From the Desk of Steve Colton
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Shouldn’t Tasks be Easier (the 2nd Time Around)?
Shouldn’t a task be “easier” the second time you do it?
Shouldn’t events become less “challenging” the more you encounter them?
Shouldn’t a series of tasks flow “smoother” when you repeat it over and over?
Well, “yes,” “yes” and “yes.” Unfortunately, it’s not automatic.
Back in the late 1990’s, my partner at the time, Peter Lenhardt, and I were immersed in process consulting. Focusing on administrative business processes, we preached process improvement and did a fair amount of new process design. One of the outcomes of all that work is that we developed a keen insight into the concept of “process maturity,” the capability of a process to adapt and improve over time.
One big lesson we learned is that before you can worry about process improvement or process optimization or any of that process maturity stuff, you must have a repeatable process. You have to do each task the same way every time. And the key to process repeatability is documentation. If you want to do something the same way time after time, you have to write it down.
Now don’t cringe. I know the word “documentation” has the power to make grown men cry, but what I’m about to describe is not some esoteric nirvana, it’s just common sense. Remember the goal is to avoid reinventing the wheel every time you tackle a task. Pete and I defined four levels of process documentation:
Level 1 Documentation
The first level of process documentation includes two elements:
• Identification of the business processes of interest, and
• Identification of the primary activities within each business process.
The business processes identified along with their subordinate activities are documented using flowcharts.
Level 2 Documentation
The second level of process documentation is the Activity Dictionary. The objective of the Activity Dictionary is to define, in some detail, the process attributes of each of the activities identified in the Level 1 Documentation. Note that at this level, the emphasis is still focused on what happens rather than on how it is done.
Level 3 Documentation
The third level of process documentation begins to address the “how” of the activity under analysis. It is called the Sequence of Events (SOE). The Sequence of Events documents the steps (who, what, when) needed to transform an input to the activity into an output.
Level 4 Documentation
The fourth level of process documentation is the Work Instructions. This level of documentation provides the details necessary to execute each of the tasks identified in the Sequence of Events. This level of documentation is tailored to the specific activity under analysis, but often includes one or more of the following:
• Detailed step-by-step instructions,
• Examples, case studies, and
• Forms, templates, worksheets.
Now I’m a firm believer that an example is worth a million words, so I want you to explore the process documentation I’ve posted here. This documentation is for a process that I personally execute once a year. I recommend that you jump to the second of the navigation menus on the left side and look at all four levels of documentation for one specific process (such as BP02-03).
This documentation has been a lifesaver for me. What I’ve done the past two years is print the Level 4 documents and use them as checklists as I work my way through this annual project. That’s just one idea.
Which leads me to this final thought. The structure Pete and I designed is certainly not the only way to document business processes. It is one way (albeit a fairly good way). Your challenge is to adopt some method of documentation and then use it. Remember, a task will be “easier” the second time around only if you write down how you did it.
November 20th, 2009