The hidden costs of 'pretend processes'

If a process is written down and put on a shelf, and no one gets to hear it, did it ever exist?

Okay, this may not pose as much of a philosophical conundrum as the one about the tree falling in the forest, but ‘pretend processes’ are costly for businesses.

Some people doubt the existence of ‘pretend processes’, but when we explain what they are, they nod knowingly. We call it the ‘old way’ – a classic procedures manual with confusing flowcharts and thirty-two chapter procedure documents which took months to write, but never get used.

They’re typically difficult to understand and usually out-of-date. Few people in the organisation know where the manuals are, and when they’re found, they’re as useful as kit-set furniture instructions in a foreign language.

Whether it’s making something in a factory, or baking a cake in your kitchen, having processes written down but then leaving them in the bottom drawer, isn’t going to lead to a good outcome.

We find many organisations have tried to do what they perceive as the right thing by capturing processes. But mostly they’re just ‘pretend processes’ because they’ve been recorded in the lengthy procedure format, and tend to be ignored.

There are a lot of giveaway signs at an organisation which is a great pretender, and the attitude of staff to processes gives the show away.

A great way to tell if your organisation has a problem is to see if any of the comments below sound familiar. Some of these reactions may seem exaggerated, but we’ve heard them often enough to know they’re more common than companies are usually prepared to admit.

• ”Yeah, I think we’ve got a great big procedures manual. Somewhere.”

• ”Quite a few of the procedures in the manual are out of date, but that’s not a problem because everyone knows the manual’s not used anyway.”

• ”We’re going to need to convene a meeting to sort this problem out. I’ve just checked the procedures manual and it’s out of date.”

• “If Frank gets hit by a bus, we’re in serious trouble…no one knows those processes but him.”

Processes captured in the old way are almost inevitably too long and too confusing, and it’s too hard to find information quickly. A lot of work has been done for no benefit. It’s time to stop pretending. They may be ‘pretend processes’, but their costs are very real.

What do you think? Is your organisation using the ‘old way’?

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