THE DEVILS IN THE DETAILS!
By: E.D. Johnson, J-E-T-S
Copyright © 1997, Printed in Quality Management Forum in 1997, reprinted in Gillette Company Quality Forum in 1998. Do not reproduce without permission.
The famed architect Miles Van der Rhoe once exclaimed that "God is in the details!" In our businesses, it more often seems that the Devil is the one whos in the details!
With the complexity and speed required of modern organizations, it is often difficult to know exactly how we do business, specifically how we operate within our organizations. Does that statement shock you or amuse you? Are you confident that you do, indeed, know how your organization does its day to day business? And, if you arent exactly sure about the specifics of a particular process, would you feel quite comfortable relying on your companys operating procedures for clarification and understanding? Perhaps not? Well, many organizations face the same vulnerabilities. In the remainder of this article, we are going to explore key foundations for this vulnerability and five strategies for ensuring sound process management.
Through process reengineering, continuous process improvement, benchmarking, and other process management techniques, many organizations are attempting to achieve real, measurable improvements in their business processes. As these organizations move toward process improvement, they are frequently frustrated with their results. They have invested significantly in process analysis and design; workers are organized into motivated, self-directed teams. Procedures, processing guidelines, and other sources of process knowledge seem to be streamlined, thorough, and clearly documented. Yet, there continue to be backlogs, exception items, and general pockets of confusion and inefficiency in the workplace. Whats going wrong? The Devils in the Details
As we explore this vulnerability, lets return momentarily to the basic fundamentals of business processing. A business process is the specific group of tasks which comprise the achievement of a product or service that is of value to a customer. But, the reality of business processes is that they are comprised of all the things all workers do, all day long, every day. The Devils in these Details!
All workers are not equally skilled, nor do they always work in a clearly defined work unit. Employees may work on a single process or may move from process to process throughout the day. They may refer to detailed procedures, or they may have gained their job understandings from informal on-the-job training. They may follow procedures closely, or they may regard much of their work as unique or exception items. Their processing guidelines might not address the reality of the work they see, so that much work really does require exception handling. All employees working on the same process may accomplish the work in the same manner, or they may not. In fact, some employees might have been doing a job so long, they feel they do not need or trust procedures. Thus, it is folly to assume that even very good, "best practice" procedures can guarantee an effective process will be consistently executed in a quality fashion. After all, the Devils in the Details!
Many organizations are approaching business process improvements with an assumption that reengineered, total quality managed, continuously improved processes will provide the economies and quality/service improvements they seek. Certainly these tools, well developed and well utilized, represent a foundation for process improvement. But remember, the reality of business processes is that they are comprised of all the things all workers do, all day long, every day. What workers do all day long constitutes the details of the business processes. And managing these details is where many organizations go astray. Unfortunately, the Devils in the Details!
Following are five key strategies of process management that will sustain real processing excellence.
The reality of the business operation is the reality of all the things workers do, all day long, every day. It is that reality, and the relentless attention to these details, which will drive organization results. After all, the Devils in the Details! Even with the current emphasis on processing improvements, it is important to remember that procedures, workflows, and other processing guidelines do not always truly reflect the way an organization operates. We cannot permit ourselves to feel comfortable solely with documented procedures and processes. Deliberate steps are needed to ensure that all levels of workers understand the requirements, intent, and consequences of work processes. Effective processes must then incorporate worker feedback, accommodate the reality of what happens at the workers desks, and manage that reality to achieve improved operating results.
The Devils in the Details! Good luck!
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