In the years I’ve been transforming organizations, a few requests get me worked up like a two-year old who skipped a nap. Two of these are, “The right process will solve our people issues” and “The right tool will solve our people and process issues.” While I agree, processes and tools are important, people are our greatest assets. To effectively transform and manage an optimal organization, one must realize the right order of importance – people first, with process and tools far behind. To maximize the effectiveness of your organization, invest in your people a magnitude more than your processes or tools.
People are our greatest assets. Cliché? Yes. But still true. Before you think I’m getting all drum-circle on you, hear me out. The right people in the right environment make great organizations what they are. The right set of people will adapt to almost any situation, create and evolve the optimal processes and select the right tool for the right job. They will see beyond the current state to what should be instead. They will set SMART goals, measure them by unambiguous objectives, and ensure each operational task relates back to one or more objectives. As Jim Collins showed in “Good to Great”, get the right people on the bus first and THEN figure out where the bus is headed. (I know, that concept troubled me at first, too).
However, getting your people to that point isn’t sunshine and roses, like I’m painting it. It takes determination and perseverance. An organization must make the effort to hire stringently and commit to investing in its people from the lowest to the highest levels, especially at the lowest levels. Personal and corporate growth goals should be objectively measurable and achievable (but just barely). For those who need it, performance improvement plans should be taken seriously. And, finally, teams should be well thought out, taking multiple facets into consideration, including personality types, geographical location, and of course, skill sets. I’ll stop here before I go on for days.
Bottom line is: To maximize the effectiveness of your organization, invest in your people significantly more than your processes or tools.
While I’ve been emphasizing on people, they alone aren’t enough. They will need good processes. Good processes, however, should be just enough to give your people the right support. They should be an essential part of the infrastructure your people need to achieve their measurable goals. They will vary from stringent to ultra-flexible, depending on the needs and the environment. A nuclear power plant is, and should be, strictly regulated with documented and closely-followed Standard Operating Procedures. (At least, I truly hope that is correct). Whereas a well-functioning development team should have a wide berth, just enough guidelines to comply to corporate policies and move in the same direction as the other teams. Not all processes are the same. But they should have one thing in common: Provide the right avenue and direction for your people to succeed and no more.
Finally, tools should be built to solve specific problems and streamline, but not dictate, processes. Technology is the outcome of your people setting a useful process in place and then looking at how a tool can optimize that process. Managing prioritization, enforcing WIP limits, alerting when items (e.g., defects) are aged beyond some threshold, and mistake-proofing to guard against bad inputs are just examples of how technology can help our people work within the right process. However you use the technology, remember: the features of the technology should not dictate the process. Instead, the needs of the process dictate the requirements for the technology.
Of course, it takes time, effort and iteration to optimize an organization. And just as it appears optimal, an inevitable external change occurs, forcing a re-optimization. In each iteration, focus on your people, establish measurable goals for them and let them create and/or evolve the processes and tools they need to meet those goals. Your organization will be better for it and you’ll be spared a tantrum from yours truly.