So, how do you design a process that even your Granny can follow?

 

Start with the end in mind

I read something this week that got me thinking. Because the same principle can also be applied to designing a new process.

The fabulous Lucy Pitts from Strood Copy wrote a piece this month on how to plan your speech and blog content. Our new OpsAngel Helen is trying her hand at blog writing for the first time and has had a go at following Lucy’s advice – start at the end, and end at the start.

 

Designing new processes should be part of your toolkit

A lot of work that we do at OpsAngel is capturing processes and workflows that already exist. They are processes that someone, at some point in time, created because they were asked to get a job done. Quickly. Usually without too much thought. And the steps they followed have then tended to stick. It worked once, so no need to change it.

But if we all put more thought into the processes we are creating then less of them will go wrong over time. Badly designed processes cause a lot of unnecessary stress and have a financial impact.

A well designed, well thought out process, will help you and your team use your time more efficiently. It is simple for someone else to follow which makes delegation easier. And it is more reliable, reducing the risk of something going wrong. In short, you are able to predict the outcome.

 

A good process has a consistent outcome

It is worth being clear here what a process is. It is a series of steps or actions that need to take place, in a certain order, to achieve a particular outcome.

A good process has clear steps and actions. Each of those steps and actions have clear owners. And it produces the same results every time, regardless of who is running it. McDonald’s are the master of this.

When you measure the success of a process you are really measuring how many times it deviates from the outcome you are expecting. The less deviation the less wastage, and the less wastage the less the impact on costs, and for customer facing processes, your reputation. Imagine having an invoicing process that only resulted in paid invoices 60% of the time! You just wouldn’t intentionally design a new invoicing process that had this outcome (I hope!).

The easiest way to create a monster of a process is to build in too much complexity both into the outcomes and the steps to get there. As a rule of thumb, if your granny can’t follow it then it is probably too complicated. Keep it simple.

 

Grab your sticky-notes and work backwards

If you haven’t identified the outcome, or particular end point that you want to achieve, it makes it very difficult to work out the steps that need to take place to make it happen. Once you can answer the question, what do I want the end point of this process to be?, the steps to getting there should fall into place.

Imagine we are designing a new process to gather customer feedback. A process with an outcome that 100% of our customers are asked their opinion on our services or products will have different steps to one that only wants customer feedback on one particular service or product. Be clear on your outcome, and the steps will follow.

At OpsAngel we love using sticky notes to capture the steps and actions in processes. Each sticky note represents one step or action and they can be easily moved around to make sure they are in the right order.

 

Don’t get stuck at how

If you are a process geek like the OpsAngel team are, you will know that as well as an output, a process has inputs. An input is something that you bring to the process to make it work and can be any number of things. You may need people to make your process work, or IT systems. Your process may rely on certain information. Or if you are making a physical product your process may need raw materials and even electricity to run the machines.

If you were to design a new process starting with what you have, you soon start to build in workarounds. And workarounds have a tendency to add complexity, and failure. You can find yourself stuck at how – how can we get to our outcome with what we have?

The question you should be asking is, what do we need to have in place to ensure our process has the right outcome?

By starting at the end and working backwards, you may discover that your new process won’t work properly unless you start using a new system. Or maybe even the system that you have already but aren’t using in the right way! Or you just don’t have enough manpower or information to make it work right now. And it may be the motivation you need to make other changes to the way things are done.

 

So, start with the end in mind, but whatever you do, don’t end at the start

It would be wrong for me to tell you that your journey with your new process ends once you have identified the outcome and mapped out the steps, backwards.

While you should start at the end, you should also end back at the outcome. Because it is only by measuring the outcome, or rather, how much the process deviates from the same outcome every time, that you will discover whether you have designed a good process. Your new process needs your continual watchful eye to keep it on track. If you started with the end in mind, then that should be easy.