GUEST POST by Mike Shipulski

If you want to improve a job, ask the people who do it. They know the tools and the patterns. They know the ins and outs of the process. They know when and how to circumvent the process. And they know what will break if you try to change the process. And what interrupts is the behavior of the people using the process.

When a process changes, people’s behavior does not. Once people learn the process, they want to continue working that way. It’s like their bodies know what to do without even thinking about it. But on the other hand, when a process does not meet needs, people naturally change their behavior to cope with the process’s shortcomings. And in this case, people’s behavior does not conform to the process, but they standardize their behavior around the process. Both realities—people like to do what they did last time, and people change their behavior to cope with process flaws—make it difficult for people to change their behavior when the process changes.

When the process does not work but the modified behavior works, change the process to match the modified behavior. When this is not possible, ask people why they changed their behavior and ask them to propose a process that respects their improvements on the fly and respects the company’s minimum requirements for their processes.

When a process isn’t working, but people still follow it, ask them to come up with ways to improve the process and listen to their ideas. Then run a pilot of their new process on the smallest scale and see what happens. If it improves things, scale up the process and standardize the new way of working. If it makes things worse, stop the pilot and try another improvement suggested by the team, again on a small scale. Repeat this process until the process starts working satisfactorily.

When the people responsible for doing the work are given the opportunity to change their processes for the better, there is a good chance that the wider population using the process will eventually align their behavior with the new process. But the change won’t be immediate, and there may be some backsliding. But because process keepers feel ownership of the new process and benefit from the change, they will continue to reinforce the new behavior until it becomes the new behavior. And if it turns out that the new process needs to be modified further, the process keepers will make those changes and slowly bring the behavior into line with the process.

When the new process is better than the old, people will eventually follow the new process. And the best way to make the new process better than the old is to ask the people doing the work.

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Process Keepers Hold the Keys to Change

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