Making Process Policies Explicit
What are process policies?
In your business, you have a set of consecutive steps, that carried out correctly produce a commodity, be that a piece of furniture, a digital presentation or a software package. That repetitive process and the quality of its execution are often what makes or breaks a company. And where processes tell us what to do, policies tell us how to do it. They guide the team on how to make decisions, helping them to advance the process in the best possible way.
Have you ever walked onto a shop floor where it was evident that people have no idea what’s happening? Compare that to watching a Formula 1 pit crew, and how strikingly obvious their definite way of working is - everyone knows what’s the most important thing to do, and does it. It’s beautiful, efficient and effective. You want your business process to be guided by policies as relevant and effective as those of the F1 pit team.
Why do we need process policies?
Project managers are not interested in people being busy. They’re not even interested in people being busy with the right activities. The goal of any project manager is for the team to be busy with the right activities, performed in the correct way and at the right time, in order to produce the required result. A Kanban board in itself makes process policies explicit, and viewing the board lets the team glean a lot about how the process flows.
Next to each process stage name, there is an “info” icon, giving the team clues as to how to approach work. For example, the Chair Painting policy is that once the Assembly team is done with their work, they are to join the painting team, and help inspect and paint chairs, thereby improving throughput.
Keeping process policies on view is brilliant, it makes good governance and correct working practices second nature. Practice makes perfect - but in this case, the reality is, that practice makes permanent. If a team is practicing a wrong way of working, then it will become their habit, an unwritten policy! Making process policies explicit ensures that team members actually practice working well.
Policing what matters, in a visible way
The policies need to reflect what is important to your company. In the same way that the Golden Gate Bridge both appears to be, and is strong, your policies should outline what is important to the company, in a way that’s immediately noticeable. Seeing where the team is getting stuck should prompt a question if better ways of working should be introduced, and how the board can be updated to reflect that. The policies and procedures should define which tasks the company is willing to ignore, for the benefit of focusing on key ones; what trade-offs in speed or quality the company is prepared to accept, and in what circumstances.
Stating policies and procedures explicitly frees up the team’s mind space. When we’re able to get into a state of flow, work can become almost effortless. People who need to constantly remind themselves how to work, and have no easy way of accessing this information, will never get into a state of flow. Making explicit policies accessible to the team has the potential to remove a lot of frustration and exhaustion, and to improve their performance.
Mike Tyson said Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, meaning that when people hit a major crisis point, the best laid plans can be quickly forgotten. Making your policies explicit may prevent the wheels coming off when things go wrong. Be sure to make the guidelines on how to proceed in common workflow scenarios accessible to the entire team.
Here are some ideas for process policies and procedures:
- Are your team members familiar with the flow of work, where an item starts and where it finishes?
- Does the team know what are the quality-check steps, and the Definition of Done?
- Does the team know how to expedite an item that becomes urgent - and what does that mean for the team and for the process?
- Does the team know how to handle unplanned work, how to fit it into their process?
- How should team members handle defects found in the production process, do they stop want they are working on and fix the bug, or do they queue up the defective item at the beginning again.. etc.
Practice can make perfect!
Data drawn from flow measurement, showing root cause of most problems, should be the source of your explicit process policies. Every time a feedback loop completes, the process can be improved. After a few productive feedback loops, the team becomes empowered by knowing what makes them successful. They know what behaviour to focus on, and which habits need to stop, and in this continuous learning and improvement, the concept of Kaizen gets realized.
Any process can be made more efficient, you just first need to know exactly what policies and behaviours drive it, and work on them.