Tuesday, 17 September 2013

7 Deadly Sins of Process Improvement/Change - #5 Carelessness

At number five on my list of deadly sins we have Carelessness, where a person or group fails to give enough attention to avoiding errors and mistakes. I deliberately chose to include carelessness in addition to ineptitude because I’d argue that people with good knowledge and understanding who have done their planning and preparation can still be careless and make clumsy and costly errors as a result. Carelessness is often a result of complacency. For me, carelessness is probably the number one sin for the quality professional.

We are all too aware of the consequences of our carelessness in everyday life. Forest fires, train crashes and motorway pileups are some of the consequences of careless actions. In cyberspace, harm caused through careless attention to phishing and social engineering attacks is becoming all too familiar.

The consequences of carelessness in process improvement endeavours may not be life threatening but they are very real to the business and will almost certainly have financial implications.


Failing to Perform Due Diligence

If you don't do your homework you can expect to get bitten on the posterior. It may not happen immediately (although it's usually better if it does!), but it will happen. And in a worst case scenario, it will destroy your business. Which is not only careless but downright stupid.

One of the largest IT contracts ever awarded failed to perform adequate due diligence and the organisation that won the bid was out on it's numbers by several orders of magnitude, underestimating the extent of what was required by 10s of years of effort and billions of dollars.

Join the Dots

I never cease to be amazed by the careless mistakes organisations make in their change initiatives. A classic that springs to mind is a business that moved it's HR, Time Management and Financials from SAP to Oracle. This particular business employed a large number of contractors which amounted to a significant expense. On D-Day (no transition, no parallel deployment - just a big bang implementation) somebody realised that contractors hadn't been included in the databases, ony permanent employees. It took months before the business managed to work out its real financial position.

In the same way that you need to perform due diligence to understand the true extent of your potential commitment, you also need to check that you have covered all bases in your change plans. Change will affect more than your immediate organisation - IT departments need to work with other groups like HR, Finance and Procurement for example. Build stakeholder maps that encompass the wider world and establish who will be affected and to what extent. Change will not succeed in a vacuum.

Consistency and Accuracy

As a management system grows there is more opportunity for carelessness to creep in, primarily on the part of the process engineers. Vocabulary, terminology and style need to be consistent across the whole of the system, particularly where processes and templates cross reference each other. Create a glossary of terms which is maintained and acts as the single resource for terminology across the management system. Build a set of process management templates, so that all processes and documents are developed using the same rules.

Regardless of how rigorous your review process, there will be mistakes that creep into your management system. Ensure that a change control process is in place that can address minor changes as quickly as possible, and that a certain amount of time is allocated to on-going maintenance fixes regardless of any development lifecycle that you have in place. In a major release, little things fall down to the bottom of the requirements list and consequently never get fixed. Fix them as soon as they surface.

Configuration Management

The configuration management tools available to software developers have become very sophisticated in the last decade, but it is still quite rare to see them being used for process engineering (or any project documentation for that matter), even though the principles are exactly the same. A management system must be placed under configuration control, and its guardians should be subject to the same processes and policies as software development and maintenance teams.

Laws to Overcome Carelessness

1st Law - Set up a rigorous peer review process for every deliverable within the management system with a real focus on detail, correctness and consistency

2nd Law - Use the same robust configuration management and content management processes and tools as your practitioners are expected to use

3rd Law - Think before you ink. Consider the way your messages will be interpreted by your many audiences

4th Law - Stakeholder Analysis and Management is a fundamental activity in change. Don't pay it short shrift.

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