If a process isn't communicated it may as well not exist

Adrian Reed discusses the importance of good quality and coherent communication when working on process improvement initiatives within the enterprise.

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Process Improvement Initiatives

Process improvement initiatives, quite understandably, place a significant focus on analyzing and understanding the current situation as well as the true business and customer requirements. We might build on this understanding and improve our processes through simplification, automation or a multitude of other ways. Yet to make a process improvement initiative successful, there is a further topic that needs serious consideration – the thorny issue of communication.

Communication is a crucial issue in process improvement initiatives. We can design the best process in the world, but if we don’t communicate it adequately we might find that the change never really ‘sticks’—people revert back to old ways of working, and our efforts have been wasted. In fact, arguably if a process isn’t communicated, understood and followed, then it may as well not exist in the first place! If our process models end up collecting dust in a filing cabinet, then we have seriously missed a trick.

So how can we ensure our processes are communicated effectively? Of course, communication is a broad and often difficult issue – far broader than we can cover fully in a short blog post – but there are five key considerations that can help us significantly:

Shared and consistent notation: Firstly, it is important to consider the notation that we use when creating our process models. It is very easy to assume that our stakeholders are familiar with a particular process modelling notation, but in reality this might not be the case. If our stakeholders don’t understand the notation this may leave them feeling like they have been excluded and pushed out of the loop. Alternatively, they might inadvertently misinterpret the model. Ensuring we use a common notation between projects, so that our stakeholders get used to it, can help make our process workshops and walkthrough sessions more productive. Additionally, it may be helpful to run short initial briefing sessions to explain the nuances of the notation. Providing guidance notes (including a ‘legend’ explaining the various symbols we use) can be extremely useful too.

Multiple views aid communication: It’s very useful to be able to create multiple views of our processes. An executive stakeholder is going to want to see a high-level view, whereas an individual front-line worker will need to see their individual activities. Ensuring we show the right ‘view’ of the process to the right stakeholder can help us communicate the details effectively – and having a tool that enables us to switch between views easily can be extremely helpful.

Little and often: On large change programmes, it is often more effective to communicate smaller chunks of information on a regular basis. Providing regular updates as the new process shapes up can really help, and it also provides the ability to collate regular feedback and build engagement.

“Communicated” doesn’t mean received or understood: We also need to consider the mechanism in which we communicate the details of the new process. In a large corporation, it might be tempting to rely on a ‘corporate cascade’, where the information trickles down the hierarchy. Yet there is a serious danger that misunderstanding creeps in along the way – or even worse the message might get lost amongst the plethora of other regular corporate communications that are issued. It is far better to communicate directly and regularly with key stakeholders in a more interactive format. Workshops, team-days and roadshows can be effective ways of getting the message out for the most vital of processes.

“Communicated” doesn’t mean bought in! Finally, just because our stakeholders know about a new process, doesn’t mean that they are bought into the change. Engagement is a crucial issue throughout business process change initiatives, and we must put serious thought into how we keep our stakeholders involved, interested and engaged. Regular and active stakeholder management is crucial.

In summary: If we want our process change initiatives to be effective and deliver the anticipated benefits, we should consider communication from the outset. Keeping people engaged and involved is important, and communicating regularly is important too.

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