Somewhere, there’s a dusty old librarian who thinks Google is a messy and irresponsible way to find things, and gets very annoyed when you don’t put the index cards back in the right place in the catalog. I found this one under ‘P’ for Process…
I spent some time with a client the other day who was trying to determine the best way to manage how information flowed in their organization. They were having a difficult time, because they had laid out a series of discrete steps that needed to be followed by every person in the organization — first the document arrives, then the document is entered into a tracking system, then it is registered as a case in the case management system, and so on. There are thousands of these kind of processes being discussed in meetings all over the world while we drink our morning coffee. I must have sat in on hundreds of meetings like this.
The problem within this organization was equally commonplace. The staff weren’t following the process. The software was too weird/hard to use, and it forced them into working in a way that they weren’t used to working. So, because they wanted to get on with their work, they were going around it. Composing documents outside of the system, and saving them on their local machine or network share. Getting things done despite the fact that they were aware it was ‘the wrong way’.
Typically the way these meetings go is like this: Once it’s determined that people are doing it wrong, somebody insists that they need to start doing it right. And that it’s “Their Job” and they should “Do what they’re told” and then the meeting usually decays into “Change Management” and how best to force acceptance of a system that nobody really wants.
There are numerous problems at work here. The centralization of authority forces people to rebel. That happens all the time. There are probably other leadership issues, and poor planning, and issues of control. There’s a lack of willingness to admit defeat, or worse, good money thrown after bad. There are loads of other subtle personal and political issues that are also affecting the outcome. But you know what? The work is actually still being done. And it’s not like the workplace is ever going to be free of these problems — they’re part of human social behavior.
The whole time, while this conversation was playing out, I was thinking about Infovark, and how we are trying to solve this problem in such a completely different way.
Infovark encourages the user to do whatever works for them, and then publishes all the output (or lack of output) to their team. We don’t control “the process” at all. We simply measure the output and let folks figure out what works and what doesn’t. With an open and transparent system, the best methods ought to rise to the top. Why not let the best processes emerge as memes within an idea economy?
Is this irresponsible? Perhaps. Bad eggs could try to game the system. Clueless bosses could incentivize perverse behavior. And certainly, in some businesses, overall consistency might be more valuable than quality or efficiency.
But frankly, rigorous approaches to process control aren’t common in most businesses. It requires discipline and training to enforce strict guidelines. It costs time and money.
The Strict Process Control approach to productivity and efficiency might make sense from an academic or manufacturing perspective. But nothing pollutes a good process like a bunch of humans. Now, where do I put this index card again?