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Organization Processes Inevitably Evolve Towards Atrophy And/Or Rigidity.  The Challenge Is To Keep Them Effective And Resilient.

Regardless of their complexity, most organization processes will start to evolve towards atrophy and/or rigidity starting soon after they’ve been implemented.  It’s inevitable as it’s tied to our inherent human natures and how we function in organizations.

The purpose of most processes, in addition to achieving an objective, is to become a standardized and routine process that is efficient and effective, and which has a high level of performance certainty.  The challenge is that by making an activity routine, it will lose energetic human focus over time.  Knowledge of the underlying rationale for a process can become hazy and the level of attention a process receives (particularly by key decision makers) is diminished as the organization focuses on other interests, challenges and priorities.

Maintaining Process Effectiveness And Resilience

Process atrophy and rigidity can be countered by using these guidelines.  The extent to which you use them will vary depending on your specific circumstances. 

Commitment at the top. The viability of any process starts with top management’s active encouragement and support of efforts to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of processes, as well as their elimination when necessary. Process improvement should be an important organization policy that is fully communicated throughout the organization, and incorporated, for example, into communications and meeting agendas.  Also, reports on process reviews and improvements should be disseminated throughout the organization to inform everyone about best practices and the importance of process improvement.

Adopt continuous improvement.  Ideally there should be formal policy, with supporting procedures, that vigorously supports continuous improvement for all elements of the organization, including processes.

It should be a culture (which starts at the top of any organization) that supports respectful land active questioning of how things are done; is there a better way?

Does the process have a documented objective?  This is the most critical question to ask and answer for every process you develop or already have.  Many times organizations jump into establishing a process without fully considering the objective they want to achieve, and actually documenting it.  The effort of having to write it down compels much clearer thinking and focus, than not doing it.  And it’s necessary to obtain useful comments from employees who will work on the process and receive its results. If you have not documented the objective you will not have certainty that it is as effective and efficient as it can be.  Documenting the objective also become the basis for subsequent evaluation and improvement.

Are the process steps adequately documented?  Again as for the process objective above,

Michael VanBruaene

Michael VanBruaene

the act of identifying and documenting process steps can bring clarity to the required process actions, obtain input from employees and support subsequent review and improvement.  Documenting the steps helps to ensure that everyone involved knows how the process is to function.  They will know the steps for which they are responsible and also how their responsibilities fit into the overall process.

Is there a process owner with full authority and accountability?  Every process should have an owner.  To be effective ownership should have both accountability and full authority over all aspects of the process, including responsibilities of employees working on the process.  [Note that this does not necessarily mean that the process owner can hire and terminate employees involved in the process, however they can have employees removed if they are not effective.]  Business process ownership has been a significant challenge in many organizations as numerous processes cross organizational boundaries (i.e. more than one work unit, division, etc.) and their respective management. 

Are process roles/positions, including authority and responsibility, clearly defined?  Particularly for extensive and/or complex processes, employee roles should be clearly documented.  These descriptions should also clearly state the level of decision-making authority each role/position has, along with responsibilities.  They also aid in communicating work expectations and are a starting point for evaluating job performance and necessary competencies. 

Are process functions monitored, along with reporting?  Process monitoring and reporting provides data and information on process performance, to be used to evaluate effectiveness and efficiency and problems that require fixing.  Historical information becomes very useful in addressing questions about why did a change occur or not occur.

Are your processes, particularly those that are most critical and/or require substantial resources, regularly and formerly evaluated?  You can do this with in-house or external expertise.  Is the process achieving its stated objective?  Does it even have a documented objective?  Are the process steps being performed different from the steps that are documented?  Is there buy-in by employees?  Is the process effectively supported by technical and human resources, and also management?

Michael VanBruaene was a KPMG Director and blogs at “Michael VanBruaene – Pragmatic Approaches To Move You and Your Organization Forward”.  Go to his website for additional articles, tools and information. www.AdvancingYourOrganization.com. He can be contacted at mvanbruaene@pacbell.net

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