Process – Part II

This week’s Pearl of Leadership Wisdom is on Process – Part II.

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” W Edwards Demming

Lights out…

I bought my current home about ten years ago. I had the house completely redecorated from top to bottom. Now, in the bathroom, there are 6 halogen spotlights in the ceiling. Every twelve months or so, when one bulb pops, the others also pop within about two days. This has been going on for a decade. It’s the same in the kitchen.

I drove three examples of the same model of car. The water pump failed on each at the same mileage, plus or minus 3%.

I have two televisions in my house. One is 29 years old and the other 22 years old. Both work fine (although they are somewhat bulky).

Before 1980, air passenger fatalities varied between 1 and 2 per billion passenger kilometres flown. Since 1980, it’s been zero, give or take.

It never used to be like this. I remember lying in bed as a schoolboy listening to my Dad trying to start the car. The new car. Thank you British Leyland. I remember when light bulbs used to fail at random, and often. Things would break. Clocks would stop. Planes would fall out of the sky.

What’s going on..?

What’s happened in manufacturing over the last few decades is amazing. The processes companies use to make stuff have been analysed, defined and managed to ensure that every item that is made, as far as is practical and merited by its importance, is the same as the one before, and the one after. That’s why the lights and the water pump fail at the same time (after a long time) and my TVs haven’t failed at all. And mechanical failure in planes is so infrequent.


No more Quality Control (sifting out the inferior stuff and throwing it away, along with what it cost to make). Now we have Quality Assurance (making sure we understand our processes so that we don’t make rubbish in the first place.) Genius!

Not just for stuff…

But it’s so much wider. It’s not just about product quality. Almost everything is a process. You need a process to understand where you’re going (strategy). You need a process to make it happen (operational strategy, usually marketing and one other key process, perhaps project management, or whatever it is that delivers your value). You need a process to get the very best from your most able people (personal productivity).

That is not to preclude creativity (here’s a newsflash – creativity is a process as well. The reason most people prevent themselves from being creative is because they fear looking foolish.)

Not convinced..?

You may think this is tosh. You may think there’s some special foo-foo dust that delivers your results. That’s not management. That’s hope. And as they say, hope is not a method. Hope is not a process.

W Edwards Demming, whom I quoted at the top, also said “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

What’s for lunch…

Without defining the critical processes that will turn your dreams into reality, you’re at monumental risk from any competitor who does define these processes. They will eat your lunch and anything else they fancy.

Having great people is necessary but not sufficient. Do you have well meaning people who never quite hit the heights? Their attitude is good, they have sufficient IQ points, they do the hours, but they never set the heather alight. They never sparkle.

What’s wrong with them? Well, it’s probably their manager. The manager who doesn’t see the road to success as being the excellent execution of a few well-honed processes. The manager who believes in foo-foo dust.

Success is a process.


PS If you want to read the first Pearl on Process go here

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