If everything your department had to do were a one-time job, you wouldn’t have to care about process. You’d just get the job done, and move on to the next item on the to-do list. However, in the real world (where most IT managers work), a lot of your tasks are repetitive.
Unfortunately, process can become an end in itself. If you’re not careful, you can become so driven by creating or documenting a workflow process that you lose sight of the business goals that mandated the process in the first place. In this article, I’m going to illustrate my point with an example from here at TechRepublic.
In our new Discussion Center, we’re talking about how to keep your focus on your business goals without allowing a complicated process from becoming the priority. To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to the Artner’s Law column will win a free TechRepublic logo item.
Furor over Featured Member Profiles
As part of our recent site redesign, we introduced a new type of article. We call it Featured Member Profile (FMP), and it allows us to talk with individual TechRepublic members about their jobs, and to get their take on different issues facing IT professionals. (Here’s a recent example of a Featured Member Profile. By the way, you can also sign up to do one of these interviews by dropping us an e-mail.)
What makes FMPs tricky for us is that we not only have to conduct the interview with the TechRepublic member, but we also have to get a useable photo of each subject. Since our members are all over the world, that can be a challenge. In fact, we’ve had to abandon several terrific interviews because we can’t get a photograph.
Therefore, we needed to create a process to make sure that we were recruiting good FMP candidates, not duplicating efforts, and making sure we got a commitment on the photo before conducting the interview.
In other words, we needed a workflow process.
At that point, a TechRepublic employee who shall remain nameless (except to say that it was our editor in chief for IT Communities, Erik Eckel) took it upon himself to design an efficient process for creating Featured Member Profiles.
He cranked up Visio and got to work. About six hours later, he had diagrammed a workflow for creating FMPs. You can see it in the accompanying graphic.
Erik was understandably pleased with his effort, which put down on a single page the entire workflow. However, not everyone was so sanguine about the process.
In fact, when I showed the workflow to one of my editors (OK, it was IT Consultant community editor Jennifer Recktenwald), she took one look at it, and announced, “That’s an argument for not doing Featured Member Profiles!”
Jennifer’s point was that any process that was so complicated for creating a single article each week wasn’t worth the effort.
So who’s right?
Before we get into the merits of the argument, there’s something you have to remember. In general, editorial folks don’t like too much process. As someone who’s done some writing himself, I can show you the ideal writer’s “article creation” process:
- Think of something to write about.
- Go out and do research on the topic.
- Write the article.
- Turn the article in to the editor.
- Go back to Step 1.
Therefore, when Jennifer looked at the workflow document, it was an order of magnitude more complicated than most other editorial processes here at TechRepublic. She was predisposed not to like it.
From Erik’s point of view, he wasn’t concerned about whether the workflow was worthwhile or not. His task was simpler—documenting how the FMP process really works. He pointed out, quite reasonably, that we can’t know if a process is rational or not until we know what the process actually is.
So who’s right? Without sounding too wishy-washy, I think they both are. Erik certainly documented the process so that we could all understand it. I can’t argue with that.
On the other hand, I’m glad that Jennifer pointed out that the process was too cumbersome.
What about your department?
How well does your department handle these kinds of process issues? From the technical managers I talk to, I know that many of you are just trying to keep your heads above water keeping your various processes working. A lot of you don’t have the time to make sure that these routines make sense from a business perspective.
While you can’t stop executing your daily work, I encourage you to spend some time re-examining your major workflow documentation. I’d also encourage you to support your people when they look at one of these things, and ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” In the long run, that’s a question well worth asking.
How do you keep your focus on your business goals without allowing a complicated process from becoming the priority? To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to the Artner’s Law column will win a free TechRepublic logo item. If you have an idea for a future article topic, send us an e-mail.