Why Process Models are ImportantJanette Toral
Have you been in a situation where you have developed an excellent product but afraid that you may not be able to replicate it with the same precision?
Have you ever hesitated to train or coach your employees for fear of losing them anyway?
Have you felt inadequate keeping up with technology and wondered if there is an end to it?
What you have experienced are just some of the biggest fears that most businesses face in this fast pace, ever changing, highly competitive world:
- Poor quality
- High employee turnover
- Coping with technology change
- Run away cost
- Delayed delivery
As business owners, I think the first questions that we should ask ourselves is, What separate us from the rest of other businesses offering the same product or service? To me the answers are– quality, cost, and timeliness. That is right all three of them. Customers are no longer satisfied with just two. They want all three – high quality, low cost, and on time delivery.
Given that things around us are constantly changing, as business owners we need to step back and assess what it is that we can control. If we cannot control our employee turnover or if we cannot control the increase in material cost, we should be able to control at least the processes that we use in creating our goods and services.
Just as every company has to have a mission to keep them focused on what they need to achieve, every company should have process models to produce goods and services that satisfy the criteria of quality, cost, and timeliness.
How do we achieve all that? First just like blue prints, processes need to be documented so they can be remembered and they can be repeated with certainty until they become second nature to the people doing them. Then they need to be reviewed, for further improvements and to take advantage of technology advances, etc. However, if you need to change them make sure you have very good reasons. By nature people has aversion to constant change. A process will not mature or “institutionalized” if you keep changing it.
Sounds like an assembly line. Not quite, because products and services are not always created out of a mold. Some require more thought process and creativity. It is for these reasons that process models play an important role. To ensure that despite the creativity that people put into their work, clients can still expect the same high quality consistently each time.
Although Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) is written for the software engineering industry but the following key process areas (KPA) used in this discipline are applicable to any industry:
- Requirements Management – If you have a new contract or an existing one make sure that, you capture the requirements and specifications correctly. You need a process that will ensure you do them right each time. There is nothing more suicidal than developing a product for the wrong requirements and specifications.
- Project Planning and Tracking – whatever industry you are in you need to be able to plan, control, and keep track of your projects. Otherwise, project overruns will run you out of business.
- Quality Assurance – You will need this to make sure you produce high quality product or service each time. What assures that you are developing something to the satisfaction of your customer? What are your processes in place to ensure that?
- Configuration Management – What makes you sure that when you wanted to change something, you are actually changing what you are supposed to change and not something else. When you want to release a new product, are you actually releasing the correct version that has gone through QA and not an older or newer one that has not been proven to work yet?
- Subcontract Management – what do you do each time you subcontract a job? Do you leave yourself at the mercy of the contractor? Although legal help is necessary at times but you cannot be going to an attorney, each time or your legal bills will sky rocket.
Process models are nothing but documented steps that allow you to repeat the same work repeatedly with the same precision and predictability. This way, your employees are not doing it “from the seat of their pants” each time. This way, even if employees come and go, you have a consistent way of producing your products. In other words, you are not constantly reinventing the wheel. Even if you have to train new employees, you are training them from a proven documented process not from some failing memory.
What do you do currently no not have documented processes for any of the above? It is OK. It is never too late to create one.
Start with one key process area – your most vulnerable area. Plan it out thoroughly. The simplest way to document your plan is to put your thoughts on a flow chart. Yes, good old flow chart is still effective anywhere, anytime. Nothing fancy –rectangular boxes to represent steps, line and arrows to represent relationships.
Start with the high-level steps, this way you do not lose sight of the big picture. Once you have the high-level steps established, explode each high level step into further details. Keep reviewing and revising until you are comfortable with your high level and detail flow chart. As you try to streamline your process you can start describing each step just enough to make it understandable without confusing or misleading anyone. You do not need lengthy documentation that will turn off rather than encourage anyone to read and follow.
Then execute according to documented process. During execution, if something does not make sense, refine your process right there but make sure to reflect such change in your documented process. If you keep doing your work according to this documented process repeatedly and have been satisfied with the result each time then you could say your process is institutionalized. You should always be open to improvements to take advantage of new tools, techniques that will help bring down cost. However, as I said earlier, be careful of constantly changing your process. If you do need to change always try to get the buy in of the people who will actually do the job.
In conclusion, we develop and adhere to process models or standards not because our clients ask for them but because they are essential for our own business survival and growth. Our clients will always expect high quality, low cost, and timely delivery regardless of what models or standards we use.