By Ivan Seseji, CEO, Promapp
Procedures documents don’t work. That may not come as a surprise to most business executives, yet for many organizations, while process improvement methodologies and techniques have made giant leaps forward over the past few decades, the way they communicate and manage their processes hasn’t changed much, if at all.
For many businesses, key organizational knowledge and processes are still stored and shared in Word documents or spreadsheets, many of which have been stored away in dusty file cabinets. Why is that an issue? Workers who are used to rapidly accessing information through user-friendly tools like Google are unlikely to engage with static, outdated documents – if they can even find them.
Using Microsoft Office tools to manage process knowledge falls short on six fundamental process management requirements.
- A good user experience: Complex flowcharts, pages of text, and data that’s difficult to understand – all typical of technical process and procedure documents – do not provide a positive or engaging experience for business users. Word documents aren’t easy to search, update, or access remotely. Teams, especially millennials, are likely to be frustrated by the limited functionality and accessibility of word or Visio based process documents compared to the simple, user-friendly tools they use in every other aspect of their lives.
- Easy to create, impossible to manage: While it can be easy to create a document using Word, the process falls apart when it comes to making changes and edits. Making a simple change to a process might require searching for and updating numerous documents (a form, a process map, more detailed work instructions etc.). These documents are often stored in multiple locations, including the company intranet and individual staff computers, making it challenging to find and update them all.
- Notification of changes: Change management is critical to effective process management. Teams must have access to accurate and up-to-date process information. It’s important to be able to quickly communicate any updates or changes to processes. Static procedure documents make notifying staff of changes and ensuring they are using the most current version of a process very difficult. Team members should have access to a personal dashboard that includes process change notifications that are relevant to them.
- Dynamic process content: What happens if a job title or training document that appears in multiple processes needs to change? With static documents, these changes mean a lot of time spent hunting through numerous documents to find and update the impacted processes. Many process owners just don’t bother with this because they regard it as a non-value-adding administrative activity.
- Finding and using key information: Process guidance isn’t helpful unless it’s simple and accessible. That’s why search, tracking, reporting, and analytics are an expected part of process management tools. Because static documents don’t come with these functions, it can be very time consuming to answer even simple questions about your processes: How many process documents do we have? How many documents are out of date? When were these last updated?
- Process ownership: After a procedures document has been written, it’s often considered “finished.” Nobody touches it again.This is an issue because a healthy process improvement culture depends on process owners stepping up and taking responsibility. Without clear process ownership, procedure documents often won’t be updated – even when the actual process has already changed in practice. And if teams don’t feel they own their processes, their belief that they have a right to change their processes will be limited.
Bottom line: For an organization to survive and thrive in the 21st century, process management must be brought up to 21st century standards. Organizations should consider five key factors that are at the heart of creating a successful, sustainable approach to process management.
First, visible leadership and buy-in from senior management is essential for business process improvement and innovation to become a reality. Before even thinking about which process management solution might be right for an organization, make certain any changes will be actively supported by senior leadership.
Next, recognize that process information needs to be engaging, user-friendly, and useful. Processes should be laid out in simple steps, with more detail available as needed. (A good test for ease of use is whether users can read and understand high level process information in less than 30 seconds.)
The ability to access information when and where users need it is also important. If information is available where teams already are, within tools they already use, it will become part of their daily routines rather than just another task they have to perform. Process knowledge should be easy to access and share via the company intranet, or through the software programs already in use. A personalized dashboard for each user can also make it easy for them to see the processes they use every day. Even better if this view includes when the processes were last updated.
It’s important to recognize that process information is only useful if it really reflects what happens on the ground. That’s why team members at a variety of levels should have ownership of their processes. The process owner is responsible for changing and improving their processes to keep them relevant and up to date. And because most processes are used by multiple people across the business, it needs to be easy for other team members to give feedback and suggest changes.
Finally, because managing change is one of the biggest challenges of process management, a process management approach that makes change management fast and simple should be adopted. It needs to be easy to edit processes and make all stakeholders aware of any relevant process changes.
Giving teams access to clear, engaging, accessible process knowledge can make a huge difference to the way your business performs, to staff engagement and to employees’ potential to drive improvement and innovation. Procedures documents won’t do that.
Ivan Seselj is CEO of Promapp Solutions, an industry leading provider of cloud-based process management (BPM) software for creating and managing business processes online. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @Ivanseselj. You can visit Promapp at www.promapp.com.