt a process.
People feel ownership when they have a hand in the process. Finally, and importantly, the process has to be achievable.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yes, yes. So we’ve talked about good processes, but actually the best processes are those which people use and improve of their own accord.

James Crawley:  Exactly.

Kirsten Gibbs: That’s how you really want them to be working. And the best way to do that is to involve them in the design of it.

James Crawley:  Yes.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay. So what do you think makes a bad process?

James Crawley:  So a bad process is one that hasn’t taken into account the full promise and capability contained within the business. Um, is a process that isn’t a process bit is actually a series of work instructions, a process that’s been designed in isolation without regard for the rest of the business and a process that isn’t kept alive through the implementation and one that doesn’t evolve with the business.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay. So how would you, how would you identify if you have a bad process?

James Crawley:  So I think you’d have to look to your people. Do you have to keep changing your people or do you have to keep changing your process to try and adapt it to your people? Is the process actually being adopted and used and are you starting to see some value from it. Is it helping and adding value or is it just creating work for work sake?

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay.

James Crawley: Once you’re happy with a good process, are you saying that you can give it to anyone and they would run it well?

Kirsten Gibbs:No. No. Because different people have different ways of working and not everyone’s working style if you like, is suited to running a process. So for example, one of the things I would measure people on is whether they’re ‘options’ or ‘procedures’.  Now, options people like to find different ways of doing things, new ways of doing things. Even if they’ve got a perfectly good way they will look for another way because they just, that’s just how they are. Whereas procedures people like to be given a process and follow it.

Now in truth, most of us are somewhere in between, but if you are one of those businesses that likes everything to be quite nailed down, if you want every note played, you’re going to need a procedures person. If you’re a jazz company then you probably want an options person. So it depends where you are.

James Crawley: So how do you include those procedures people in a process design

Kirsten Gibbs: Procedures people in process design. Well you help them, you get them to help you set it up. And you get your options people to keep looking for better ways of doing things as long as they’re in line with the promise overall.  And for options people, the other way of doing it is you create enough room for variation in the process that allows them to feel they’re doing it their way.

James Crawley: Okay. So in conclusion, there’s good and bad processes there are appropriate and inappropriate people to manage or run those processes. But without inclusion, you don’t have a process at all. Just a set of instructions and who reads the instructions when they’ve got a new gadget.

Kirsten Gibbs: Exactly. So what do we mean then about inappropriate and appropriate employees?

James Crawley: Well, I think Kirsten, that’s a topic for another day.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, great.