Process or Perish

“If you can’t describe what you do as a process, then you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Strong words from W. Edwards Deming, who, with a 14 step manufacturing process, helped the Japanese recover their manufacturing after World War II. With Toyota recently retaking the position of largest auto manufacturer, it is worth noting what a difference process discipline can make.

What’s in a process?

First, take a look at your business. You have a philosophy, a culture, a way of doing business. They are uniquely you. Every process should reflect this – your unique way of doing business.

Let’s look at the basic hamburger. Not so basic. Each fast food company has its unique process. Whether we are talking about the large chains, like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, or the regionals, like In-N-Out Burger on the west coast, Five Guys on the east coast or Culver’s here in the Midwest, each one of these burgers is made differently.

Each process has something different – charbroiled or fried, have it your way, all beef patties and special sauces. You can go on and on, but we all understand each has a different process. We tend to identify very clearly with the way a hamburger is made and delivered and it drives our choices.

Processes can be experiential and, in some cases, transformational. Think about the BlackBerry experience or the transformational iPhone. What experiences are triggered when you hear weekend at the Four Seasons or a trip to Disney World? While we identify with the names, they all have processes behind them.

Some names immediately evoke a process that we do. Google-ing and Tivo-ing are now common verbs in our vocabulary. They are simple and have a limited number of steps.

For a successful process, those are key: simplicity and limited steps.

You may have a 16 step manufacturing process or a 32 point checklist that detail each action to be taken. Although each of those actions is critical to success, find a way to break it down to 3 to 5 identifiable steps. People will be able to get their arms around it and connect more easily with it.

That’s it. 3 to 5 steps make it straightforward and easy to follow. Think of it this way. To paraphrase Deming:

– If someone else can’t describe your process, then you don’t know what you’re doing.

In our next blog, we will spend more time addressing how to do this. We’ll walk through an example, one you might consider for your own business. We would love to hear about a process you may have in place, so join the conversation.


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