Thursday, 6 May 2010

Process Engineering - The Rarest Kind of Common Sense


Process Engineering is one of those management phrases which can make the eyes glaze over and your thoughts turn to chocolate - or murder.

But really, the concept is nothing more than common sense (you know - that stuff you seldom see). At its heart, process engineering is these three steps:
  1. Why are we here? What is our purpose?
  2. How do we currently do that?
  3. Can we do it better?
- and that is at the heart of all good management.

But in my experience as a business consultant, it's rare. Why? Well it's not too hard to understand:
  • People are on the treadmill, fighting to keep their heads above water, they're in fire-fighting mode, running on alligator heads. Choose your own metaphor - but they're just too busy doing what they must - to step back and look at how they do what they do.
  • People are oddly ACCEPTING of the status quo. They may not even SEE IT. I don't know why, but I've never been this way. The inefficiencies endemic in the world have always jumped up and waved at me. And I've always had a burning urge to wade in and fix stuff. Seldom a route to popularity in the queue for coffee at Starbucks. When I worked at Texas Instruments I was so fed up with how poor their IT support people were that I was a regular complainer. My boss - smart man - put me in charge of it! We turned it around. We did so well in the UK, that we took the formula to America and India and fixed those too. The failure mechanisms and their solutions - were all the same, despite massive cultural differences. But enough about me. Most folks just accept that "we do it this way because this is the way that we do it".
  • People are PROTECTIVE of the status quo. When you point out that the way things are done may not be the best way, people become defensive. They see a threat. This is about fear of change, fear of invasion and protection of ego. Even if you show them a better way, they'll resist - often in a hostile way, and if you have positional power and try to enforce the changes, these same people will find a way to make your changes fail and then they'll say they told you so.
In the face of these pressures, many managers back out pretty quickly, and in this world, new ideas come and go as flavour of the month, but real permanent change for the better never happens. These organisations are brittle and over time the changing world around them will leave them for dead.

The UK's industrial history is littered with the relics of exactly this failure mechanism. With increasing globalisation, it becomes important to compete on a global scale. Maybe you can make a good living if you're the best bread maker in Rochdale, but being the best search engine in Rochdale will get  you laughed at - you'll need to beat Google to survive.

So what do you do then? The pressures are not going to go away. If you're charged with making things better in an organisation, how do you make it happen without causing injury or mass resignations, destroying morale and burning yourself out?

That's one of the big things I can help you with in your business. Every business is different and so is every solution, but there are many common themes. It has to be a journey, but in some cases, it might take just an hour if you do it right. IN other cases, it'll be months.

If you wonder if your organisation is as lean, as efficient, as profitable, as happy, as GOOD as it can be, then you're already thinking along the right lines.

I can help you and your company with process engineering. Why not book an initial 20-minute session to explore your options with me? It's only a tenner!

Oh, and this is why working with me is so much better than conventional training.