Sometimes the Process is Just as Important as the Product

Results matter and should be the aim of every employee. Achieving results is what differentiates good employees from great ones. Sometimes though, when the result being pursued is a product or deliverable, the process used to deliver that result needs the same level of attention as the product itself. In other words, sometimes the process is just as important as the product.

Process is how you go about getting things done, how you achieve results. Process is especially important when the product being produced requires buy-in from a group of people in order for it to be a success. Examples of this are when a change is required in how people do their work, an organization’s structure, a company’s strategy, and who gets hired. In these situations, it may only take a few people to design the change and announce it, but if the people who are impacted by the change do not get the opportunity to influence the design or voice their opinion, when the change is implemented they will blatantly rebel against it or act passive aggressively and undermine its success.

Jason experienced this as the manager of a medium sized department that processes customer services requests for an online product distributor. The volume of transactions was reaching the point where the department’s response goals were being regularly missed. The customer service requests were currently being processed without any filtering or routing. That meant that every team of processors had to know how to handle all the different flavors of requests.

Jason decided to change the way the department processed the requests by dividing the requests into three different types and using a filtering and routing process so the newly formed teams could specialize and gain efficiencies by focusing on one type of customer services request. Jason selected three out of the five team leads to join him in designing the new process and team structure. They worked hard on it for four weeks and then announced the new structure to the rest of the department.

The two team leads who were not asked to participate in the change became extremely angry and threatened to quit. The rest of the department didn’t like the change because they enjoyed the diversity of requests and were afraid they would become bored in their jobs. Jason listened to the feedback but went ahead with the new changes. After six weeks under the new approach the total number of transactions processed was less than before the change. One of the old team leads left the department and with him left a major source of knowledge related to one of the types of customer service requests. To top it off, Jason’s boss was noticing the department’s poor performance and was putting pressure on him to fix it.

Clearly Jason needed to put more emphasis on how he produced his results, but what could that have looked like? Before we go there let’s first understand why people choose not to put as much attention on the process as they do on the product. It’s because it causes the project to take at least twice the amount of time to get to the end result and it brings out emotions earlier in the process that are not very fun to deal with. No one in their right mind would choose this path if it wasn’t needed. But, sometimes to have a more successful product result this is exactly what has to be done.

The first thing you need to do to be successful in these situations is to identify all the people who have a vested interest in the change. These are the folks who will be affected by the change and care about what happens. Then you need to clearly state the reason changes needs to be made and present this to the group. The reason needs to be compelling and clearly evident that the status quo cannot continue. If you can’t articulate the reason in a powerful way, maybe the change is not needed. Lastly, you need to present the group with a rough idea of the change you are thinking about and then facilitate a process for the group to give you feedback. You will most likely get some input you had not thought about that will make your ideas better. Even if you don’t at least you gave the group a chance to be heard. Also, when you ask for the feedback make sure you tell them what you will do related to the feedback so they know it will be collected and processed appropriately.

As I said earlier, doing these things will make it take at least twice as long to get to the end result and will bring out people’s angst. But, that is still a much better situation than not doing so and having to deal with a much bigger wave of angst and people sabotaging any chance of success.