Three Ways to Repair a Broken Process What to Do When Things Aren't Running Smoothly

When there is an undesired outcome in one area of the organization we lead, many times we rush to create a new process or drastically revamp the current one. This is a dangerous tendency we must guard against. Better outcomes are not always the result of new processes. First we should examine why the current process is not working.

Here is a simple method to consider in order to repair a broken process.

Last week I attended a meeting with the clinicians (doctors and nurse practitioners) of our organization. We were discussing how certain processes might be improved in order to reduce our patients’ wait time. The questions which came to the forefront were: Do we create a new process? Should we change our current one?

Repair a Broken Process or Create a New One?

What do you do as the leader in this situation? How do you ensure the best path is taken? Here are three simple principles to think about when repairing a broken process.

  1. Make sure people are correctly implementing the current process. Before you plan a drastic overhaul of your current system, have the discipline to examine why it is not working.  It may be a cultural issue, a training issue, or a lack of adequate staff. When confronted with a process that is not working, our tendency is to assume the process is broken, that its design and framework are faulty. However, often the process is solid, and the gap exists in the implementation for one reason or another. Always begin by asking, “Are we accurately implementing our current process?” It may seem exciting and rewarding to some members of your team to suggest scrapping a current process and starting anew. However, creating or changing a process unnecessarily can add complexity and waste precious resources. Many times newcomers are eager to point out flaws in a system and recommend what they may have used in previous workplaces. While we must encourage and listen to new ideas and fresh perspectives, we must not necessarily rush to change.
  2. Improve/Evolve the current process. If all stakeholders are following the process as defined, before eliminating the current process and starting from scratch, consider improving it. Making small adjustments or additions to a current mechanism causes less disruption and requires less training.
  3. Create a new process.  If a process has been examined, and it is determined that it must be drastically changed or removed, keep a few things in mind. First, before you design a new process, learn the history of what has been tried before. Looking over the last ten years of our organization, there have been many ideas we have tried and learned from—procedures that have worked, and many that have not. If those designing brand new processes are unable to tap into the knowledge garnered from these previous experiences, it can produce a colossal loss. So the designers of new processes should be encouraged to seek out members of the team who have been there longer and ask for their opinions. Often, staff members come to me and insist they would like to try something new, and I love that. However, they don’t know what we have already tried, and sometimes they don’t seem to want to hear it. Instead of exclaiming, “let’s try this,” we must ask, “have we tried this before?” Also, consider the principle of Occam’s razor, stating that we should employ a solution containing the least number of tools, metrics, and processes. The iPhone is an obvious example. It is elegantly simple. Designing processes containing less elements is harder than filling it with many. Why? Because it forces us to choose from many options which could be included, and select only a few. Then, it challenges us to refine and simplify the options we choose, ensuring each one makes a significant impact.

Process improvement is an area that leaders should champion and encourage. I wish you the best as you embark on the journey to make what you and your team do—even better.

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

For Further Reading:

The Beauty of Systems
Don’t Outsource Your Strategic Thinking

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