Everything Is a Process

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.   – W. Edwards Deming

Before I learned anything about Six Sigma or Lean, I was simplifying processes and making them more efficient without realizing that it would eventually become something I do for a living. One example is as follows. (Please excuse my inner nerd.)

When I moved out on my own in my early 20s, I made coffee each morning before work – as many of us do. After a little while, I found that I made a slight change to my coffee making process.

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While this change does not seem significant to the naked eye, the example highlights a very basic Lean principle – eliminating waste – or in this case, stirring.

The act of stirring my coffee to mix in the cream and sugar is wasted effort because, as it turns out, brewing the coffee directly into a cup that already had cream and sugar in it effectively stirred the drink for me.

My upstream processes (things I do before making coffee) and downstream processes (things I do after making coffee) were also positively affected by this change. Upstream, I did not have to make sure a clean spoon or other utensil was available. Downstream, I did not have to clean the spoon, and I also did not risk any potential coffee drips as I transferred the used spoon from my coffee cup to the sink.

In this example, I may have saved only seconds in a very low-risk situation. (And how excited that made me feel!) But imagine if everyone thought this way when managing projects, identifying solutions, and making decisions. You will be able to get more things done with much less effort.

As a project manager, you will help guide your project team members as they work toward their deliverables. In many cases, your target stakeholders will need to do something differently, and it is in everyone's best interest to make that new process as easy as possible. Think about it this way - if the process you and your team are putting together is hard to describe, of if there is so much back and forth that you lose track of how many steps there are, then it probably can be simplified.

You also need to think about upstream and downstream impacts. What processes are flowing into the one you are designing, and what processes follow it? Are the recommendations you and the team are making going to fit nicely into the end-to-end process, or will it cause some confusion or issues up/down the road?

Technology is a big factor when thinking about the end-to-end process, so having someone involved from a technology perspective from the start is important. He or she will know what to listen for in terms of requirements and functionality, and will be able to raise issues as they are identified rather than at the end once everything is decided. Typically, you want to design the right process and then have technology to support it.

  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Process design is an exciting part of my job that allows me to interact with people from all across the business and solve problems that will eventually make things easier, faster, and more efficient for everyone.

Is there anything that you do in your personal or professional life that can be simplified? I am sure there is, and my advice is to ask a lot of questions about how things work, why they work that way, whether it is something your stakeholders or customers want, and whether it can be done any better with less steps, less confusion, and less wasted effort.