How Much Does Your Process Weigh?

I recently watched a documentary about Norman Foster, an architect responsible for designing a wide array of stunning structures such as the Millau Viaduct in France, the Swiss Re Headquarters in London, and the Hearst Tower in New York.

The title of the documentary comes from a question raised by his mentor, Buckminster Fuller, early in Mr. Foster’s career. The question, “How much does your building weigh?” was unexpected but would radically influence Mr. Foster’s future designs.

Initially, this reminded me just how powerful probing questions can be but it also got me thinking about what often happens to our processes over time. They get heavy. Well-intended yet unneeded additions to the way people work slowly erode confidence in the process itself and the velocity in which the organization can deliver.

This is happening with frequent regularity even in organizations seeking greater agility. People begin to add sign-offs, approvals, wasteful documentation, and other governance steps not because it is needed but because it is comfortable. Eventually, this additional “weight” begins to drag an organization to a crawl and frustrate those trying to quickly deliver value.

What would happen if we began asking ourselves “How much does our process weigh?” What if you could visibility see the weight we are putting on the shoulders of our teams?

Here are few thoughts to consider as you add or remove activities in your process:

Jettison weight. Once something has been added it is rarely removed. Identify and remove defensive process such as those mentioned in the post “Defending Your Position.” Identify and remove unneeded event-based process such as those mentioned in a previous post, “A Wildly Swinging Pendulum.”

Everything is based in practice. This means process is not developed by a single person in a cube somewhere but created by communities of practitioners based on real experience. Similar to packing your backpack for a multi-day hike, when you have to carry it yourself you only add weight if it’s really needed or it will save your life.

Everything is tested with pilots. Before implementing process change to your entire organization or department, test it with just a few teams. Get their feedback and remove anything not adding measurable value.

Obviously depending on your situation or industry, audit, regulatory, or legal requirements must be added into your process regardless of how much they weigh. The value here would be in keeping people out of jail.

References:
Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice, http://wenger-trayner.com/theory/
Si Alhir, Artful Transformation, https://salhir.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/artful-transformation-illustrated/

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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