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Sharpen your Pencil - What makes a good process good?

Sharpen your Pencil - What makes a good process good?

I’ve seen first hand the dramatic benefits that good process can bring to an organisation. I’ve also seen how much time and money can be wasted on ill-conceived or poorly executed ones. If you want to get the most out of your process engineering efforts, then sharpen your pencil by addressing these ten key questions.


Question #1 – Is it specific?

The more tightly each task in a process is defined, the more effective the process will be. It is possible that lots of different people will be involved in the process so being specific is critical to successful execution. One way to define each task is to break it down like a good newspaper editor approaches a news story by addressing the five W’s – who, what, when, where and why. And of course don’t forget to throw in the “how” for good measure.


Question #2 – Does it identify who is responsible?

Use job functions rather than names. People move around whilst job functions are generally more stable.


Question #3 – Is the task delegated appropriately?

For the most part, you want to keep senior staff out of the weeds. Senior managers should concentrate on client contact, mentoring staff and quality control. Ideally you want to avoid a situation where your back office is paralysed waiting on the approval or input of a harried manager with too much on their plate. To maximise your resources, assign tasks and responsibilities to the most junior employee capable of executing them.


Question #4 – Is the task well-defined?

Remove all ambiguity from each task in your process. One method for achieving this is to give each task a verb, a subject and an object. Here is an example of what I mean:

  • Financial Planner (subject) gives (verb) a client fact-find report (object) to the Office Manager (subject).
  • Office Manager (subject) creates (verb) a file (object) on the new customer in the customer relationship management system (object).
  • Office Manager (subject) assigns (verb) follow up task (object) to Paraplanner (subject) in system.


Question #5 – Is it simple?

Remember that complex tasks can and will get garbled. As Warren Buffett is fond of saying, “buy companies even an idiot can run, because someday an idiot will!” If a task has too many steps or requires an employee to make too many decisions based on complexities, you will run into trouble.


Question #6 – Does it serve a purpose?

Your staff will be more effective at executing a process if they understand its purpose. By developing a purpose for each task and making that purpose known, you empower people to make sound decisions without extensive hand holding. This frees managers to invest time in higher value activities that can’t be delegated.


Question #7 – Is the step universal?

Does the process cater for all the jobs going through the system or will some jobs fall outside the process? To eliminate leakage, consider creating a dual-track process if a high percentage of work doesn’t fit the process.


Question #8 – Is the task cost-efficient?

Ask yourself if the benefits justify the investment in man-hours? The more time consuming the task, the greater the benefit must be to your firm and your clients. Some tasks may even be better outsourced.


Question #9 – Is the process scalable?

As your success grows, your system must have the flexibility to grow with it. Think ahead a few years. Can you scale up your process?


Question #10 – Do you have employee buy-in?

The last you thing you want to do is exert energy building great processes only for your staff to sneak off and create ‘shadow processes’. When this happens your activities cannot be tracked, you loose quality control, client service levels decline and there is a lack of accountability. Help encourage staff support for new processes by getting them involved in the design. If they help build, they own it and then they use it.


Until next time,

Stephen Bell
Founder, Enzumo



BPM, Process, Xplan, Efficiency


Xplan, Operations


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