Operations and procedures manuals which fail to recognise the way people actually go about handling problems and acquiring information have created a long-standing problem for government and business, according to a New Zealand entrepreneur deploying rapid access to tailored software as a substitute expedient.
Ivan Seselj, managing director of Auckland-headquartered business process advisor Promapp Solutions, labels this "the problem of the ignored procedures manual".
Western government and business culture has an extended history of generating long, detailed operations manuals which set out in close array every aspect of a particular issue. The problem, as Mr Seselj sees it, is that nobody reads them. Hence the old after-dinner speaker's party joke at industry and manufacturing conventions: "If all else fails, read the manual."
The fact that this old chestnut can still get a chuckle or two illustrates the fact that the old manual approach is not necessarily the most effective way of managing existing business processes and training new employees, let alone implementing running changes and modifications.
A long, sequential read of masses of process information in a manual is not the way humans pick up organisational knowhow in real life, according to Promapp. Initially they pick up basic facts, for important parts of the milieu they are working in,watching and listening to other employees, following short, to the point instructions for a particular task.and seeking out further information when they need it.
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"We naturally seek answers to a particular problem on a particular day," said Mr Seselj. "We don't read to page 17 of the manual to find it, we give up on page 2.
"Unfortunately, in the manuals we ignore the cues and methods we use every day. We've known this for 20 years.
"If you talk to people, they are casually dismissive of the 'by the book' way. What we should be doing is the workshop way.
"That's how we naturally show others, five essential field points. The people who get defensive, [and] produce pages of detail, haven't fully grasped the procedures."
In 2002 Mr Seselj was working at a council on asset management, then a live issue in Australia and New Zealand as the central government financial treasuries and financial managers pressured lower levels of government to get accurate estimates of what actually were the ongoing operating costs, funds needed for maintenance, depreciation and replacement of assets.
He developed an approach of working out the business processes needed, documenting them as software and having them available for managing revisions of or additions to procedures, or spot checking when required.
Promapp began as Process Management App, soon shortened to Promapp. "I hired software developers, within a year or so we had the first dollars rolling in, said Mr Seselj. Using self-funded growth, Promapp has in excess of 300 clients including a bunch of local government councils and about 30 staff members.
For ease of access, Promapp opted for externally stored software. "We're a cloud application," said Mr Seselj. "We were cloud before cloud existed.
"We're very search driven – because we're cloud, you can search in other places and pull it back. Aussies and Kiwis don't go looking for help, but if it's there they will use it.
"This has tripled usage, putting information where people go, say accessible from tablets and smartphones, touchscreens in production areas.
The firm's proprietary software, Promapp, delivered over the internet, is claimed to make it easy to create, navigate through and revise, expand or change business processes.
"It provides an intuitive online process repository, an integrated process mapping tool and a process improvement toolset," the firm said. "Our success has stemmed from a central philosophy – that expressing and managing process knowledge can be kept simple, and that this information is crucial in sustaining an on-going culture of process improvement.