No, I am not interested in who goes to lunch with whom, or who takes advantage of the privacy afforded by the server room. I’m intensely interested in what happens next.
When you finish doing your little piece of the great process of keeping your organization going, who receives your work when you hand it off? What happens next?
When I went to work at a company I'll call MumbleCo, I found that none of the writers knew how their work got from their desks to our customers. Not even the manager knew the release process.
Any time you don’t know what happens next after you do your part of a business process, you’re automatically looking at a broken process. In an organization, the thing you deliver is the input to the next person’s part of the process, and as any programmer will tell you, GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t know the next person’s part, how do you know you’re not providing garbage input?
The cure for a broken process may be as simple as finding the person who handles the next part and having a conversation about how the process works now, how it would work in the ideal case, and what causes problems.
At MumbleCo, all the manager could tell me about the release process was “We hand it off to someone in operations.” I went to the operations group and introduced myself to the manufacturing engineers, logistics planners, and the change control team, and asked questions about how they worked. How could we writers help to keep them from having to do extra work? They offered very specific observations:
- Nobody used the right process for getting part numbers.
- It was hard to draw up the release paperwork for a manual because writers didn't provide enough information in their emails and the file names were all over the map; the change control team usually had to open the file to find out the manual title and the product line to which it belonged.
- Sometimes we sent them files that they couldn’t even open.
This change didn’t require a decision at the director level, a six-month study, or a task force. It took one writer, in a non-supervisory role, walking to the other side of the building and having a series of conversations with the people whose days she could make or ruin simply by how she did her job.
Do you participate in a broken process? When you finish your piece, what happens next? If you don’t know, go find out. Fixing a broken process starts with a conversation.