Why “Process” has a Bad Rap…

In the 90s and early 2000s there was a rediscovery of “process” and it’s power to drive and systematize progress. Championed by the likes of Dr Michael Hammer (MIT) it was extracted from its deep roots in manufacturing and applied to the optimization of every conceivable part of business. Of the many distinguished members of the “management silver bullet family,” this definitely became one of the stronger siblings.

Picture-31The “process frenzy” that followed produced mixed results. On one hand, indisputable gains in terms of quality, efficiency, scalability, etc. On the other, a “people experience” often very negatively characterized by restriction, complexity and reduced autonomy. This was especially amplified by the rebirth of entrepreneurship and innovation as a “counter-force” that receives some of the credit for the economic recovery after the collapse in the late 2000s. The following became the most popular criticisms of “process.”

  • Inhibits creativity…creativity and innovation happen when we mentally “jump the tracks,” so you can imagine what happens when there’s so many rules that make you stay “on the track”
  • Inhibits flexibility…similar to the above, in an ever-changing environment, restricting options or capability to respond could be the difference between life and death. In many cases, the strands of rope so carefully braided together to pull the company forward, becomes the noose it hangs itself on.
  • Slows things down…when it becomes all about “checking the boxes” and going through the motions significant energy and time is expended just to navigate the process. Rather than working on outcomes and results, valuable time is wasted just navigating the maze.
  • Makes things complicated…while the initial version of the process may have made sense for a given scenario, so many layers have since been added to account for all the possible variables, we now find ourselves caught in the anecdotal web of forms & templates, committees, multiple levels of approvals and sign offs…all symptoms of bureaucratic complexity.

There’s no doubt we’ve experienced the above in some form or another (..and have battle wounds to show for it). So, what do we do now? Is it time to “demote” the concept of “process” or jettison it all together? Can it find some sort of redemption by being properly repositioned?

It’s a provocative and loaded topic begging for leaders like you to weigh in. I’d like to hear your thoughts…(and will share mine as well).

Picture: www.consultnetworx.com

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  1. It pains me to see process getting dragged through the mud because processes truly are ‘the way things get done’! It’s also sad that we can’t hear ‘the master’ Michael Hammer weigh in on this topic. Based on my (insufficient) times hearing him speak, I think he’d be disappointed with the game of ‘pin the blame on the process’.

    Process definitely could benefit from a repositioning. It’s true that EVERYTHING doesn’t have to be squeezed into the process mold. There’s value in doing things the same way every time (Chipotle seems to be doing OK replicating their model…) but employees also need to have the freedom to circumvent the process on a limited basis. This takes advantage of their individual abilities and creativity while also maintaining the benefits of process.

    I think that companies are frightened to allow this kind of flexibility (employees deciding how and when to circumvent the process) because they can’t predict what will happen…and that’s exactly what companies need to be successful in today’s competitive market. A little uncertainty can go a long way!

    1. Thanks Kenneth for your comment. Totally agree with you that “process” is getting an unfair shake. However, as any other concept taken to its extreme, I think it became detached from its purpose, an “end to itself” and sold as a panacea for everything. Repositioning it to its proper role and connecting it to other critical elements in the “chain of change” (goals, vision, strategy, people, etc.) can hopefully restore it to its rightful place.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! JM