Business Process Management Must Include Work-Arounds

This is a test. This is a test of your ability as an analyst or group facilitator to invite people to the perverbial table in order to conduct current state analysis or design your future state. The right people need to show up, the agenda and instructions need to be ready and – this is what makes it a REAL test – they need to bring their knowledge of and artifacts related to “work-arounds” if your little shin dig’s going to be a success. You’re being judged by how authentically safe people feel it is to admit they’ve been breaking the rules. Expect tension between those leaders who expect rules and procedures be followed and those who understand that if the job is going to get done right, you have to break the rules at times – particulalry when the procedures and processes are flawed to begin with.

What’s a Work-Around?

A work-around is the un-named process people develop at their desk, usually keep secret, barely document (if at all) and stands-in (replaces), complements, supplements and generaly compensates for the existing, current, published process and procedures.

If you’ve ever managed 10-60 people in a group, you know that more than one work-around may develop. One or more may spread among the group and one may rise to the surface as the “real way things are done”.

What’s wrong with that?

There are two types of work-arounds. Those that lazy, incompetent people develop that are much more flawed than the original process and those that smart, innovative people develop than can be (and often are) better than the original. If the work-around is better than the published process, the only thing “wrong” is that it isn’t properly documented (and it’s subversive). The other thing that can go wrong with a work-around (and usually does) even if it is far superior is that, from a data management standpoint, you have zero validity and reliability when time comes to report or conduct analysis. Documentation in work-arounds often involves multiple Excel spreadsheets that tie to nothing. From an accountability and performance perspective, work-arounds can be critically dangerous.

Bring ’em if ya got ’em!

As dangerous as they are, business process analysis really can’t live without them. You have to know what people are doing and you need to know if it works. Create that safe space and invite people to bring what they have. Keep an open mind and evaluate the work-arounds that show up. Don’t expect people to be too vocal in promoting their solutions. This is an uncomfortable topic (admitting you were a renegade and broke the rules).

If you spot a real winner, frankly, recognize and reward that person. Maintain the tension between following the rules and breaking them (for the good of the order!) by creating a space where work-arounds don’t have to be subversive and stealth. If you try to keep a lid on innovation, learning and spread of knowledge in a group, you will create your own subversion and work-around climate. Let people openly break the rules by creating labs (white-boards) where workflow innovation can happen.


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