Basic and documented processes in your organization make sure that tasks get done.

They ensure that the Who, the When and the How are all completed as expected.

Do your financial staff update A/R or A/P only if they choose? or maybe just when they choose?

Would you consider if, or maybe satisfactory in your general ledger or sales funnel?

I think not

The SMB Takeaway

If and Maybe aren’t appropriate in IT either.

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There is much argument about whether or not there is a place for process management frameworks in smaller start up sized organizations.

One of the key arguments that detractors use is that start ups must remain nimble. And that to stay nimble, start ups cannot have one hand tied behind their back dealing with the overhead of some fancy dancy process structure.

To me, that argument is only half right.

Certainly, you do not want to be a hugely bureaucratic series of silo’s where nothing ever gets done!

Framework

But I think that you are missing the point if you believe that creating bureaucracy is all that a basic process management framework is going to give you.

At its most basic, a Process Management Framework (PMF) helps you make things consistent and repeatable.

In other words, it can make it easier to scale, easier to on board new staff, and require less operational management.

Cowboy Culture

Start up Companies often act as  can-do Cowboy cultures. You spend 24 hour days fueled on caffeine and energy drinks to pull the irons out of the fire, get them tested, and send them out the door. Heroic efforts by the team and a case of beer when that last deliverable  was hit.

These are actions of heroic proportions, all performed by individuals that no one else even knows how, let alone what they have done.

A consistent and repeatable process for many key activities provides a baseline that allows others in your organization, or even outside contractors, to help.

Growth? the team does not need to spend weeks getting the new staffers up to speed, the how, and the when are well documented and available. The senior staff then help out mentoring with the why and other issues.

That new product launch example I used above? perhaps beyond the engineering team, everybody from reception to sales could be able to assist the final debug and quality control, because the QC process / testing method was thought out documented.

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Photo Credit wokka via flickr

I was recently talking with the president of a SMB, and during that conversation he mentioned some technologies he was thinking about implementing to improve some of his internal processes.

It is a constant refrain.

Prize Ribbons

Technology Takes Last Place

Technology should be a distant last place in your considerations.

Technology is a tool that can be used by people.

A tool used by people to generate business results by following business processes.

Read these two reviews by John Caddel, and Bob Sutton referencing the same study on improving medication processes in hospitals. To quote Mr. Caddel;

I’ve seen both these situations in action: the ability of front-line personnel to understand and fix problems with the processes they use, and the effectiveness of often-overlooked simple and low-tech solutions.

The SMB Takeaway

Technology tools can help standardize, they can help speed up existing business processes. But if those processes don’t even exist right now. Don’t think (or let vendors convince you) that a software tool will be a magic bullet that can do it all for you.

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Photo Credit bunchofpants via flickr

In the March 2009 Harvard Business Review  (subscription required) Joseph M. Hall and M. Eric Johnson have an excellent article titled; When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?

We know that some tasks are truly difficult to *standardize. Can a grahic designer have controlled processes for their creativity? 
In my opinion – not really!
The Above HBR article dives into the difficulty of managing the inherent tensions between both artistic (which I have traditionally called creative) vs. the more scientific processes as defined by frameworks such as Six Sigma or ITIL.
(for a completely different take on the article, check out Peter Lijnse’s post here.) http://peterlijnse.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/artistic-or-scientific-processes/
Anyway!
For managers in the SME space, the handling of these tensions is many levels beyond the target of this post!
I have been asked before if *creative organizations can implement process management frameworks such as ISO 900x or ITIL. My response and opinion has always been Yes.
But let me back up a bit.
The grahic artist, the author, the copy expert – those creative tasks are one thing. And the argument is always that you can’t make those into a systematic process!
But think of all the supporting cast! Think of all the pieces in your business that generally hide under the SG&A costs on your balance sheet. Most of those *can be systemized via process improvements.
While the graphic artists work is non-structured, the *input (the hand off to the artist) of the requirements and story boards, and the *output (the artists hand off of the completed product or drafts) to the next step can be improved via process improvements.
And the root *because….
In most organizations – time, and money is lost – * not in the tasks themselves, but in the dead space between tasks. When work is moving to the next stage, or waiting for sign off.
I am quite confident you have been in a scenario where you were told; “I gave that to (insert name or department here) last week!”
And those are areas that are just begging for improvement.

We know that some tasks are truly difficult to standardize. Can a graphic designer have controlled processes for their creativity? 

In my opinion – not really!

The Above HBR article dives into the difficulty of managing the inherent tensions between both artistic (which I have traditionally called creative) vs. the more scientific processes as defined by frameworks such as Six Sigma or ITIL.

(for a completely different take on the article, check out Peter Lijnse’s post here.) 

Anyway!

For managers in the SME space, the handling of these tensions is many levels beyond the target of this post!

I have been asked before if creative organizations can implement process management frameworks such as ISO 900x or ITIL. My response and opinion has always been Yes.

But let me back up a bit.

The graphic artist, the author, the copy expert – those creative tasks are one thing. And the argument is always that you can’t make those into a systematic process!

But think of all the supporting cast! Think of all the pieces in your business that generally hide under the SG&A costs on your balance sheet. Most of those can be systematized via process improvements.

While the graphic artists work is non-structured, the input (the hand off to the artist) of the requirements and story boards, and the output (the artists hand off of the completed product or drafts) to the next step can be improved via process improvements.

And the root because….

In most organizations – time, and money is lost –  not in the tasks themselves, but in the dead space between tasks. When work is moving to the next stage, or waiting for sign off.

I am quite confident you have been in a scenario where you were told; “I gave that to (insert name or department here) last week!”

And those are areas that are just begging for improvement.

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You already have a large investment in an ISO 9000 PMF (Process Management Framework). So the question is; is ITIL worth considering for IT, or can we use the existing ISO PMF?

There is a key difference between ITIL and the ISO standards. The ITIL framework is exactly that; a framework of best practices. Unlike ISO 9000 there is no external audit process or certification. (Companies cannot be certified under ITIL, Persons versed in the framework can be)

One advantage of ITIL is that it provides a “Rosetta Stone” for IT language, this can be of value if you are dealing with outsourcers that are already ITIL aligned.

So your answer – it can be your choice

1) If you already have an ISO PMF, and choose to go ITIL, many of the ITIL Management capabilities can be slid right into your PMF. If you read the ITIL overviews I have posted on this site, you will notice that with the addition of the required audit capabilities required by ISO auditors, you are already there.

2) You can also leverage your existing PMF to include your IT planning and operations within your PMF without going the ITIL route. For example, Most ISO Certified organizations spend their time on ensuring HR, Finance and Manufacturing are PMF processes, but even in these there can be IT overlap. For example; If your HR department has employee hire and termination sub-processes, IT involvement in commissioning / decommissioning network accounts and providing computers is easy to add (if it is not already there)

As stated above, if you look at the below links to some brief ITIL overviews I have posted,you will notice that in many cases the simple addition of the ISO required documentation and audit requirements gets you right there.

part 1 – Overview
Part 2 – Configuration Management
Part 3 – Incident Management
Part 4 – Problem Management

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