Have a Process? Make It Visible

Many years back, when I ran a web development shop, I once visited a customer who owned a flooring tiles manufacturing unit. Since they were one of the leading players in their industry, I was curious to see how they worked. Our customer took us to visit their manufacturing plant where I could “see” a number of interlinked processes in action when a piece of tile moved from one stage of production to another. The product was tangible and most of these processes were executed by sophisticated machines.

Many years later, I started working on business process improvement for an IT company. Things were getting done here as well, but processes were not “visible”. I could not see how knowledge about the product got transferred from one step to the another in the development process. Processes were not documented and different people understood the process differently. Since process was not visible, it was difficult to see the gaps and improve, unless the gaps  were obvious and huge.

One of my key learning from this first experience was:  If you have a process, make it visible.

You may be a business leader who is working on improving your processes, a project manager who wants to improve team’s outcomes or an individual who is looking forward to improving personal process, making the process visible is important.

How do you do that? Here are the most basic steps (and the ones that many small or mid-sized organizations ignore):

First step is to document the process. It could be a formal process manual or a simple bulleted list of steps to be performed. In any case, keep the process steps simple.

Better yet, represent the process visually through diagrams. This is the best way to show a process in action.

Once you have visibility, you will be able to see the gaps more effectively and see what can be improved.

Finally, share the process understanding via trainings, one to one facilitation and via tools that make it easier for people to access the process.

Whether your work is blogging, writing, graphics designing or software programming, you invariably have a formula, a method and a few steps to get the work done. You can only improve upon your work when patterns of your work are visible to you.

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Join in the conversation: What tools have you used to generate awareness (and visibility) of your processes? What process have you employed to ensure that your work patterns are visible to you?

Quality of Planning = Quality of Execution: 7 Lessons

When a project is executed, a plan is established. Work is broken down into smaller pieces and a neat schedule is created. Team members (often referred to as “resources”, unfortunately) are assigned, milestones are created and the schedule is circulated to all concerned.

Then the execution begins with a great zeal. As the time passes, things like schedule slippage and effort variance show themselves up. Everyone then tries find out why the schedule slipped. Different areas are evaluated and a consolidated status report is created. But the core point is missed – and that is quality of the planning itself.

Constant and comprehensive planning is the secret of many successful projects because planning provides a direction to the team. It helps in setting a precedence on what’s important. It gives a message and tells a lot about what matters to you on the project.

Here are 7 most important lessons I have learned on effective planning:

  • Quality of execution largely depends on quality of planning. Unfortunately, we invest very little effort in verifying the quality of the plan itself. (In software development world, inaccurate estimates are a major cause of project failures.)
  • Planning and estimating, according to me, is not just about putting dates against tasks. Planning is about taking a comprehensive view of how work will be performed, how quality will be built, how challenges will be addressed and how communication will flow.
  • Planning is never a one time activity. Planning has to be done continuously and plans have to stay fluid. If re-alignment in plans is not done periodically, you will never know if you are on the right track. Agility is the key to good planning.
  • Further, for longer projects, you cannot plan the entire project together. Identify key milestones and create a plan for only first few milestones. This helps you remain agile. A comprehensive plan for whole project over a period of one year may look cool, but seldom works.
  • When plans are re-aligned, expectations management is the key. It is important to ensure that changes in plans are known to all.
  • Whenever possible, involve people in planning process. This not only motivates them to think about their work, but also ensures a better buy-in of plans.
  • In projects, planning provides a direction and demonstrates your intent. If you want to get something done, plan it. E.g. If you want quality outcome, make sure you have adequately planned quality related activities. Things that get planned get done.

In a way, these lessons also map with the fundamentals of agile planning. In my view, Agile is not just a software development methodology, agility is also a mindset.

So next time you plan your project / initiative, remember that quality of execution depends on quality of planning. If you don’t plan for quality, you will never get quality.

Probably that is why a wise man named William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.

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QAspire Blog extends warm Diwali wishes to all the readers. Thanks for all your support so far!

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Thanks to Becky Robinson for including my pair of posts on delivering great experiences to internal and external customers under October’s theme "A Leader Focuses On Customers" on Mountain State University’s LeaderTalk blog.

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Thanks Dan McCarthy for featuring my post "Quest of Better Outcomes: Hierarchy & Process" in Early Bird Edition of Leadership Development Carnival

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Have a GREAT start into the week!

Article Series on Quality – A Round-Up

As announced earlier, I am writing a very exciting series of articles on QUALITY over at ActiveGarage.com – it is a 12-part series that touches upon some of the most critical aspects of building a quality-centric organization culture. Here is a list of articles already posted so far, in case you have not read them.

I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. The beauty of this series was that I came to realise the power of focused and theme-based writing. It can be a great tool to focus your thinking on a subject and collate that with your own experiences.

Quality is Happiness

Quality is not just “degree of excellence” or “conformance to requirements”. Quality is Happiness.

Happiness of people who work on product development. Happiness of clients who receive the product and are delighted to use it.

Only happy internal customers (peers, sub-ordinates, project team members, testing department) ultimately lead to happy customers.

If people don’t find the product they are developing to be useful, they would not be happy working on it. No one likes to produce anything that is useless.

When people believe in the vision/purpose of the product they are developing, they will happily “walk-that-extra-mile” to deliver Quality.

Happy people are more likely to produce better Quality. Great Quality delivered to clients makes them happy.

Unfortunately, most quality models focus heavily on “process” and less on “happiness”.

To comply with a rigid process is Management. To have happy, motivated people using process as a tool to ultimately deliver Quality is Leadership.