Processes Should Be Simple

March 2, 2009

We have defined processes as where inputs come from, and where they go to in order to get a piece of work completed.

For a simple example, when materials arrive at your loading dock, receiving validates the waybill with the delivery, then gives the way bill to accounts payable, who validates with the purchase order for payment. That way bill is both an output for receiving, and an input for A/P. 

If we were to chart or diagram this, it would be simple one;

Easy Process

Easy Process Flow

Receiving validates bill with Delivery, THEN provides to A/P who validates with PO, THEN pays bill.

Exceptions Can Hurt

But what often happens, is that we try to have our processes handle all possible exceptions. Trying to build that one size fits all type of process gets very complex and more difficult to work with.

For Example

In the example we used above, what could go wrong to cause an exception?

  •  The delivery does not match the waybill
  •  The delivery quantity does not match purchase order quantity

That is just two obvious exmples.

So our process would then be;

Delivery Arrives; (NOTE: this image is a sample to show complexity – not a true delivery to payment workflow)

Complex Flow

Complex Process Flow








IF delivery and waybill match THEN DO….

IF delivery and waybill NOT match THEN DO…

IF Waybill and PO match THEN DO….

IF Waybill and PO NOT match THEN DO….

Now, if we were to chart or diagram this, it is no longer a simple one, it is filled with IF, THEN DO flows and paths.

As more of these pile up- your process gets unweildy and difficult to manage.

The Exceptions Do Count

This is not to state that we ignore those exceptions. You know they exist, you know they will happen.

The key is to not to try and account for them in one huge process flow diagram.

But to separate them out into multiple small and simple sub-processes.

So using our simplistic example, when materials arrive at your dock, one simple process takes place if the delivery and way bill match (ie forward to A/P)

And a separate process gets used if they don’t match. (ie perhaps purchasing needs to reconcile)

The SMB Takeaway

Don’t try and create a process that covers each and every possible exception.

Do create multiple smaller sub-processes. They are easier to use, and easier to update if you change the work flow.

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