Alister's MusingsAre you sitting comfortably?
Once upon a time…
…there was an actuary called Alister. In the wake of the pensions crisis, he saw an opportunity to improve ineffective meetings for trustee boards and set up eShare. Creating governance and meeting software that really did save pension managers time, money and helped them sleep better at night, eShare was a success. But Alister wasn’t happy.
Every month Alister waited for a visit from an evil troll. This troll made him do the monthly billing, and while you would think that making money would make Alister happy, it drove him close to insanity with its complexity.
A manual process, the monthly billing required Alister to use his awkward spreadsheets with 20 different tabs to complete all the necessary tasks. But then because he couldn’t attach any invoice templates, he was forced to dive into the dark depths of his folders to retrieve past paperwork, which he then had to go through and update. All this made Alister feel frustrated, controlled and close to breaking point – and this was a process he’d determined!
In an attempt to make things better, Alister threw himself upon the mercy of Microsoft SharePoint. He hand-crafted a dedicated site to help him manage his billing process. The first month was like a process party and everyone was invited. In his cool workspace, all his documents were there alongside checklists, and he could invite his friends to come and get involved. It was great!
But the party soon ended when the next month came round, and the evil troll needed him to do the billing again. Alister was sad. The billing process should be an enjoyable one, it’s the point at which you’re supposed to get the pennies in for your hard work so you can spend them on amazing things like clogs, purple chairs and days out to Newbury Racecourse. But it drove Alister insane. Being so close to madness, Alister started writing jingles about his ‘buddies’ from the far away land of Moldova. It seemed all hope was lost.
On the horizon was a knight dressed in baggy denim with dirty dreadlocks. His name was Richard, and although he looked like a hobo, beneath the tattoos and piercings was a technical genius.
“I will save you,” said Richard, “But first, I require payment.”
“But I can’t do my billing, so I have no money,” said Alister.
“Then you pay me in coffee,” said Richard.
As Alister busied himself in the kitchen, brewing the strongest mug of java, Richard set to work. The guru’s eyes never left the screen, and he never spoke. He sat coding away in his world for 5 days until finally he arose and said, “It is done. ‘Copy This Site’ is the answer to all your prayers. Now you can duplicate your SharePoint sites easily.”
Alister was overjoyed! Finally, monthly billing didn’t have to be a painful process…or so he thought.
A few months went by, and all was well in eShareland. Alister would complete his invoicing with ease and everything appeared to be working like clockwork. But as the saying goes, appearances can be deceptive. With lots of little duplicated sites, things quickly became disorganised as there was no overarching navigation to structure everything.
“WHY?” Shouted Alister. “Why is process causing me so much misery? Process is meant to make the world go round.”
So he set out on a quest to discover the secrets of successful process management. He spoke to all his friends, friends of friends, even strangers in the street and discovered the most alarming realisation – process didn’t really bother anyone else as much as it did him. It seemed the rest of the world simply accepted that process was difficult and that it would always be difficult, so they’d keep doing what they’d always done and find ways around the difficult bits (usually by ignoring them) and just accept that they would be forced to endure a certain degree of pain.
Alister wouldn’t accept that this was the way things should be, he knew it could be improved.
Things got worse
Meanwhile, Alister hired Sarah (name changed, of course!). Impressed with the skill sets that Sarah brought to the role, and believing that she was a clever person, Alister delegated some key responsibilities to Sarah and trusted her to do them the right way. Alister felt some relief, finally, he could let go safe in the knowledge that his process was still being managed – regardless of how difficult that management was.
But one day, Sarah decided to leave. At this point Alister received a huge shock. While he had believed that his processes were ticking over and being managed the way he wanted, the reality
was that Sarah had never recorded the information correctly, she had changed the way the process was performed, and some of the steps within the process were just totally ignored. It was a disaster. Alister felt he had lost control and now the fight was on to ensure his processes didn’t erode.
Tight controls were implemented to ensure every step was completed and the business ran the way he thought best. But while Alister felt he had regained control, he now had the bigger headache of micro-managing and sifting through endless reports to check everything had been done.
A defining moment
On a refreshing spring morning, Alister sat gazing at the snowdrops that had appeared outside his window and experienced a lightbulb moment. Effective process management wasn’t just a problem for him, it was something his clients needed too. His clients needed to know that all Alister’s staff were DBS checked, which required Alister to prove he had followed this compliance step by providing evidence if he was ever challenged.
Immediately Alister set to work building this workflow into his recruitment process. Now this step could never be missed and he would remain compliant forever more.
If only he had a simple system to manage it for him.
*enter Process Bliss*
(although it had a different name back then)
Alister created a prototype system that would manage his business processes effectively. However, built on older technology, the system proved clunky and end users didn’t appreciate the benefit immediately. In a lot of instances, they believed they were performing the process better than the system (even though the system indicated they were only ever remembering to complete 8 in every 10 steps). And the feeling was they were having to update the software just for the benefit of their manager, rather than having a system that helped them to do their job better.
Process Bliss was supposed to empower every person to give their work purpose, make it more rewarding and make them feel more fulfilled. It was meant to enable collaboration so the team could grow together and make the operations run smoothly. It was built to allow managers to understand their company’s blueprint so they knew how to make the business more innovative, influential, profitable and command greater loyalty. It was failing on all three counts. It was clear that Process Bliss needed rethinking.
Alister redesigned Process Bliss putting the end user at the heart of its purpose. Now it’s quick and simple to set up, and the users experience the benefit quickly through checklists so they can see exactly what needs doing. Furthermore, they realise why it’s important for ‘the greater good’, giving the management team peace of mind that the processes are being performed and constantly improved.
Through Process Bliss, Alister finally found his inner peace. It was never about delegating to his team, or about controlling them to always do things his way, it was about empowering them. It was about showing them how he had done things previously to give them a starting point, but then giving them the power to improve the process when they discovered things that aren’t working as effectively or efficiently as they should.
Immediately his HR, finance and admin departments loved it. The infrastructure team was able to gain ISO27001 accreditation easily through it. The development team embraced it alongside its existing software. And support, sales and marketing use it for specific purposes.
Reflecting on Process Bliss, Alister commented: “I never made anyone use Process Bliss, I wanted them to want to use it. That meant working out what mattered to each person so they could see the benefit. It was hard, but necessary to ensure the software was adopted across the whole business.”
And Alister lived happily ever after, surrounded in a world of processes that just worked brilliantly.
Empower every person, every day to achieve more and do it better.