Identifying and documenting workarounds for process challenges can help prevent failures
I recently spoke to my daughter’s fourth-grade class about what I do for a living.
It was part of their Junior Achievement curriculum for this year, with a focus on careers and how entrepreneurism can be a part of any job. I talked for a bit about what my job entails and how the magazine works, then took some questions.
What surprised me was how many of the questions were about the process of what I do, instead of the results. You would think that a group of 9- and 10-year-olds would be focused on the finished product that I brought with me to show them, but they wanted to know much more about how the magazine goes from a plan to an actual physical issue.
That got me thinking about how many conversations I’ve had over the last few years about the importance of process versus results, and about how many frustrations are created by process issues. Almost without fail, one of the best questions I ask whenever I’m doing an interview is “Is there a particular step in the process that creates challenges,” because the answer is always “yes.”
It doesn’t matter what particular process I’m asking about. Whether it’s water efficiency, packaging, food safety, material flow or anything else you can think of, there is always a point in the process that creates challenges, and that point is usually a headache for processors of any size.
This makes me think that we might need to focus more on detailing how our processes are supposed to work and trying to identify those particular sticking points up front. Most food and beverage companies are pretty good at developing and refining processes throughout their operation, but how many times have you or a coworker explained something to a new employee by saying something like “and this is where we use this workaround to get things done in a better way”?
I can’t think of a company that I’ve worked for in my career that hasn’t had those workarounds in place in one way or another. People are pretty good at adapting to things, and are often able to find legitimate shortcuts that do save time without creating other challenges. But then those shortcuts don’t get documented and shared in a way that makes them available to everyone.
This isn’t to say that shortcuts are always good, because I’m sure we all have horror stories about times we or someone else tried something that didn’t end well. (I’m not about to put my “best” one in writing, but I will say that it wasn’t at my current job.) But when you have an experienced operator figuring out a better way to do things, that should be given consideration as a change to the existing process.
We all have our way that we do things, and we all have a certain amount of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” in our jobs. But maybe we should devote some more time to studying the processes we have in place and figuring out if there really is a better way. If nothing else, it might give us some good stories to share with an elementary school class.