Many processes are like zombies. They wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, take the train ride to work and start working. For four hours they check their emails, put of fires and curse the work they do. Then, luckily, it’s time for a lunch break. Grab something to eat, read the latest news, check Facebook and feel already sad to go back to afternoon session at work. Head to office, work for four more hours, take train to home and watch TV until before going to sleep. This sounds almost like a recap of old movie called Trainspotting. There’s no beat in their lives. There’s no passion or drive! Maybe you are thinking already that I was talking about people and not about processes? Perhaps, perhaps… My question to you is that how can you make sure your business is not run by such zombie processes?
“Living Process” is a term that means many things to many different people. Probably it doesn’t mean anything to some people either. How deep philosophical discussion do we want to have? Can processes be alive? Can processes be? I still remember those sweat pearls forming to my forehead while doing the philosophy exams as part of my doctorate studies. I’m not going to be so cruel and put you through the same pain… You’re welcome!
NLP has a term “the map is not the territory”. Basically it means that individual people do not have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality. So, reality is what we believe it to be. Same way processes may not be the reality of things occurring in real-life. Just to make sure we talk about same things when we talk about processes, I mean with processes all the work that is done in an organization to produce successful customer outcomes (i.e. value to customers). You can map the processes, i.e. how the work is done. You can optimize processes, i.e. how people work. In the same way as process maps may not represent reality accurately, organizational charts may not represent the power base of a company (in other than official sense).
Maybe if we tie all these things together and say that processes are all the work people do in the organizations to generate value to customers, processes become something that could be alive. They become the people who are behind the processes. Well, how about factories then? For example the car factories I have done several process projects for, have thousands of robots that are guided by software. When you look at those robots working, you could almost think that they are alive and working as part of a manufacturing process. But since those robots cannot think for themselves (at least today), my interpretation is that people behind those robots have made them alive through their programming and such efforts.
What happens if you take the people and robots out from the process? Is there a living process left? Personally I don’t think so. The lifeblood of processes are the actors of it. As you surely know, processes are the work to turn inputs into outputs (at least according to some definitions). I would like to think that processes are way to create outcomes. To enable something great to happen for our customers.
How can you know whether your processes are zombies, executing brainless tasks, or something living that creates positive energy in the world and makes this place better to live for all of us? Don’t worry; I won’t be going into any new age stuff or founding new BPM religions. But I will give you thoughts you can use to evaluate how alive your processes are.
Now, we have established that processes are formed of the work people do to create value. To see whether the processes are alive, we need to take it to its main components and see how those are doing. Let’s start from the employees. How are they doing in your organization? Do you hear a lot of complaints, gossips, bad will, sick leaves and such? Are people eager about the business you do and are they happy to come to work in the morning (even on Monday)? Is yes, then you may have that part of processes alive. If not, then you need to go back to your leadership and find the problems and to solve them.
The second main aspect of living processes is the work within the processes. People and machines execute those tasks, but it doesn’t mean that those tasks are living. Maybe they are relics left by the previous generation. Maybe they are something that was alive before the best before date, which passed years ago. There are many ways to kill good work: not to plan it properly, not to execute it properly, not to measure it properly, not to lead it properly and so on. To evaluate whether your work practices are alive, you need to first understand how they perform today against the customer needs and then plan how they should work. To make them living, they need to grow all the time to the direction of higher value and fit for purpose for customers.
That leads us to the most important aspect of living processes: the customers. Without customers your processes will be dead. Why? Because they have no purpose for life and that if something kills anyone. If you have a highly motivation purpose in your own life, you will go through the hard rock to make it happen. Same goes for processes and customers are the highly motivation purpose for them. If you are in a business world, then customers depart their money to get value from you, through your processes. If you work for government or non-profit organization, then your mission statement is the one, which should be aligned to add value to someone (maybe help hungry people or managers who lost their best years while running zombie processes).
As a summary, you can test whether your processes are living by evaluating how people, work and your customers are doing. These three cornerstones of living processes can help you to make some serious business results. We have seen double-digit improvements in revenue, profit, customer satisfaction and employee engagement through aligning these aspects. Don’t let your processes be zombies, but revive them through finding out what is the highest value your customers are seeking from your business and realize those desires through motivated employees having the best-in-class work practices. If you aim to reach the stars, you will at least land the moon and that’s not too bad!