OK. I admit it. I’m a process junkie. I see processes everywhere. I even see the process in developing these thoughts.
The root of this avocation is buried somewhere in my past experiences observing people trying to do a good job only to be stifled by well-intentioned but poorly thought-out and implemented practices. I also had a good helping of J. Edwards Deming’s Systems Thinking.
Along the way I picked up a certificate in HPT (Human Performance Technology) that provided great tools for analyzing why folks don’t perform well on their job.
Factoid: Research shows that 80% of performance problems have more to do with the performance environment than with the individual performer. But, when there’s a performance issue, management more often than not asks “what’s wrong with the individual?” rather than look at the factors external to the performer. Why is that? Do you think it might be because management created the environment and provided the resources, therefore “there couldn’t be anything wrong with them, right?”
I’m also a strong believer in work, plain and simple. Two of my greatest role models provided value until they died - very late in life. My Dad passed away at 80 and my uncle at 98. I’ll never forget my uncle saying, “I have to retire again one of these days.” I think he was 90 at the time.
As John Shook of the Lean Enterprise Institute said:
“Making things is in its essential nature a meaningful thing. It is among the most meaningful of the many ways we humans can choose to fill our time. Factory work – whether job shop or assembly line, carving picture frames or fabricating steering brackets – is a way we organize ourselves to make things. It is immensely rewarding, meaningful work. Or it can be if we choose. So, let’s make it so. Let’s elevate the work. Celebrate it. And, with that, let’s treat it – the work – with the deep respect it deserves. That applies to the lowly receptionist. Or the more respected surgeon. Or a street sweeper.” (http://www.lean.org/shook/DisplayObject.cfm?o=2999).
Several other “truths” I believe in:
So, what could be better than being a process junkie? A process improvement junkie, of course! In your more charitable moods you might also call be a process engineer, although I certainly don’t have the qualifications or degree that actual engineers (ME, CE, EE, etc.) earn. Incidentally, that “ME”, in addition to being a Mechanical Engineer, could also be a Metallurgical Engineer, as was my father.
In analyzing a performance situation, I usually follow the HPT model, developed by the ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement, www.ispi.org).
A complete analysis divides the factors affecting performance into two camps:
Those external to the worker and those internal to the worker.
This is where it gets interesting. Many of the environmental intangibles such as the organization systems (goals, job design, work flow, procedures) and incentives (compensation, meaningful work), and the tangible resources provided by the company (job aids, computers, office furniture, air conditioning), are often shown to be at the root of the issues.
These can be changed or improved upon regardless of who will be performing the task. For example, the person receives inferior raw materials to work with, does not receive correct materials in a timely manner or tools/ equipment are missing or broken.
The root could also relate to workflow, sequencing of tasks, allocation of work across individuals or work units, and so on. For example, turf battles between managers, lack of accountability for outcomes, illogical reporting relationships, or redundant, incomplete or illogical work process sequencing.
Information could also be at fault as in the ineffective exchange of data between people or between machines. For example, the person receives inferior, outdated or inaccurate information or the information is difficult to access.
The intrinsic-to-the-performer factors (internals) can be summarized as knowledge, intelligence, skills, capacity, emotional ability, internal motivation, training and physical attitudes. For example, the person doesn’t know how to perform a task or is confusing steps from one task with another task. A motivational factor may be that the person lacks feedback, has competing priorities or conflicting values. Also, there are wellness factors related to an employee’s physical or emotional well-being as they affect performance. For example, the person cannot focus on his/her work due to clinical depression, has missed a lot of workdays due to physical illness or cannot lift materials related to the job due to a weak back. Although the examples above seem to relate to factory or manufacturing scenarios, many are present in the information worker’s world.
In summary, I really enjoy process, process improvement and getting to the real issues impeding people from doing the good work they want to do.