The Perfect Process

In my recent monthly Webcast, I was honored to have Bill Demidovich of Lean Ohio as the guest presenter. A consummate process improvement professional and polished speaker, Bill spent the hour walking through the guiding philosophy of LeanOhio and revealing the details of several excellent case studies of broken – and then fixed – state government processes.

The audience loved the examples and the exchanges between speaker and moderator (myself). The post-event “fan mail” as I call it was entirely positive and appreciative. Overall, an excellent example of content marketing: we entertained and informed the audience while simultaneously gathering and qualifying training leads for the sales team.

Although we’d walked through a dry run with Bill a few days earlier, I was surprised and inspired with a single statement in the live Webcast. In reference to the many labyrinthine government processes his team was asked to fix, he explained: “Your processes are perfectly designed for the results you get.”

I surmise that this is something we all innately understand – yet consistently deny. When our business processes fail our expectations and the expectations of our customers, we often look to a single point of breakdown: “The paperwork was late because of Barb in HR” or “No one noticed how low the inventory was.” In reality, as processes evolve and organizations grow, plenty of these missteps and unnecessary decision points actually become baked into the process. It’s the “new normal” process.

One of my favorite of Bill Demidovich’s slides (the presentation and slides are available to the public on the Web site) was the one that showed the “actual process” as a dashed line and the “idealized process” we expect as the straight solid line:

processRather scary, eh? Seem familiar?  Alas, it’s not until someone has the courage to recognize and address the “invisible” problem that you can begin to show that the process is operating exactly as it was designed (and redesigned and amended and branched and modified and whatever else). You’re very lucky if the someone who faults you is an internal stakeholder who means well, not a valuable customer.

As for marketing and sales, I recommend you:

  • Take a look at your own internal processes (e.g., how timely are qualified leads are delivered to the sales team?),
  • Use any available data to determine if it’s operating within your specifications (e.g., days to completion),
  • Keep an ear out for anything that your team may just smooth over with a despondent “that’s the way it’s always been,”
  • “Walk” the process, and map and describe it,
  • Reveal it to everyone who needs to understand it isn’t working,
  • Begin to resolve the issues you find and redesign your process.

That’s when the improvement can begin. Until then, well, congratulations. Your process is imperfectly perfect.

Put the email down and step away

Over the past 4.5 years, working as a remote employee, I’ve become involved in an intimate (and sometimes torrid) relationship with Outlook. Don’t tell my wife, please. Actually, she probably knows this already.

Outlook seduces me with her alerts and dialogues. “Check out the InBox,” she coos every five minutes. “See how important you are,” she purrs, “Let me show you how much people want you and need your expertise.” Trollop that she is, I cannot quit her.

What I really need instead is to focus on is writing and marketing strategy.  So I’ve been experimenting with turning Outlook off for the whole morning, though that’s difficult since I use my email as a de facto archive, which I am sure many of you do as well.

The result: I’ve learned that, if I can go for 20 minutes without the urge to check email, it subsides and my brain is able to reach clarity around whatever task I’ve set for myself. I know that it’s becoming vogue to take a Digital Sabbatical, but I wonder if shorter breaks, more frequently taken might result in a more consistent, enduring mental benefit. Let’s call them short-term moratoriums, or STeMs.

So – time to take a STeM. See you soon.