Being a systems pragmatist is critical in not making assumptions about your processes, but rather review every production step to uncover any issues that were not being addressed.

When the idea of The Systems Pragmatist service line popped to mind, I was thinking about the critical importance of systems and processes. I had just left a strategy session with the former head of HR from Cisco, and she gave me a new respect for the value of process flows. Previous to that session, I saw them as just an assumed part of the process. It was great to gain a new appreciation for one of my strengths!

Thus, I thought I’d share the value of process flows. As much as we think we know our processes, we don’t. I’ve yet to find a situation where we didn’t learn something by creating and documenting process flows. For example, while working with a client on production scheduling, the supervisors and managers thought they knew what was being scheduled and the process to schedule it; however, they didn’t. When we documented the production schedule and associated processes, we found several scheduling issues no one was addressing. This simple finding led to dramatic improvements in service levels as we could better identify root causes.

Lately, I’ve been working with several clients to design and implement SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning) programs as it is a great way to align all functions of the organization on one plan that also balances demand with supply. We recently developed process flows to support the demand and supply processes, and it was enlightening. At a minimum, it provided clarity to the process steps and accelerated our progress because it facilitated communication and collaboration.

Process flows provide clarity in several respects: 1) Which direction the process flows. 2) Who is responsible for the process step. 3) Whether a decision is required. 4) The sequence of process steps. 5) A visual representation of the process.

Contrary to popular opinion, process flows do not have to be complex. Although Visio creates perfect process flows, it does not have widespread use. In the SIOP example above, we went down the simple path and created them in Excel. Being fancy isn’t essential and can add complications. Consider what will facilitate communication, collaboration and aid in achieving results. Simplify and focus exclusively on what will provide value.