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This article is part of an ongoing series. See the blog entry Delivering Your Enterprise: The ilities for an overall discussion.

Process. It’s wonderful for the people who define it and somewhere along the spectrum of obnoxious, confusing, and comforting for those who have to use it.

I like the Merriam-Webster short definition of process:

  • a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result
  • a series of changes that happen naturally
  • (medical) something that sticks out of something else

If you’ve ever had to help a disorganized organization deal with process, all three definitions come into play:

  • a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result – Sometimes the existing processes produce what the organization actually wants, but not as often as they’d hope. That’s probably why you’ve been brought in to help; the processes need to produce consistent results across the organization.
  • a series of changes that happen naturally – Organizational processes, unless carefully managed, tend to grow and morph without end. And since the people involved are so close to the problem, and the changes have been so gradual, it may take you a long time to discover the real process in all its gory details.
  • (medical) something that sticks out of something else – With the “natural” growth of processes, you get one process triggering another that triggers another… except for odd Tuesdays that don’t fall on the 31st of the month. These variances can be due to real needs, lack of control or planning, or simply organizational folklore.

Another aspect of the first definition often escapes IT folks: the series of actions may not need to be done in order. Those of us that have a programming background tend to be linear thinkers, expecting step one is always done before step two. In reality, the only ordering constraint on the process may be that steps 1-9 are completed sometime before step 10 can start (that is, all 9 steps can be done in parallel). Our unconscious assumptions about ordering drives non-linear thinkers nuts, just as linear thinkers question the organizational skills of non-linear thinkers.

When it comes to delivering your enterprise, it’s all about processes, including

  • business process
  • user interface process
  • content publication process
  • development process
  • deployment process
  • change process
  • quality assurance process
  • planning process
  • tracking process
  • scheduling process
  • financial process
  • manual process

I included manual process because it’s often neglected. It’s our job, after all, to take processes and put them on the computer where (we think) we can control them. But does that always make sense? Let’s suppose your organization has a manual process that’s performed twice a year and takes a full day each time. Does it make financial sense (both in direct budget and opportunity cost) to spend six weeks automating this process? Perhaps if there are other tangible benefits, but probably not. So make reasoned decisions like this, and you’ll find your CIO and CEO are a lot more open to your other requests.

Once you’ve decided to get more organized, you really need a process for process. Feel free to spend the next few days or weeks on the Internet researching every author’s nuances on dealing with process. What it really comes down to, however, are four key ingredients:

  • Discover
  • Plan
  • Implement
  • Measure and improve

Include all these ingredients in your process for process and you’ll be successful. Unfortunately, the first and last ingredients are often slighted because they require dealing with our fellow human beings. The Discover ingredient is vital because you need to understand the rationale behind what you’re implementing. This might allow you to shave six months off your project, since the VP that absolutely needed that complicated report has left the company. And likewise, if you neglect the Measure and improve ingredient, you’ll never find out that you can cut out steps, reducing your process time from a week to half a day. So don’t skimp. You’ll save time by doing things right the first time.

So what should you take away from this discussion on process?

  • You (and your organization) need it
  • It’s a human-involved activity, even if all of it runs on a machine
  • If you’re going to make the effort, do it right

Thanks for listening!

The Series

For other entries in this series, see:

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