No process is perfect. On one hand, because it always implies a part of human intervention even when highly automated and on the second hand because sooner or later unforeseen events will occur.
This implies that the set of predefined tasks and responsibilities (roles) of persons and systems supporting these processes is inevitably incomplete because handling unforeseen events is by definition unforeseen. So how are these “exceptions” handled?
Firstly, exception resolution relies entirely on the attitude of the employees witnessing them and on their will to exceed the strict boundaries of the responsibilities initially assigned to them. Secondly, an appropriate governance and efficient process improvement methodology will allow the processes to be adapted so they can handle the unforeseen events in a foreseen fashion.
There is a balance to be respected between the maturity of processes, their completeness, and the strict observance by the employees of their roles as officially defined by the company. The more the process is mature the more the employees can remain strictly in the scope of their assigned role. The less the process is complete, the more the employees must be encouraged to some flexibility. This balance can only be found when the company is able to measure the maturity of its processes and if the company culture encourages employees to take initiatives.
A company cannot escape an improvement and rationalisation effort of its processes because they will have evolved along time (sometimes in an organic fashion) due to the company development, changes in products or services. The philosophy with which this rationalisation effort will be undertaken is crucial. For example in a highly automated industrial environment, processes are as precise and complete as possible in order to minimise human intervention, error rates and to maximise performance. In non-industrial environments, the automation level is less substantial and the human intervention more significant.
The as-is application of industrial methodologies to non industrial environments is not advisable. If it is nevertheless decided to do so, extreme caution will have to be taken by adapting the approach to the non-industrial environment characteristics. In such cases, some classical anti-patterns can be observed:
- Employees are strictly constrained to their official roles
- The rationalisation effort and role confinement are not simultaneous
- Employees are not involved in the rationalisation effort
This has the effect of decreasing the number of exceptions successfully handled and creates gaps in processes. These gaps will remain until the end of the rationalisation effort but can persist if employees are not involved. During this transition, the overall company ability to provide efficiently business value to the various business actors: customers, partners, … is hampered. The global effect may even be opposite to the initial goal.
In conclusion, a successful process rationalisation effort implies:
- Accepting the idea that no process is perfect
- Having the means to evaluate the maturity of processes
- Empowering employees
- A company culture encouraging initiative
- A proper governance
- A process rationalisation methodology adapted to your environment
- Addressing all these points simultaneously
Whatever the environment and its automation level, people make the difference.