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Processes; are they rigid or adaptable?

Sometimes it is claimed that business processes are rigid, which is an argument for not working on your processes. Is this so, or is it not the case that processes are adaptable?

As I see it, the answer is “it probably depends”.

On what? Well, what you do with the processes once you have developed them and what activities they contain. In a previous mailing, I reviewed whether the processes are alive or dead. To make sure we have living processes, we have to use them too. Otherwise, they’re as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.

So we assume that you are really working from the processes that you have developed. To ensure that you also have adaptable processes, you need to actively work with process management. If you do so according to all the rules of the art, it is natural to constantly improve them.

In its simplest form, we can say that the management of a process follows the so-called Deming circle; Plan – Do – Check – Act (PDCA). The words “check” and “act” mean that the process is continually adapted to improve.

If we continuously measure and monitor how the process is working and improve it, then the process is very flexible. It is constantly adapting to changing needs and to what we who work with it think should be improved. And as I usually say when I help organisations develop their processes, “everything can be changed”.

It’s better that we create something initially and then run with it, and then evaluate and adapt.

This is in contrast to constantly trying to create the perfect process to be deployed at the perfect time. Unfortunately, there is neither, so it is important to start something and then improve. As they say in English; “better done than perfect”.

We need to make sure that the process is adaptable, which means that if we made some change last month that we saw as an improvement, and it now turns out not to be so successful. Well, then we change back, or we improve in some other direction. The important thing is that we constantly adapt and try things out. We are flexible, which makes the processes adaptable over time.

Moving on to rigidity, it may actually have its place too. When we run our process, we may actively choose to have certain parts of the process as particularly guiding. It may be that in our process we have things that just have to ensure that they are done in a certain way, and that can be perceived as rigid. The reason may be that we have specific quality or safety requirements that require us to work in a fixed way, without exceptions. We may not get away from that.

What distinguishes self-chosen rigidity from involuntary rigidity is that we do not actively manage our processes. This is crucial to whether or not we as employees find the process fun to work in. We can put up with self-selected rigidity.

How do you experience your processes? Do you actively manage them and develop them on an ongoing basis? Or are they involuntarily rigid?