Welcome to Create Impact, a series from Aviture focused on the topics that inspire our engineers to innovate. In each article, an Aviture team member will take you on a deep dive into a subject they’re passionate about, showing you the thinking behind cutting-edge engineering advances, the latest UX trends, development theories, and other unique topics that enable Aviturians to embrace the Art of the Possible for our clients.
In this post, Product Owner of Decision Logic, Kurt Bullis, explores the efforts needed for improving processes in the workplace through process mapping, identifying waste, and most importantly — investing in people.
Bad processes are demeaning — I mean it. When you’re a part of a bad process, it feels like whoever is in charge doesn’t care about you, doesn’t value you, and generally isn’t that interested in your well-being. And in many cases, those things are probably true!
Good processes, on the other hand, can impart dignity to those affected by them. When you’re a part of a good process, it may be demanding, but you feel well utilized and respected. That initial feeling has a lot to do with efficiency, a.k.a. lack of waste.
Processes are made better when two outcomes are achieved. First, your part in the process is as easy to play as possible because waste and rework are minimized. And second — and this is the harder of the two — the value you specifically bring is maximized. Both are important to making processes better.
Visually Map Your Process
A great way to find areas where you have waste in your process is to map it out visually. What comes first, second, third? What is dependent on what? What value is the process producing? How does that value come about?
There are many ways to map your process, but don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” In other words — don’t wait to figure out the best way to process the map if it’s going to keep you from doing it at all. Chances are, just by taking any kind of critical look at your process, you’ll find at least a couple of areas you can improve.
Look out for Wastes
Now that you’ve laid out your process visually, walk through it and find the waste. There are three kinds of wastes to look for.
Inefficiency is any kind of activity that uses resources without creating value. These are things such as doing more than is needed, time spent waiting or searching, or any defects or work that must be redone. Waste can even take the form of unnecessary movement or transportation.
The second kind of waste is imbalance. This is anywhere where your process is out of whack. Bottlenecks can be a form of imbalance. But so can change, shifts in priorities, QA getting overloaded at the end of the sprint, or even work/life imbalances. These things can be a little harder to spot visually, so it’s good to call them out explicitly.
The third kind of waste can be called overload. This is stuff like over-allocations, not allowing for the resources needed to do training, or some other overlooked inherent part of the process. Overload is waste as over-use.
Thinking of over-use as waste can require a mindset shift. While it’s true that over-use can result in more production in the short term, it will inevitably end up delivering less throughput in the longer term. This is especially true when the resources in your process are people.
Identify with Questions
It can be easy to identify some wastes resulting from overloading. Are your people working too much overtime? Are your people showing any signs of burnout? These can be signs that you’re overloading your people. But it goes deeper than that.
Is there a good alignment between individuals’ strengths and their responsibilities? Are there strengths that aren’t being taken advantage of? Do your team members have passions that aren’t being utilized? Is creativity left unused? Considering these kinds of questions may require you to change how you approach the value of the resources at your disposal. Human resources are resources BECAUSE of their humanity, not in spite of it. Find ways to marshal the unique humanity of those you are privileged to work with! Everyone benefits.
Change/People of the Process
The next step is to make some changes. This is where the hard work comes in. Change — the kind of change that is needed to improve processes — is never easy. A big part of that is because it involves people, and people tend to resist change.
One way to overcome that resistance is to identify a shared pool of meaning. This is a concept popularized in the Crucial Conversations book and coursework. In brief, a shared pool of meaning is that area of passions, interests, and values that we have in common with those we work with. It’s the stuff that collectively fires us up and motivates our decisions.
When seeking to implement a change, begin by identifying this shared pool of meaning and then make sure the change flows out of that pool. This is NOT an exercise in semantics; if your change is going to be successfully implemented, it must be intrinsically connected to this shared pool of meaning. If the change doesn’t come from common passions, interests, and values, is it really a change you want to pursue?
Once the shared pool of meaning is identified, make it explicit. Put it in writing somewhere everyone can see it. Declare it frequently throughout your working sessions on implementing the change. Allow it to be your anchor. Ask which decision aligns best with our shared pool of meaning.
While you may have identified a desired outcome of the change, the exact nature of the change can be trickier to identify. Go back to the process map. Are there any glaring wastes that can be reduced or eliminated? If so, awesome! There’s your first set of changes. For the less obvious changes, bring them to light by asking “why”?
Why does this step follow that? Why do we do things the way we do them? The answers may be known, and they may be good ones. If so, maybe no change is needed. However, simply walking through the “why” of your process will often expose possibilities for alternative paths forward that can both tie into your shared pool of meaning and take advantage of the specific assets of the people involved in the process.
As you work through your process improvements, do not be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes by themselves are not the enemy; mistakes that are not learned from are. Remember that failure is only the end of the journey if you give up. If you keep trying, failure becomes merely a point on the journey.