Posted on March 12, 2012, 06:38 am, by Chris York, under Home Center
…and just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.
-Jonathan Ives (Chief designer at Apple) talking about Steve Jobs and his views on the fragility of Ideas.
For many years, we have focused on the three legged stool of People, Process, and Technology. I have heard many people talk about the order of these things, myself included, suggesting that people come first, and technology last. Recently I have come to question this logic. My new thought is that process and technology shouldn’t be the focus at all.
I believe that our obsessive focus on processes is limiting us from reaching greatness. By following a process, we are simply executing on someone else’s idea of what the correct way, and the correct order is to perform a set of activities. We are following a script that some consultant has built in a bubble (I know, I've done it)
We have seen technology evolve to a point where anyone from small children to senior citizens can use it seamlessly. The complex technology is present, but has been hidden in simple, intuitive interfaces that make it almost invisible. So while technology is important, it is not a focal point anymore. It has become a necessary part of everything and is intertwined in how we live, work, and play. It is a given that it must be there, but almost invisible. We have come to expect it that way.
Likewise, creating standard process, following that process, and continually improving that process is also important. Just not as often, and in as many areas, as we tend to put the emphasis. As a self described process geek, this is difficult for me to say out loud. I have spent a great deal of time, energy, and money learning about process. I have studied Lean, Six Sigma, ITIL, The Theory of Constraints, and many other process focused areas. I have read dozens of books, thousands of web articles, attended many conferences and seminars trying to learn to be a process thinker. However, I am not convinced this is the complete solution.
In a Product Manufacturing environment, it is obvious that this is what is needed. This theory has been proven and the quality of production has greatly increased since our focus on operational excellence and quality improvement.
However in the modern workplace of knowledge workers, I believe a focus on process is the wrong approach.
All of the things that go along with process help to limit us. Things like our desire to control, govern, and measure.
Here is one example: The Service Desk. By putting policies in place that we think will provide good service, we limit the potential of excellent service. We want to focus on measuring activities, and following process perfectly each and every time, following precise scripts that have been so carefully written to provide good service. I have seen organizations try to limit call times, limit the amount of escalations, limit technologies, limit methods of communication, etc. The only thing this limits, is the potential for greatness. By doing this we force all of the Service Desk agents to be the same. It doesn’t matter who you talk to because in theory you will get the same results. Yes, this provides consistency, but it is consistently mediocre.
Each of us is unique and offers unique strengths and talents to help the company with its goals. We were all hired for a reason. As knowledge workers, it is unrealistic to expect that we all follow the same process and set of work instructions to get a task done. Why hire someone for their creativity and people skills, but then put them in a box and prevent them from exercising that very same creativity that attracted you to them in the first place.
So instead of focusing on People, Process, and Technology, let us shift our thinking and focus on things where we have real influence.
Stephen Covey, one of my favorite authors and a brilliant mind, speaks a lot about the Circle of Concern versus the Circle of Influence. We need to stop spending effort on things that we have no influence on.
We have no real influence on the devices that people will use to do their job. Hence the newly invented “BYOD” movement that IT has in its typical fashion created a new acronym for and created a debate that has already been decided (by the users). The non-IT people have no idea what we are talking about when we say Bring your Own Device. For them it’s just about using the best tools to get the job done. Who provides those tools doesn’t matter. This is a temporary problem because ultimately IT will lose the battle for control. The cat is out of the bag and it is not coming back in. BYOD will naturally progress to software in the form of Software as a Service, and any other technology that IT tries to control. The tools we use to do our jobs will be sourced from all over the place. IT will not have any control over this. It’s time to let go.
We have no real influence on peoples attention and the amount of value that is created within a given amount of time. It’s time to stop pretending that each hour of work is the same value. We all know that in any given duration of time there are moments where we create a lot of value and there are moments where we don’t create anything. Stop tracking time. Stop requiring employees to work certain hours, or certain places. Focus on the value that is being produced by each person individually.
We have no real influence on whether or not people follow process. People are smart and creative. They will find ways around process that they feel is prohibiting them. Instead of measuring whether or not the process is being followed, measure the value that they are creating. I recently read about Zappos and the fact that they don’t care how long each customer service call takes. In fact they were boasting about the great length of their calls and the fact that the longer the call the better. (sorry, I can’t find the link to share. I will keep searching). Their view was that when their employees were on the phone with customers, they had their attention. The longer they spoke to them the better because they can influence them in a positive way.
What would happen to Zappos' reputation for Customer Service if they tried to institute standard processes and scripts for their agents to follow? If they had a time limit on the call and had to escalate it after X amount of time. My guess is that service would suffer.
This same example could be made for Incident Management, Problem Management, and many other ITSM Process areas where we have tried to force IT staff into doing it exactly the same each and every time.
In a Process focused environment, not following the process is frowned upon. If someone had a brilliant idea that didn't follow the process, it would be prohibited. The Governance police would smack it down. This is one reason why I have been attracted to Lean lately. Lean has built into the power and authority for the front line to be able teo shut down the assembly line if they see a problem. The can have Kaizen events (process improvement) at a very localized level and initiated by a single user that sees a better way.
I am certainly not endorsing a wild-wild-west cowboy society where everyone can do whatever they want. However, if everyone understands the goals of the organization, and they understand the boundaries, they should be free to work in whatever manner they see fit. Work where you want, when you want, and with whatever technology you want to get the job done. Don’t follow a prescribed process, but follow core principles that have been identified as important.