Process NinjaIf you run a business, you run an operation.  Even a one man band has a set of business processes that he uses: a way of contacting customers, a method for handling invoices or a mechanism for producing quotes. Wherever there is an organisation their are processes and it follows that wherever there are processes there are things that could be made to work better.

To do this you need the help of a Process Ninja; a person who appears in your business, removes all your organisational pain, makes things operate like clockwork then vanishes.  A true hero, a guy who is to geekdom what Superman is to clean living.

They are hard men to track down, but they have five rules they live by.  If you follow their principles you too can improve your organisation:

1.  Find inner clarity

All processes do things, they have a purpose, a raison d’être.  That might be to mend broken arms or to let people know how much tax they owe.

But people are rarely clear what that purpose is:

  • Are they trying to solve a customer query or cross sell a product?
  • Are they trying to make cars or keep a factory running efficiently?
  • Are they trying to train people in sales or sell more?

Because they are not crystal clear what their purpose is then their processes will become confused, convoluted slow and expensive.  A Ninja will clarify what that purpose is and design the processes around it.

2.  Strike at the gaps

We can all optimise and improve performance; that is no great skill, the problem is that we optimise around the wrong thing, we optimise around ourselves.

  • We build “centres of excellence”
  • We engage in internal turf wars
  • We stock pile to make ourselves look efficient

It is in our nature to improve our own position and performance but that isn’t process improvement.  People who point optimise around themselves only mess up the process for everyone else.  To be a Ninja look at the hand-offs between people and departments.  Optimise around your purpose.  Work on the gaps.

3.  Drink tea

We love to get into a good fight.  How often have you…

  • Become involved in some internal slagging match?
  • Copied your boss in on a reply all e-mail?
  • Concluded that everybody outside your department is an idiot?

I do it all the time.  I am so good at it that I once received the feedback that I “use e-mail like a machine gun”.  It might have made me feel better, I might even have won the battle but I only make any progress when I sit down and talk to my customers and understand them.  Ninjas talk and listen to people.  This is always best done over a cup of tea.

4.  Expect the worst

Processes rely on people to work them, often technically skilled people.

  • People who can understand the legalities of insurance policies
  • People who know how to spot a heart attack
  • People who can fix your PC from the end of a phone 5,000 miles away

You can make a choice when relying on other people, either: expect them to do the right thing at the right time all of the time, or expect them to make mistakes, they are human.  We all pride ourselves on employing the best, most gifted capable people in the world.  We might even be right, but there is a reason why Steve Jobs died a very very rich man.

It wasn’t because the iPhone is tricky to use.

A Ninja realises people are not infallible so spends time making processes simple.

5.  Do the unexpected

Anybody with any sense will tell you to manage the people

  • Give them SMART objectives
  • Hold them accountable
  • Incentivise them

What a Ninja knows is that the minute you start to “performance manage” your people is the minute you start to drive a whole host of defensive and unhelpful behaviours.  People will start to lie, cheat and deceive to cover up the issues that are outside their control.  Nobody operates in a vacuum.  Processes and people are inextricably interlinked.  So manage the process.

Identify failures then fix them, and provide the right tools, and train your staff, but most of all learn from them.

Ninjas improve the process, they don’t blame the people.

The biggest secret of all

What a process Ninja really knows is that process improvement isn’t about tools or techniques or data or charts. Process improvement is simply about people.  If you help your people to improve their processes rather than creating division and blame then you will succeed and your staff will thank you for it.

They might even buy you a mask.

Image Ninja by Seth Werkheiser