Process. The very word makes people’s eyes glaze over in boredom. Micromanagers salivate and staff members cringe when they hear it. Most people misunderstand it.

The mundane nature of process is what makes it critical to business, integral to behind-the-scenes operation. Without process, business cannot have efficiency, employees forsake guidance, and clients are left to wonder why their projects aren’t being delivered.

Process ensures consistency. That’s great if consistence means “consistently good.” Consistently poor performance broken by spurts of brilliance won’t carry a business. Just ask Mark Sanborn.

The Tingley Advantage states that process “is a set of defined tasks needed to complete a given business activity, including who is responsible for completing each step, and how they do so.” The processes your business uses should serve as a guide for how to get things done. Well-designed processes imbue the following characteristics:

  • They make a business competitive. If you know who does what and when, then you have benchmarks for measuring performance. You can identify the bottlenecks and the places where confusion may reign, which will indicate that something here needs to be eased and something there tightened. The goal is to regulate activity so that it flows smoothly along the chain of activity toward predictable and inevitable completion.
  • They make growth possible. Without measuring past performance, you can’t determine what’s needed to grow and improve. Without knowing what’s needed to grow and improve, you can’t determine whether your business is growing or improving. The well-designed process offers employees a blueprint for their work, yet allows them to learn additional skills should a coworker leave the business, fall ill, or simply head off on a well-deserved vacation.
  • They drive profit. Let’s face it, your business must make a profit in order to remain in business. Processes identify opportunities to improve efficiency without sacrificing quality and consistency. A good process allows for steady, predictable progression without officious duplication of effort that slows everyone down and demoralizes good workers. The increase in efficiency leads naturally to saving time which then leads to higher profit.

There’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’

But there’s a “U” in “SUCK,” or so the saying goes. A well-designed process mitigates the SUCK. It can’t be all fun and games–that’s why we call it work–but there’s no reason to make work as miserable as possible. A good process assigns appropriate tasks to the correct positions, spreading the misery thin enough that a difficult project may actually be anticipated as a stimulating challenge rather than the next episode of Mission: Impossible.

Process involves participation from the entire team. Peter S. G. Carter in “Why Are Business Processes Important?” offers the following example from the automotive industry: “If the final sub-process is to move a car into the paint shop and the paint shop can only handle 5 cars per day, there is little point in having 10 cars per day ready to be painted.” The gist of that example is to show that a good process will take into account the capacity of each benchmark point and regulate the speed of manufacture to maintain consistent performance. Or it can spur the manufacturer to decide to expand the paint shop by adding extra paint booths and personnel to accommodate the higher capacity the rest of the factory is capable of producing. Whatever the decision–regulate or expand–the result is a business that operates on all cylinders, not with one cylinder clogged.

Process works best when everyone works together and no one feels overburdened.

Segue into business process management

Larger companies will have the luxury of appointing a position specific to managing processes. Such an expert–a business process manager–analyzes the underlying activities needed to produce a particular result. This is performed through studying the type of work and tasks performed as well as interviewing those people performing said tasks to learn what works and what doesn’t.

We all know that if something works flawlessly on paper, it won’t work that way in real life. Paper-based processes don’t account for real life glitches, bad attitudes, or individual competencies (or incompetencies). According to iGrafx when the process works, it aligns the “customer needs, and helps executives determine how to deploy, monitor and measure company resources. Regardless of whether the process is governed or managed by software, it must be responsive to changes in technology, industry standards, and employee capability in order to remain relevant and effective.