Often, when I talk about process management and explain the benefits of having clear processes with detailed work instructions, I’ll get pushback like ‘we hire professionals to do a job, we don’t want to tell them exactly how to do it’.
In short, the push back is on how much detail the process needs. The concern is we run the risk of turning competent professionals into robots and in doing so kill creativity.
Process vs Creativity
So, does process kill creativity? Potentially yes. This is something that we need to consider and, depending on the process, find balance between giving our teams discretion to bring their own flavour and personality to the way that they work on the one hand, and following standard and best practice on the other.
As a real example, at SA Partners we are forging ahead with Digital Transformation and cross training our global consulting team to deliver these new services. As we expand, I’m asking myself how much guidance should I provide? When documenting our delivery processes, I could include scripts and recordings of how I would run a session, but doing so means that we run the risk of consultants mechanically running sessions which are not engaging or effective. But we could go too far in the other direction. The methodologies that I use have been polished over the years by myself and my predecessors with a focus on delivering the most impact to clients in the shortest amount of time – why would we not want our wider consulting team to benefit from these years of experience?
How to make the decision
Let’s take an example:
This process has been kept very high level. In Activity 3 task a, the Director of Legal is asked to ‘review and approve the contract’ without any further details provided on what this review involves and what good looks like.
In this case, the argument can be made that as the Director of Legal, this person will have sufficient experience to complete a contract review using their professional discretion and further details are not required.
Compare that approach with a small tweak as follows:
In this example, attached to Activity 3 task a, a work instruction has been attached explaining exactly how the contract needs to be assessed.
There are a few benefits of this approach, specifically:
- Because we are leaving less to professional discretion, we can reduce risk by formalising exactly how the process is performed
- By making this process more mechanical we may be able to reassign the review from an experienced Director to an early-stage Associate and reduce the cost of the process while maintaining quality
- By formalising what good looks like, it will be easier to explain to the Sales Executive what is required for the contract to be approved, and thus reduce rework
In making this decision, it’s no one size fits all approach. If this organisation works on a few complex seven figure contracts at any given time, it may be impossible to codify what a review involves. A highly experienced legal practitioner would use their decades of experience to perform an analysis. Conversely, if this organisation is more transactional, reviewing hundreds of low value standardised contracts, relying on expensive, experienced legal practitioners will make the process untenable. As a result, tightly defining how it’s run, and allowing it to be run by cheaper resources, is more appropriate.
Your decision-making should include several factors:
- How complicated is the process? Is there significant variance between cycles?
- Is there a risk if the processes are not performed in a defined way?
- Is creativity or standardisation more important for this process?
- Is there a requirement (e.g., regulation) that the process must be performed by someone with certain credentials and/ or experience?
- Is there a cost pressure on this process for it to be tenable?
Personally, I prefer more detail. When mapping our internal processes I will likely include recordings, instructor guides, and talking points. That way, if a consultant in Australia needs urgent support while I’m asleep, they’ll be able to easily go into our single source of truth (Nintex Process Manager) and self-serve. However, I would also pair this with a culture that encourages consultants to use their own judgement to deviate from the guidance where they feel it’s appropriate and, in doing so, hopefully achieve the best of both worlds.
Finding this balance can be difficult so I’m happy to offer a free one-hour process conversion workshop. All you need to do is come with a process in mind and we’ll work together to create meaningful process documentation that has just the right amount of detail based on the flexibility that you require. Drop me an email at the details below and we can get something scheduled.
Digital Transformation Business Manager
+44 (0) 79263 89523