Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Company Wide Process Definition [Chris Bryant]

So, you have a small company that has grown from a startup with nice growth over the last few years. Now suddenly you are beginning to feel like you are losing touch with what is going on. You don’t know what is happening with customers. You hear about issues but can’t track down the history of how they came up. You’ve hired several new people in various departments but they don’t know what to do and are causing problems by doing the wrong thing or aren’t getting the right things done. You absolutely need to hire a dozen new people for various departments but are afraid that you’ll just end up with more people running around not knowing what to do or spending all their time trying to find out whom to ask the right questions of.

You are questioning what customers are buying what and what the prospects are for the next quarter. However, your head of Sales and Marketing are both traveling or out sick and can’t be contacted. Your field service techs are spending all their time putting out fires instead of helping with new installations.

You are looking at absolutely needing to get your next version of a product or a new product underway but the “indispensable” person that knows how everything is put together just left for a competitor.

Any of these sound familiar? If not, they may soon…

Congratulations, your startup is successful and is now evolving from a single department into an organization with multiple departments and multiple responsibilities. How do you facilitate communications? How do you determine what’s going on? How do you avoid the trap of the indispensable” employee?

The answer is complex but primarily involves determining how your company operates. In one word: PROCESS

Many view process as a straight jacket that large companies use to inhibit free thinking and keep the company from changing. It’s the primary source of red tape to keep things running in well worn ruts. Unfortunately this is true in many companies.

Process is neither an end product nor a tool. It is a skeleton used to facilitate communication and capture of critical company information. It is the framework on which tools and company interactions are hung. It should never be an inhibitor and must always be an enabler. It needs to be constantly reviewed and adapted as your company changes.

A company process is by no means simple. At the highest view it should be simple enough to be contained on a single sheet of paper. This would be a company model that shows clearly what your customer and supplier interactions are and who and when communication occurs. This outlines the scope of the company and how its products and/or services are created, sold, delivered and serviced. This really involves creating a model of the company. This should never be an “ideal” model as it must reflect how things are really done instead of how they should be done. However, while creating this model all the “it would be nice if” and “we could do better if” comments should be recorded. Also, when creating this model, talk with the people actually doing the work in addition to the department leads. It is the people in the trenches that often know more about how things are really done. Not to say that a manager is clueless. Far from it, however the undocumented steps and “just in case” things to do are often viewed as not important enough to mention. This allows you to capture those little details that have been painstakingly learned over time but are not obvious to new employees. This will enable each new employee from repeating the same mistakes and “learning the hard way”.

Determine how and what information is captured at the various interaction points. The view is to make this information capture as easy and adaptable as possible. If it is ever viewed as too complex, customers will be encouraged to weigh the effort of interaction against the possible gain and unless the gain far outweighs the effort, they won’t bother. Also, procedures that aren’t followed are far worse than no procedure at all. Even cursory information about a prospect or issue can be followed up on. However, if the potential customer or issue information is never captured then it is less than worthless as it could have cost you a customer.

Next is to drill down internally on what departments/organizations are responsible for what. This should model what is currently done as well as what information they really need and how it is currently captured, if at all. The view here is to begin to look for easy improvements that could facilitate communications, data flow, and information capture. Again, the goal is to determine how to facilitate each person’s job and eliminate redundancies and source of miscommunications. This section of the model also provides a necessary framework on which training for new employees can be created.

At this point you have a basic model of how things currently are done; now the real work begins to look at how to optimize interactions between departments to make sure that required artifacts are captured and necessary information is available.


Chris Bryant has extensive experience in managing software development teams as well as in general business operation. He has held numerous governing board positions from Treasurer to Chairman. He has a Masters in Computer Engineering from Santa Clajavascript:void(0)ra University and has dealt with hardware, firmware, applications, GUI and overall product design.