There's a famous quote that says, If you take good people and put them in a bad process, the process wins. What do you think?
I'm not entirely sure what the quote means, though it certainly is catchy, and I get the gist!
A process simply "is," whether it's good or bad (meaning, efficient or not). Either way, it can't win or lose -- only the organization can, as Derek points out. I have a slightly different take on this, though, in that the "losing" begins as soon as the inefficiencies are introduced into the process. For instance, losses in time and money begin to accumulate long before people get frustrated, and people typically are frustrated for a long time before they leave. So while the process can't win, the organization certainly can lose.
Happy New Year to you too, as well as to all my fellow contributors, commentators, and readers!
Poor processes are highly resilient to change and to good people. The good people will spends lots of time and effort finding the most efficient workaround, but it's still inefficient. The other "people" will have to be trained, on the bad process and then "taught" the workarounds which costs twice as much in training. As Derek says this generally leads to high staff turnover. The organization usually suffers as poor processes cost more to run, prone to error and often don't capture the information you really need.
Yes, I think the process wins. It depends upon what what mean by "putting a person in a process". The way I read it is that if the bad process is the dominant culture of the organization, then by all mean the cultural expectations overwhelm any single person's ability to do the right thing. Look around and you see everywhere people who rail against how their organization always does things the wrong way, and they are powerless to change it. I am sure all readers of this post know how hard it is to change the culture of an organization. Except in rare cases, no single person can change the culture of an organization; regardless of how good and enlightened the majority of the people in the organization are, it would take a concerted effort of many people, especially upper management, to change the way work gets done.
It is important to respect the "power of culture".
The good people know better, so they will drive process enhancement (organization is more likely to accept process challenges from "good people").
The superior knowledge of the "good people" rubs off onto the process they execute. Hence, the process wins.
later edit: I understand everyone else's opinion about how good people find workarounds to the process and how upper management is deaf to improvement etc.
Frankly, to me, if people work around the process, they are not good people. They just want to make it easy for themselves, which disqualifies them as "good".
But too much theory - I just have a practical example - one employee of mine (an invoice passing clerk) came to me yesterday with a list of invoice passing process (essentially an electronic process but with some parts that could not have been automated yet) improvements that she thought of during her vacation because she wants to not only make her life easier, but she wants to grow as an accountant and she knows that improving the process she is in charge with is the only way to make some wiggle room into her daily tasklist.
Frankly, almost all of her suggestions add significant automation and efficiency to the process and I will implement them. In return, she gets additional job responsibilities, a corresponding raise, while the organization saves significant processing time. This is a win-win. And that is what ultimately drives "good people".
Processes used to be considered immutable. Fit and forget.
It's not surprising really, when you consider the amount of hullabaloo which goes with traditional process improvement methodologies. All that "Not invented here, so I oppose". All that "well the people who operate the process can't be trusted" supposition.
Once imposed these processes couldn't be changed. So people didn't focus on change - they focused on making it easier for them (regardless of how good it was for the company). Some managers even focused on breaking the process, so he could justify more staff.
Yes, indeed - bad processes create bad people. But are they bad - or just forced into playing the game you created of making the most of what they have?
But the real question here is what happens if you take a bad process, put it in the hands of good people and allow them to change it?
People are thrilled to be given such responsibility. And determined to justify the confidence.
So they put in the hours to build rapport with colleagues, empathise with other people's problems and understand eachothers' drivers and metrics.
Together they create a measure for deciding how good the process is, and what they need to monitor to quantify improvements. And to trade them off against eachother - an increase in speed v a loss of quality, for example.
Gently they start to iterate. Small changes, not big ego-driven projects.
And they improve the user experience - after all they are the users.
The process starts to improve. And again. And again, spiralling upwards.
That creates a wave of enthusiasm. Everyone is focused on making it better still and dismantling the roadblocks to further progress.
Eventually it reaches a quality which is better than any single individual could have created on their own. One with safeguards built in as everyone has thought about the problems, rather than a single person's blindspot.
One which is better than a professional process improvement team could do!
And, best of all, you have transformed the morale of everyone and the culture of the company.
A bad process can bring out the best in people. But only if you allow them to change it.
In my opinion this quote assumes 'Process = Procedure'; a procedure that is some kind of law and if you don't follow it you get kicked the nuts.
I hate the procedure view of a process. A process is just 'the thing' that delivers what you, or your company, promises to one of their stakeholders.
And some processes might indeed be managed as a procedure. You don't need good people for that. A few monkeys is more than enough.
And as stated by many above there are also processes where the people define the best actions to be taken for a certain case. Together with information, the tools used etc it is the process.
So the first thing to realize is that not all processes can be managed the same. Unfortunately procedure thinkers think so ending up with a workflow management system operated by button pushers.
So, the answer to the question: 'Yes, for certain definition of process'
Happy new Year!
I think that this is a question of whether your culture is stronger than process. If there is a culture of change and process improvement then an individual has the ability to change the process. But do they have the energy and motivation? If they don't then they will eventually leave and the process wins - as a number of others have already commented. So a culture of change and a friction-less approach to changing process is required. Which is why process normally wins.
Bad process is an excellent opportunity for good people.
Typical characteristics for bad processes – no one knows its state (who is doing what), each worker executes the same activity differently, all activities are completed last moment, decisions are unknown or obsolete, processed documents are lost, etc.
A good person firstly knows how to handle all deficiencies of a particular bad process (keep all documents, know who is doing a particular activity and is friendly with this person, know all hidden / unwritten rules, know the culture behind, etc.).
Then a good person helps workers to cope with a bad process thus creating more friends.
Finally, a good person proposes how a bad process can be improved thus build his/her reputation.
Ultimately, everyone and the organisation should win. (not a new-year-happy-story).
Fascinating discussion. Reminds me of what Peter Drucker is reputed to have said about strategy, to wit "culture eats strategy for lunch". Substitute "process" for "strategy".
The Drucker analogy comes at the problem from the opposite direction though, than Peter Schooff's original question.
The original question started with "good people", which would be analogous to "culture". And culture rather has the implication of "bad people" instead of "good people" (although I don't think Drucker would say that). So here is the reworded question, "in the negative":
"If you take fixed-in-their-ways people and put them in a good process, the process loses". (OK, I didn't say "bad people".)
There's a lot of history here; 200 years ago work processes were owned by guilds and laborers, and it's only in the 20th c. that management has tried to rationalize and control work directly. BPM is at the pinnacle of this modernizing process. And as process technology inexorably improves, the capability and purview of management to construct and evolve great processes will continue to improve. I've just finished Prof. Wil van der Aalst's pioneering process mining course. You ain't seen nuthin' yet. And I do believe that with process, it will be become progressively easier for good people to do good work too.
Good processes and good people are assets. So bad processes are potential liabilities where bad people can “cheat”. BUT good people will always find away to do a good job and circumvent the process that fails to support them in real world of work. As ever it is about people and good people will not let the process “win” which may mean they leave.... Smart companies will identify the good people delivering outside the defined "bad" process and will encourage removal of such processes?
Peter J makes good point about the really bad people so management need to really understand their processes......and their people?