I recently visited my doctor's office for a routine checkup as pollen allergy season hit full swing. In a routine familiar to most Americans, the office was clean and modern, and the first features to greet a visitor were a large waiting area and imposing "front desk" staffed with five women busily pecking at computers, filing forms, and working the phones.
Since it was my first visit, after checking in I was handed the expected clipboard, loaded with forms and releases, and settled in for a quarter hour of paperwork, after which I joined the queue of several other visitors waiting to see the doctor. While the paperwork and wait were unwelcome, the office seemed to buzz with quiet efficiency.
Upon seeing my doctor I was impressed with the sparkling new computer system that facilitated government-mandated electronic medical records, which the nurse and doctor diligently pecked away at after examining me, a delight for anyone in IT who's advocated capturing data at the source. Finally, I was sent to the "checkout" window to settle my insurance copayment and schedule a future visit.
Contrast this to my experience while living in Paris and visiting the doctor for similar medical needs. The offices were usually sparse, and oftentimes occupied only by the physician. I never waited for an appointment, and the physician expected me and had my file in hand. At the end of the visit, in a process I always found shocking, the physician would pull out a cash box and credit card reader, along with the appropriate form, and write up a receipt and collect payment on the spot.
While there are obviously vastly different legal constraints and government-mandated procedures between the two systems, they delivered essentially the same core service. The US medical office was a model of modern technology and process efficiency, but the processes it strove to conduct with such discipline were largely unnecessary to the core service being rendered: offering a patient diagnosis.
This is not meant to lambast U.S.-based doctors or compare medical systems subject to vastly different laws and regulations. Rather, this illustrates how the same product or service can be "corrupted" by unnecessary processes. Even when those processes are managed with rigor, discipline, and the latest technology, as they are in most U.S. doctors' offices, they still do little to enhance the core product or service being offered.
Consider your company for a moment. As an IT leader you've probably spent countless hours implementing and improving complex business processes. If you're a high performer, you've probably collaborated with business peers and felt a great deal of satisfaction when an IT investment or process improvement measurably impacted company performance. While this is noble work, we often spend too little time asking if a process is really necessary.
Countless companies perform process gymnastics on a daily basis, jumping through hoops to satisfy some "requirement" without being able to articulate why it's being done, and often offering up "we've always done it this way" as the best explanation. Perhaps a customer once requested the requirement and, rather than seeking to understand the why of the request, we immediately jumped to the how and implemented yet another exception that solved a problem that really wasn't that important.
Taken together, these thousands of tiny tweaks and exceptions present in most businesses amount to months of lost labor, the equivalent of scrawling your name, address, and contact information on six different forms at the doctor's office.
We're loaded down with methodologies and books on how to improve our processes, but there's precious little devoted to questioning why we perform a process in the first place. No matter how efficient you make a process, or how much discipline you apply toward its execution, not performing the process in the first place is almost always more effective in the short and longer term.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are Patrick's alone, and may not represent those of his employer.