How Process Can Hamper Productivity

Lisa Bodell of Fast Company discusses how processes can get in the way of productivity in her article, “5 Ways Process Kills Productivity.”

Although good processes help to standardize and simplify complex activities, having too many processes in place can do more harm than good. Bodell cites examples that include permission-asking taking days, endless meetings, and every process being regarded as high priority.

Specifically, Bodell lists five ways that process can hurt production:
1. Too Much Permission To Ask: Too many approvals and sign-offs not only show a lack of trust, but get in the way of getting things done.
2. Process Over People: Focusing too much on processes to solve problems (instead of people) not only dehumanizes a company, but chokes off inspiration and vision.
3. Too Many Meetings: Managers spend 30-60% of their time in meetings, leading to overloaded and ineffective staff and an overemphasis on politics instead of production.
4. Unclear Vision: Jargon-loaded mission statements belie a lack of real purpose and meaning to a company’s overall goals.
5. Judgmental Management: Management shouldn’t negatively knee-jerk to new ideas and challenges to the status quo, as this stifles free-thinking and open-mindedness.

Not all processes are bad, of course. It’s when process becomes the culture at the cost of innovation and humanity that it threatens to curtail productivity. Six Sigma is just one example of a process improvement tool that has great utility, but must be utilized wisely.

In one example, Bodell cites Home Depot’s deployment of Six Sigma to successfully boost profitability, but at the cost of both worker morale and consumer satisfaction. Even 3M has restricted its use of Six Sigma to enhancing manufacturing processes, but has kept it from interfering with free-thinking R&D. As a result, 3M’s percentage of revenue from products created in the past five years has increased from a low of 21% to nearly 35%.

Bodell concludes that Six Sigma is just one of a list of top-down strategies that can not be used as a magic pill to improve entire companies. Managers in particular are caught in a bind of generating short-term results, but supporting innovation that can be disruptive to their daily activities. It’s therefore important to ensure that processes not impede creativity and invention for the sake of efficiency and maintaining the status quo.


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