This is an interview with business process automation guru Mike Wilkes -- with some tipis for making your business more efficient and EFFECTIVE.
Q: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROCESS DESIGN SERVICES.
A: As we gather requirements for software development, examination of EXISTING work processes are critical. Sine our main thrust is to remove drudgery from humans and give it to machinery, we are always watchful for processes that don't need to be done. There are often good answers to our plethora of "why?" questions, but sometimes they give our customers pause to consider another way of doing something or the opportunity to ELIMINATE unnecessary processes. Having access to multiple levels of authority in an organization, we sometimes argue a lower level worker's case upwards and get work shifted or reexamined.
Q: WHAT IS THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE PROCESSES?
A: I'd have to say that the best systems arise from the clearest VISION. We are bombarded all day with opportunities to expend our energy on emails, phone calls and so many other distractions -- all of which seem very relevant, even urgent, when they arrive. Knowing where you're going helps you cut through the chaff. I think a clear personal or company vision and a good set of OBJECTIVES that flow out of that vision are the best foundation for developing and adhering to good processes.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS SYSTEMATIZATION?
A: Most businesses survive the usual chaos of the marketplace through heroism. A few talented players make it work and from time to time enjoy the thrill of victory. Without an overall passion to be an ever-improving organization, however, we can burn people out and render very poor service. Someone, somewhere in the organization, has to have a passion to develop systems that help people accomplish a given day's work with consistent speed and quality. Only when INDIVIDUALS are effective in their work can the ORGANIZATION be effective and meet its service obligations.
Q: HOW DO YOU STREAMLINE DAILY ROUTINES?
A: We first document their current WORKFLOW. It's amazing how many discussions arise out of this that include the phrase "We should…" followed by some suggested policy for improvement. Half of our job is done by asking the right questions to cause people to slow down and EXAMINE what they do.
Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST EFFICIENCY MISTAKE YOU SEE?
A: I'd have to say trying to do it ALL. This happens in two ways: First, they think they have to do everything -- to be good at everything. Second, they don't see early enough that they need others to help. PARTNERS. One of the chief values of business networking for me has been as a shopping mall for partners -- people and businesses that I can get help from to run my business, improve my service or relieve me of items that lie outside my chosen focus. Thinking big and getting help allow me to keep a tighter grip on my vision for what my company should become.
Q: WHEN IS IT TIME TO EXAMINE INTERNAL PROCEDURES?
A: I'd look at them on a REGULAR basis. Hopefully the communication lines are open and the team is telling you that the systems need to change. Work is becoming TOO HARD for the returns you're getting. If the culture promotes continual improvement and affirms the inputs of every team member, I think it will grow organically and everyone will hang in there for the ride.
Q: ARE THERE ANY PROCESS DESIGN GOLDEN RULES?
A: Listen to the people doing the work, then reevaluate what they tell you in light of the organization's MISSION. There's a story about a meeting wherein managers of an upscale club wanted to install security cameras to keep members from stealing the expensive shampoo. One manager suggested talking to the janitor before acting and he had a different approach. He took the tops off the shampoo bottles. Cost of solution? Nada.
Q: ANY ADVICE ABOUT BECOMING MORE EFFECTIVE?
A: Start with a vision statement. Who are you? What do you intend to ACCOMPLISH through your efforts? Make it clear and compelling and then evaluate your actions each day in that light. Never confuse activity with production.
Mike Wilkes is the head of Dynamic Answers -- designers of automated business solutions.
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