Part of the efficiency of a company relies on the efficiency of its processes. Ideally, these processes are defined by identifying external actors (customers, providers, …) then by analysing the interaction between these actors and the company (business processes) and finally by defining how these interactions are managed and supported internally by the company (internal actors, processes and roles).
This last point is crucial; having well defined and designed processes is only addressing half of the overall equation, the solution is only complete (effective and efficient) when these processes are properly operated internally by human and/or system actors.
In a previous article entitled ‘gaps in processes’ I highlighted the fact that unforeseen events (exceptions) are mainly resolved by human actors accepting to address them by temporarily exceeding the strict boundaries of their assigned role, and consequently that a company culture encouraging initiatives is essential for proper processes exceptions handling.
If initiative is key for the management of exceptions, complementarily, the normal operation of processes requires precisely defined roles that each process actor – employee or system – has to endorse to carry out efficiently all processes tasks. But what happens when roles are not sufficiently detailed ?
One potential side effect is that employees have the natural tendency to reshape their assigned role(s) as they see fit from their own stand point. This may lead to the creation of gaps and overlaps of responsibilities hampering the normal processes operation; who does what becomes less clear and the gap between the definition of the processes and the reality of their application increases.
The gap between the design and the actual functioning of a system, a process in this case, is often a fertile ground for anti-patterns. Individuals facing the reality of the application of a process have no choice but to compensate for that gap in a way or another but unfortunately rarely in a structured, concerted or documented way.
Detecting and addressing “reality” gaps is consequently a key point to improvement. The ‘detection’ side requires some feedback loop to be put in place; monitoring, audit, KPI’s measurements. The ‘addressing’ side is more complex as it highly depends on specific causes and context of gaps creation. For example regarding efficient process management we have seen that:
- Exception handling requires to (see ‘gaps in processes’):
- Promote an initiative culture
- Allow employees to temporarily exceed their role boundaries
- Normal process operations requires to:
- Properly define roles
- Not allowing employees to exceed their assigned role boundaries
So must a company strictly constrain employees to their roles or not ? This example shows that adopting a single attitude for all occasions is not suitable and that variable circumstances require different tactics.
A monolithic company culture favouring one or the other attitude can prove to be globally counterproductive. Unfortunately this is quite often the case because the impact of the culture on the overall efficiency of the company (costs, delays, quality) is rarely grasped to its full extent. This is partly due to its intangible aspects (see ‘the shadow of the enterprise‘) but also to the fact that the company culture is rarely recognised as a central management parameter that must be tuned to match a specific context needs.