Blog

Why Process Analysis Is NOT A Luxury

Election years are fascinating to me.

I live in Canada, and although our next federal election isn’t until 2023, I feel like the current election year in the United States is as important to me as if it were right here at home.

Why?

Well of course we share the longest border in the world with the United States, and we know that pretty much everything that happens there impacts us economically, socially, and even politically.

But there’s something else that’s been bugging me this year, as I watch the debates and wait for the results of the caucuses and primaries.

The failures of the caucus processes are being blamed on the technology, which is causing people to call for a regression into manual paper voting.

It’s a classic cause and effect error.

The technology failed, yes.

But the cause of that failure was human error, and the cause of the human error was poor process planning.

Or perhaps no process planning at all.

We hear it all the time —“process planning is a luxury. We don’t have time or budget for that. Just make the change and we’ll fix things later.”

Here’s the truth:

Any change that is implemented without first understanding the supporting processes is doomed to fail.

The hysteria surrounding the recent caucus in Iowa and the upcoming caucus in Nevada is a perfect example of how process thinking should never be considered an option or a luxury.

(And why your business or organization needs to pay attention and learn from Iowa’s mistake.)

A Perfect Example: The Iowa Caucus

On February 3rd Iowans took the first step in selecting a candidate to represent the Democratic Party in the upcoming elections in the United States.

[In case you’re interested, each of the states and territories vote to allocate their delegates between the various potential candidates. At the final convention, the person with the required number of delegates goes on to be the candidate on the ballot in November. It’s a complicated series of primaries and caucuses and is rooted in tradition that should be overhauled — but that’s another story. If you want to read how it works, you can look HERE.]

Traditionally the first state to participate, experts and campaigns look to the Iowa results as an important bellwether on how the race is going, what the issues are, and who is out front.

And, since the Democratic Party is desperate to elect the person most likely to beat Donald Trump, they are also determined to ensure each vote is safe, untainted, and accurate so that no one can claim otherwise and cast doubt on the results.

Enter technology.

Who doesn’t love a good mobile app?

They’re easy, fast, sexy, and — obviously — modern. You know, like we should be in the 21st century.

In fact, in 2016 both the Democratic and Republican parties used mobile apps to report voting results with great success.

So a few months ago (literally, a few months) the people in charge of the caucus process in Iowa bought a new app from a new company and launched it for the February 3rd vote.

It failed spectacularly, with the final votes still unknown weeks later, and created chaos and panic that is impacting the next caucus (which is also using an app) in Nevada on February 22nd.

What Went Wrong?

There seem to be as many opinions on that question as there are people willing to write about it, but it seems to come down to 6 things:

  • The app failed due to coding issues.
  • The app required a third party system (i.e. NOT the usual app stores) to download it to the user’s phone, adding complexity.
  • Training was ineffective or nonexistent.
  • The process for recording votes was also new.
  • Some users randomly decided not to use new processes and technology, and “did things the old way” using paper and phones.
  • Phone lines couldn’t handle traffic.

The Impact

Although the actual voting results and associated delegate allocation from the Iowa caucus are unlikely to change from what was “guesstimated,” there will be a review of all the numbers, eventually.

Perhaps the biggest impact is that media is focusing on how bad technology is, stirring up fear and a demand on behalf of voters (and pundits) to return to paper-based voting.

Check out this quote from Wired.com:

The Iowa results will come in eventually, thanks to a paper trail. But it underscores just how much can go wrong when you lean on unnecessary, untested tech. ~ Wired.com

If the writer simply added “without the necessary focus on process analysis” to the end of the sentence, I would agree.

But they didn’t, and I don’t.

In fact, paper balloting has been plagued by documented examples of fraud for years in the form of misleading or confusing ballot papers, ballot stuffing, mis-recorded ballots, and destruction or invalidation of ballots.

Something clearly needs to be done to modernize paper balloting. Suggesting that the solution to the Iowa debacle is to go back to paper ballots is like suggesting we focus only on gasoline-powered vehicles because electric vehicles aren’t yet perfect.

The Real Issue

The problem wasn’t coding, or training, or a new process for collecting data, or a lack of phone lines.

No.

What really went wrong in Iowa was a shameful lack of planning, risk analysis, and, perhaps most importantly, process analysis.

If there had been proper process analysis, errors and failures would have been caught and mitigated before the new processes were launched.

States yet to participate are putting extra attention on their voting processes and technologies, and there are already indications that Nevada is in trouble.

Campaigns said they still have not gotten the party to offer even a basic explanation of how key parts of the process will work. Volunteers are reporting problems with the technology that’s been deployed at the last minute to make the vote count smoother. And experts are raising serious questions about a tool the party has been feverishly assembling to replace the one scrapped after the meltdown in Iowa.

“It feels like the [state party is] making it up as they go along,” said one Democratic presidential aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the process. “That’s not how we need to be running an election.”

~Washington Post

How is it possible that in 2020 there are major organizations and events which have not invested properly in process analysis?

How is it that no one sat down to map out how the new app would support the new process, who would be required to use it, what the possible failures would be and how those could be mitigated, and how training and testing would highlight any other considerations?

Process analysis is just not a luxury anymore. It’s not something that organizations should do “if they have time.” It is a requirement for successful change implementation.

Every. Single. Time.

The following quote about the Iowa mess is from The Intelligencer, and captures the issue beautifully:

What should scare Americans about the events of Monday night isn’t simply that we’re leaving important elements of the political process in the hands of untested and insecure technologies, but also that those technologies are being inserted into the heart of a system with so little resiliency that even minor, surmountable problems can send the entire media-political complex into meltdown mode — technical failures being amplified by institutional failures being amplified by communications failures, cascading over one another in a breathtaking display of panicked incompetence. ~The Intelligencer

No resiliency.

Institutional and communications failures.

This is what process analysis is designed to prevent.

OK, But What About Regular Businesses?

I get it.

You’re not in Iowa or Nevada or even the United States.

You work in a regular corporate environment, and you’re not quite sure how this Iowa caucus failure applies to you and your organization.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you decide that your team could be more efficiently organized, so you work with a consultant and come up with a brand new organizational structure, with new reporting relationships, roles, and responsibilities.

No one got fired or laid off, so you work with HR to make sure all the job descriptions are updated, draw up the new org charts, prepare your corporate communication, and announce the change.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lots of things.

When you change reporting relationships and move people around, there are natural questions with respect to how business should flow now.

Maybe you reorganized the Finance Department and moved the Compliance team under Legal.

Before the change George, in Compliance, sat right next to Ana who works in Accounts Receivable. They had an easy casual process for handing off documentation and it seemed to work well.

Now that George sits on a different floor Ana has assumed that George has everything he needs, even now that Ana and her manager have made some changes.

George has no idea about the changes, and has been submitting incomplete reports.

Why?

Because no one looked at the old process and how things should work in the new reorganized scenario.

One of the most common changes occurring right now in companies and teams is reorganization, and the number of those projects that do not include process analysis would shock you.

Why Isn’t Process Analysis A Given?

Because it’s considered a luxury or something you “do later.”

Kind of like change management (but don’t get us started on THAT!).

Process analysis is as necessary as making sure HR signs off on job descriptions, or making sure that legal approves contract changes, or making sure that finance signs off on business cases.

It’s simply not a luxury. Not anymore.

The Seven Things You Should Do When Considering A Business Change

Don’t be like the caucus leaders who haven’t looked at processes and potential failures.

Don’t be like the corporate leader who believes their change idea and plan is clear and obvious, and who thinks that process analysis is just a buzz word and a luxury for those who have the time and money to do it.

Be thoughtful, mindful and smart.

The time you invest now will save you a lot of heartache, embarrassment, and money later on.

So:

  1. Build process analysis into your timelines.
  2. Engage the people who are involved in the current process and who will be involved in it after you make your changes. Get their support and buy-in.
  3. Document the process as it works now, warts and all.
  4. Consider how the current process is likely to be impacted by whatever you’re changing.
  5. Consider every single process failure that could occur, how likely it is to occur, and how severe the impact will be if it does occur.
  6. Design the new process to minimize the possibility of failures, particularly those with severe impacts, and
  7. Do a pilot test of the change (or two or three) well before you launch it.

Follow the Medium publication “At The Whiteboard” to read all our great articles on How To Crush It At Work!

Super Organized? Super Messy? You Need To Start Bullet Journaling.

If you’re reading this it’s either because a) you’re super organized already and love Bullet Journals and want to make yours more fabulous, b) you’re super organized and you’ve heard of Bullet Journals and you’re curious and a bit intimidated, or c) you’re not at all organized and would love an easy and fun way to keep track of “all the things.”

Whatever the reason, thanks for stopping by!

Our business is all about productivity and efficiency (oh and fun, don’t forget that!), and anything that can help with that and NOT be restrictive and tedious is worth giving a try.

But let’s start at the beginning.


Just What Is A Bullet Journal And Why Do I Need It?

It’s really just a manual, or paper-based method of organizing your life.

Are you shocked?

We are recommending a paper-based tool in the digital world?

Yes we are.

Because sometimes you need to download everything in your brain to truly be able to unplug, rest, and recharge.

Unlike traditional journals, work planners, or “to-do” lists, the Bullet Journal is an interesting (and creative) way of recording all the tasks from all your different lists and notes in an organized fashion, while also allowing for incredible freedom for other work — all in one central location.

It was developed by Ryder Carroll in his book, “The Bullet Journal Method,” and not only is it incredibly easy, but its flexibility also makes it appealing for people who dislike “frameworks” and “structure.”

Here’s the book that started it all. You can get it HERE

If you’re someone who’s already the King or Queen of Organization and you have a tool that works and you’re not really into using something else, well — you know the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

On the other hand, if you’d like to supercharge your organizational prowess or current “to do” list, habit tracking, or ideas, then this is a great way to get to the next level. (That challenge should really appeal to Type-A’s out there!)

You can also access our super fun, quick, and helpful FREE (for a limited time) course on Bullet Journaling by clicking RIGHT HERE.


What Do I Need To Know Before I Start?

  1. No, having artistic skills is not a requirement, and you don’t have to be a calligraphy expert. Bullet journaling is for you and for you only. If it works and you can read it, that’s all that matters. That being said, we find journaling a little bit therapeutic and a bit of a digital detox, so the more we journal, the neater we get, and the more we want to add flair to entries. (Adding flair is part of the “fun” of Bullet Journaling, and it also sparks your creative side.)
  2. No, you don’t have to have fancy notebooks and pens. Of course you can buy tools just for Bullet Journals — it’s a whole industry these days — but truly anything will do. We recommend a few products that work best for us, but all that matters is that it works for you.
  3. Yes, you have to use paper. You may be thinking, “isn’t my iPhone basically a bullet journal? Why are we regressing? Are you going to suggest papyrus and fountain pens next?

Well, yes and no.

It seems like there is daily news on the negative effects of the blue light of our screens, the troubles related to repetitive use injuries, and the simple fact of disconnection from the world around us when we rely so much on our screens.

The truth is, we’ve all downloaded a million and one apps on our phones, but here’s the thing; we’re already always on our phones and to be honest, we need to find an excuse NOT to be.

It’s also true that writing things down makes it more memorable and allows you to be focused on organization and not toggling to check Instagram account as well.

(If you are highly irritated by this concept, fear not, there is an app for that. You can still follow the Bullet Journal methodology on your phone; the Bullet Journal Companion is available in the app store for $3.99, however buyer beware. Your rapid logging entries expire after 48 hours so that you are forced to transpose them to your written journal. So, it isn’t a replacement for the written journal but can be a great supplement if you are on the go a lot.)


What Do I Need To Get Going?

A pen and a notebook are truly all you “must have” to start Bullet Journaling, and if you’re just testing the waters, then maybe you want to start there.

If you want to go a level up, then there are a few tools that we absolutely love. Here’s what they are, and where you can find them:

Leuchtturm 1917 Dotted Notebook– this is the gold standard in bullet journals. We highly recommend getting the dotted version as it allows you to use the official bullet journaling methodology with ease. It also forces some neater handwriting if that is important to you, as well as providing some natural boundaries and outlines. Click HERE to get this notebook.

Another favourite is the GO TO NOTEBOOK. It has great weight in the paper, dotted lines, and spaces for an index and projects to manage. It also has a great pocket at the back. Click HERE to get this notebook.

The Sharpie pen is a great pen for bullet journaling because it enhances your journaling in the best way possible. You don’t actually need a TON of colours. The basics work just fine unless you are a real artist. Click HERE for these pens.

The Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens are also a fan favourite due to all their colours and their high quality. If you are feeling super creative and love to have a good selection of colours, these are for you. Click HERE for these pens.

Highlighters are a tool for journaling that add colour and fun if you do your actual journaling in black or blue ink (to keep it professional, you know?). They don’t smudge, are a great way to colour code things, and come in two sizes. Click HERE for these.

You can even go über fancy with your highlighters if you like. These are top notch. Click HERE for these.


You’re Ready To Go!

With the book and a few basic tools you can get started right away and take back control of all the tasks and ideas you have swirling inside your head.

If you’d like to get a little more help on starting your Bullet Journal and making it look and feel like you (at your most organized), then you are in luck!

We are offering a limited time FREE one-hour, online, self-directed (in other words, you watch it on your own schedule — when you’re ready, when you’re in the mood, when you have a few minutes) course on Bullet Journaling.

Totally, completely, 100% free, with no obligations, and no credit card needed.

CLICK HERE to access the course — you can even watch the first lesson without signing up. And you’ll love it, because Nicole is an amazing instructor.

Either way, we hope this post has been helpful and that you can feel just a little more organized as you start your day. Good luck – let us know what you think!!!

Our New Blog Site!

 

Hi there, and thanks for checking out our website!

We wanted to let you know that we have a brand new location for our blog – it’s now over on the Medium platform (Click HERE), and you can find all the latest articles from us (and other writers who we’ve approved) there.

At The Whiteboard continues to be the place to find information that will help you “Crush It At Work.” This page, on our website, contains all our archived blogs back to the very beginning (June 2012!!!). If you’re looking for our latest and greatest work, however, you need to click HERE.

  • Are you a front-line employee trying to figure out how to make improvements in what you do every day, how to be an amazing team member, how to move up in an organization, or how to build amazing relationships at work?
  • Maybe you’re a manager, trying to be amazing at your job. You’d like to improve business processes, learn how to engage your team, inspire them, coach them (ugh, what does THAT even mean?), talk to them even when it’s tough, make changes that stick, or just be “that manager” that people remember (in a good way) forever.
  • Are you a Senior Leader who wishes their team would “think more strategically” but don’t know how to explain that to them? Do you have communication issues, culture issues, and change management issues? If I asked you to explain change management to me in 25 words or less, could you? Are you trying to improve efficiency, save money, or make your customers happier? Why? How do you know there’s a problem?

If so, then our publication is for you. Search this page for our oldies-but-goodies, or click HERE to see the latest and greatest.

Thanks for reading!