Recipes don’t always work

How many times have you followed a recipe while cooking something in the kitchen and had the result turn out not to be quite what you expected?     If you’re like me, more times than not. Sure, the result is edible (usually) but isn’t quite what you expected or what was described in the recipe.    Recipes don’t always work.

Recipes are great starting points for cooking great food, but a good cook will tweak that recipe to create something that is perfect for them / their family. They tweak whatever recipe they have to match their own tastes and their own inclinations.

The same is true of good leaders.

A good leader isn’t going to take something they read in a book like Good to Great and implement the idea(s) without tweaking the ‘recipe’ for their own organization, people and culture.  Just because something worked for one organization doesn’t mean it will work for another without changes. Just because Jim Collins provides insight into how a company was successful in the paste doesn’t mean that the thing that company did will work for your organization today.

Stephen Covey made a lot of money by telling people there are seven habits that successful people follow but I guarantee there are more than seven habits that successful people can follow and plenty of successful people that do things other than his seven habits.  The same is true of systems for time and task management. Sure, the systems work but you have to ask whether they will work for you. If you don’t sit down and actually look at your task list, that task management system isn’t going to work at all for you.

I hear people say that you’ve got to write 1000 words a day (or 500 words a day…or X words a day) in order to ‘be creative.  I hear people say you have to meditate or get up at 4AM or get 10 hours of sleep or exercise every day.  I hear people say all sorts of things that have worked for them but that same process may or may not work for you and/or your company.

Recipes are great starting points and they can help create starting points for what you’re trying to do. That said, they aren’t the ‘end-all-be-all’.  When you’re working with people, recipes generally don’t work as they are written down. They require some tweaking and some changes to fit into your personal approach and/or your organization’s culture.

Next time you’re trying to do something and you think some ‘recipe’ you’ve found is the way to go, just remember – recipes don’t always work.

Innovation needs process change

change aheadJeffrey Philips currently wrote a nice piece titled “Innovate your processes before innovating your products” over on his excellent Innovate on Purpose blog. In that article, Jeffrey argues that before a company can innovate its products/services, it must innovate its processes if it hopes to build a sustainable edge via innovation over its competition.

When I read Jeffrey’s post, I found myself nodding at everything he wrote. While the need to focus on innovation in your product / service line is a real one, many organizations completely miss the need to look at process change to support these innovations.

Jeffrey provides a good example in his article on why process change is needed. He writes:

..most product development processes do a poor job allocating resources and establishing priorities, and are bogged down with poorly defined projects and inadequate staffing levels.  It’s exceptionally rare for products to exit the process on time and on budget.

Anyone that has been involved in an type of project management or product management role will immediately agree with the above statement. Heck..anyone in IT will immediately agree with this statement.   There’s never enough people or resources to do everything, yet it feels like everyone is asked to do everything…and do it now.

In addition to the resource issue, there are many organizations with outdated and ill-informed processes for getting things done.

I recall an IT group in the not too distant past (we are talking 2008-2009 time-frame) that required a change request to be manually filled out with pen/paper and then handed to a secretary. This secretary would then take the change request form around to get signatures from the necessary people and then FAX the change request to the change management team.  Mind you…this team was located in the same building, yet they required a faxed copy of the change request.

The above example might seem like an outlier (and maybe it is) but I’ve run across many outliers like this in my career. Companies are so focused on the new and innovative that they forget to look internally at their own processes.

In order to truly innovate your product and/or service line, you need to look at your own processes first. It may not be as ‘sexy’ as building that new product, but its just as important (or maybe even more important) than that new product.

Back to the example I provided earlier. That company could not have delivered an innovative product or service and sustained that product/service.. In fact, they tried a few different things and even started an ‘innovation group’ to focus on innovation but the majority of ideas that came from this group where stonewalled by the arcane processes found within the company. It wasn’t just the IT group that had out of date processes…every part of the organization needed to have some process re-engineering done. Ultimately, this organization had to step back and rethink many of their internal and back-end processes before they could focus on innovation.

Processes are the lifeblood of an organization. If you don’t step back and take a look at your processes, your innovative ideas might just suffer.

Revisiting Process – what is the ‘right’ process?

As many of my regular readers know, I’ve been known to say (and write) that I don’t like process for process sake.  Of course, a good process is a good thing.

But…what is a good process?

Is it one that works?   One that gets the job done?  Or…is ‘good’ measured in some other form?

Of course, if a process works it can be considered good…but it is the best process?  Good question right? 🙂

My measurement of ‘good’ is this:  Is the process the best one for you and your organization?

If yes…good for you.  If no…fix it.

But..before you can fix it, you’ve got to understand whether its the right process don’t you?

A million processes…which is right?

I’ve been moving back into trading the stock market recently.  Nothing major…very small amounts of money and its something I enjoy doing in my spare time (which isn’t much these days).  There are a million different ‘systems’ out there for selecting stocks/options with most of them proclaiming themselves to the ‘best’ stock picking system.

At the core of stock selection systems are two main methods of analysis: fundamental analysis and technical analysis.  Of course, there are some systems that combine the two forms of analysis but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick with these two systems as the core of our stock selection processes.

Some investors argue that fundamental analysis is the only way to go.  They argue that the only way to select, and own, a stock is to find those companies that have sound fundamentals (according to their definition of sound fundamentals).  You then purchase that stock and hold it.  Some argue holding it forever…others argue that you should hold it for a certain period.  Many many different processes & systems for selecting and holding stocks using fundamental analysis.  If you want to learn more about fundamental analysis, check out the wide selection of books on fundamental analysis on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

On the flip side, many argue that technical analysis should be the main focus of your stock selection system.  Some traders argue that you only look at technicals but most of the good traders out there that use technical analysis keep one eye on the fundamentals and the other on the technicals.  Using technical analysis to select stocks, your main focus us reviewing the technical indicators using charts, stochastics and other mechanisms. Technical analysis is something that many technical people (engineers, developers, etc) can really get into because all the numbers, charts, indicators and graphs.  If you want to learn more about technical analysis, check out the wide selection of books on technical analysis on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

Within both camps are many many (many) different selection processes & systems.  Some are simple, like the CAN SLIM fundamental analysis system, while some are extremely complex and require large computer systems to analyze and determine the best entry point.  Some systems are manual and some are automated and some are a mixture of automation and manual review.  Some systems focus on stocks only while some focus on stock options.

Needless to say…there are a ton of different processes for selecting stocks/options and other investment vehicles.

But which one is right?

It depends.

You knew I’d say that, right? 🙂

It depends on your attitude towards investing.  It depends on your level of risk you are willing to take (or can take).  It also depends on your investing horizon….how long can you wait for a return? Are you retired and need income?  Or…are you 25 and can wait 30 years to take your gains?  Lots of different things to think about while trying to find the ‘right’ stock selection & investing system/process.

So what is a person to do?  Try them all out?  Can’t do that…too many of them.

But…what you can do is think about what fits your approach to investing and life.  What works best for your situation.  Do you want to keep an eye on your investments or are you OK with investing your money and letting it ride through the up & down cycles?  Your answers to these types of questions will help determine which approach is right.  Your answers will help you select the right process for you.

Choose the wrong process for selecting your approach to investing and you could be bankrupt. Select the right process…and you might go bankrupt too…but you would’ve at least had the best opportunity to succeed.

Selecting the right process

Selecting the right process for investing is much like selecting the right process for your organization.  Just because a process works for your buddy at his company doesn’t mean it will work for you at your company.  Just because it worked for you last year, doesn’t mean it will work for you this year.

Processes are a dime a dozen.  Walk into a room full of IT people and ask them what the best process is for “X” and you’ll get about as many answers as there are people.

That said…good processes are a dime a dozen too.  What’s good for one company/person may not be good for you.

Don’t blindly adopt a process because it’s the “standard” or because it worked for you before.  Take some time to think about that process, the steps involved and the people involved. Think about your corporate culture and what types of things work well for your organization.

If you work for a slow moving organization with a ton of bureaucracy, selecting a fast-moving process that requires very little approval from ‘on high’ might not be the best thing.   On the other hand…if you are in a fast moving start-up, you may not want to select a process for selecting and acquiring new technology that you used to use in your Fortune 50 organization.

The right process is different for everyone & every company.  The right process is what works for you, your team and your company.

Links for October 10 2010

Personal Time, And Business Process Management

This is a guest post from Elliot Ross.   Elliot blogs about business technology issues for non-technology managers in the small to medium enterprise.

IT Workflow   lazyload

Before I go any further, in the context of this post, I am using the term System in the context of Systems Theory that defines that parts may be independent, they also are interacting. And Process as the routine set of procedures that convert any item or interaction from one form to another.

With those definitions in mind, let me ask you a personal question; As a manager or executive, if you saw some of these traits in one of your team;

a) Things fall through the cracks

b) Regularly missed deliverables

c) Problems keeping up with tasks and communication

Would you recommend some remedial action? perhaps some discipline in personal time management? Improving this personal time management system, or process can be as simple as improving calendaring and that morning checklist.

Is it any different in our business?

a) Things also fall through the cracks

b) Time is lost in complex tasks as no one knows what is next

c) Tasks are repeatedly redone due to errors or omissions

When tasks are performed, and they are performed more than once, they can benefit from a system and process that clearly delineates the next steps, the task responsibility, and they provide visibility across organizational structures.  Similar to our personal time management, systems and processes can provide your teams with a path to follow, provide your teams with the how in the performance of tasks and the visibility into what is next, and they can also show where bottlenecks (or friction) are consuming and wasting time.

Designing systems or processes that improve this interaction can be home grown, or they can be created leveraging existing pratices such as the ISO or ITIL frameworks. The benefits include increasing quality in consistently and repeatedly performed tasks, avoiding those tasks or events falling through the cracks, and provide a view of where friction is slowing the input or output of tasks or events. This friction being time lost, not within a task itself, but in the transfer, or hand-off to the next step of the task.

As an example of significant friction loss, a number of years ago I was assisting with the the implementation of a line of business software tool for a large organization. It took weeks to just get an IP address for a new database instance! Why? Because the network operations team, server team, and database team could not overcome this internal friction. The server team needed an IP Address from the Network team so the database team could bind an instance. But there was zero visibility or recourse as to why that IP address was not forthcoming.

And that was just within their IT organization! What would happen if input was required from operations, facilities, or marketing?

A Question

If process is a routine, Will this routine, this ‘sameness’ kill creativity and vision?

Will we be forcing people into stagnation? Perhaps punishing them for stepping outside the lines?

You could be.

As a respected senior IT executive once told me; if your process or system begins to look like a gospel, or religious zealotry, you have lost sight of all but working on your process – not the benefit that the system or process was supposed to provide.

Many of us have witnessed this zealotry, 20 years ago there were the gospels of mainframe vs. UNIX vs. Novell NetWare. And this has not changed with time, today’s gospels include open source or Mac vs PC.

Systems or processes cannot be written onto stone tablets. A key, but often overlooked piece of any system or process is one question; What are the opportunities for improving this system or process?

To be a living, breathing part of your business, systems must continually adapt to changing conditions, goals, and strategies. To be blunt, they may even need to completely ripped out and replaced. (an improvement in the process of making buggy whips is a low differentiating strategy today)

The Takeaway

In managing our personal time, or business tasks, systems or process can improve quality and consistency, while reducing errors and omissions.

But we must avoid the system or process becoming the end in itself. If the care and feeding of the tool becomes more important than what the tool was supposed to solve, you have lost any benefit of that system or that process.

PS: If the phrase “But that’s the way we have always done it around here” is ever heard in your business, the system,or process has lost its ability to adapt. Rigidly following the system or process has become more important than the benefit they were designed to provide.

About Elliot:

Elliot blogs about business technology issues for non-technology managers in the small to medium enterprise at http://elliotross.wordpress.com.  Elliot has 15 years experience applying technology to support business goals. With experience implementing both ISO 9000 and ITIL process management frameworks. This experience has shown that people, process, then technology is key to the strategic application of technology.

Good People…Good Processes

I’ve said before that people are more important that process.

I’ve said it in many different ways and in many different articles.  After every article, I receive responses from readers similar to these:

  • Processes are important.
  • Processes drive the business to efficiency.
  • Process drives execution.
  • After receiving these types of responses, I always have to go back and say the same thing…I agree. I agree. I agree.

    Good processes are important.  Good processes drive efficiency Good processes drive execution.

    I also receive a lot of comments about process improvement, six sigma, continuos improvement, etc etc.  All good stuff too.  John Bauer has some great ideas about process improvement. Glenn Whitfield has some wonderful thoughts on the subject as well.

    But…what is a good process?

    According to the IT Toolbox, a good process should have the following characteristics:

    • Transparent
    • Obvious
    • Complete
    • Efficient
    • Predictable

    Not a bad set of characteristics…all things that I’d consider making up a good process.

    People over Process (?)

    If I believe that processes are important, why do I still stay that people are more important?

    Because a process is …. well … a process.

    Process is a cog in the machine.  Process is an activity.  Process is something to be done.

    Can process exist without people? Sure it can.

    Do good processes always lead to good outcomes.  Not always but they give you a better opportunity to succeed.

    Can good processes exist without people? Not really.

    You can’t have a transparent process without people around that understand what should be occurring during the process. The same can be said of the other aspects of a ‘good process’.

    Good People Make Good Processes

    Rather than saying ‘process over people’ in the future, I think I’ll starting saying “good people make good processes”.

    Perhaps I”ll add one more word to make this:

    Good People. Good Processes. Good Strategy.

    Those three things can make an organization unstoppable.

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