Processes, the Building Blocks for a Better Project

Processes are not just for manufacturing. Consider a company that develops electronic control units for vehicles, [here may be requirements written, hardware, software, and verification tests. Tire organization may have associated processes for each of these.

There are many a bad thing said about processes. Some say these processes and procedures constrain adaptation to circumstances. We may hear complaints by those in the organization that there are too many processes, but experience shows that few if any are actually followed. Processes seldom can be created or crafted to address all situation variations, especially if the key parameters and variations are unknown.

There are complaints that the processes are too complicated, or unknown, even when the organization has introduced these processes through formalized internal training. This lack of understanding of the structure of processes, its intent, or even its existence calls into question the effectiveness of the formalized internal training. This is yet another reason find another way to do this and specifically embed learning and development into the organization’s projects. This will aid in understanding of processes and the principles associated with them. This understanding should connect the relationship to the objective, congruent with Systems Thinking which was discussed in Chapter 1. This distrbutes expectation as well as defining the expected manner to achieve those expectations.

Processes are most commonly considered explicit knowledge covered in Chapter 1. We say explicit, in that these are recorded in some form. As we discussed explicit knowledge is best employed as a guidepost rather than constraints, but this requires an understanding of the objective of the process. While there are some instances that require strict adherence to a process or procedure—safety of personnel or regulatory requirements—most processes are or have been developed with the intent to allow repeatability of an action or item with minimal variation and/or the collection of information which could facilitate an improvement to a process or procedure.

The expectation of minimal variation in inputs of a process may be one reason people consider it constraining.

Variation applies to both the inputs to the process, and the ability of the process to adapt to the range of inputs. The latter is the output, or how much control we

Control charts help us to understand the process capability and range of variation typically seen

Figure 2.6 Control charts help us to understand the process capability and range of variation typically seen.

are able to exert onto the variables and the system output. We wish to understand the output of the process and therefore understand the limits, looking to be able to predict the system and the results. Understanding the system and the ability to predict both inputs and output make possible improvements in the system.

There are two categories of origin of variation, common cause variation and special cause variation. There is variation in everything, and when we have studied and have mathematical models of the system, we then have some data from which to be able to differentiate between these two causes. Common cause variation is predictable; our data collecting and analysis inform us of the range possible or probable. Special cause variations are not able to be anticipated. This variation is not part of the system or the incoming material as we understand it from our previous analysis and mathematical models. This variation is outside of our data and our experiences. This variation is not able to be predicted and essentially is a surprise that will require exploration into root cause.

We can use control charts to record the performance of the system over time. These types of charts are used for manufacturing processes, but there is no reason for these charts to be used only for manufacturing processes. The examples shown are referred to as X-bar R chart, though there are a number of other options. Any process with idenitifed metrics can be recorded in a number of ways, to include the control chart. This chart illustrates the range of the variable under scrutiny over time. Over time, we see the process capability, and this will become the baseline, giving us a point from which we can explore improving the process with some level

Knowing the performance of the present system allows us to conceive and contrive ways to reduce the variation in the system

Figure 2.7 Knowing the performance of the present system allows us to conceive and contrive ways to reduce the variation in the system.

of confidence. Perhaps we do not like the variation and we will be well equipped to take action to reduce the variation.

Those using the process will likely have some productive commentary on the process from which we can begin this exploration. Tacit knowledge and processes, as reviewed in chapter 1, tacit or tribal knowledge, could be considered the opposite of processes or procedures in that this type of knowledge is not captured in any written form and may be even contrary to the organization’s documented procedures and processes. This tribal knowledge is most commonly a function of the belief that these procedures and processes are rigid and cannot be changed.

For processes and process changes to be successful requires our team members to understand the reason for the process. Why do we perform this specific step or process? What are the objectives of this work? What problem does this work solve or issue does the process address? Not knowing why the process is there reduces the work to a checklist, and is not a way to make the most for the organization with the team members. This approach neither sets the organization up for growth, nor the team members.

There are many reasons for this approach to processes in the organization, some of which are connected with the organization’s philosophy and management style, while other reasons can be caused by any number of the myriad of logical fallacies, or cognitive biases by the personnel using the processes. Another reason for the belief that processes are rigid that promotes tribal knowledge is the selective application of processes by senior personnel or executives during key points of a project due to schedule or budget constraints, perceived or real. For example, our organization may provide propaganda that stresses the importance of processes at times, then, at other times, places expectations on those doing the work that process will not impact scheduled delivery. This contradiction can cause consternation from those doing the work. There may be times when the organization’s words do not align with the deeds, for continuity, this should be very infrequent and followed quickly upon an explanation as to why we are behaving contrary to our principles. We would not this exception to be misconstrued as the norm. Further, we should follow up with a project review to determine why the process could not be followed. Additional, as part of this discussion, a determination of specific indicators should be identified to that decision point so we can ascertain the appropriate course of action to meet the objective. This gives the team the opportunity to experiment with an adaptation that may both meet the needs of the organization, and provide an improvement to the process. Any project after action examination, even when processes are followed, should consider the performance of the processes and especially any need to adapt that arose from that project work. This type of review, root cause analysis, will allow the tacit knowledge to be incorporated into the process or procedure, i.e., made explicit knowledge and thus reduces its potential use as political leverage or stage 3 tribal leadership; see chapter 1 section on politics.

Why do we have processes and procedures? What is the underlying need that drives their creation? If this need is valid why do we commonly see deviation from

An example of how we learn from the process and store the results

Figure 2.8 An example of how we learn from the process and store the results.

the processes and procedures? Improvement, repeatability, and planning are the most common drivers for processes and procedures. We will discuss this and the relationship to learning in the next section.

Relationships, Projects, Processes And Learning

Projects have processes associated with them; to see this list one need only check out The Project Management Institute (PMI). According to PMI, there are 5 process groups. In each of these groups, there are a number of processes. The 5 project process groups according to PMI are:* [1] [2]

  • 3- Executing
  • 4. Monitoring and Controlling
  • 5. Closing

There is much more to consider in the interaction between the objectives of the company, the work, the project, and the company processes. To best discuss this, we will divide into sections as we do with most of our discussions, to allow for a more in-depth look at the parts that make the system. Understanding the building blocks of any system allows for a better understanding of the whole and thus better application of said system towards the goal at hand.

Why Do We Have Processes And Procedures

First we must establish what we mean when we say process or procedure before we can fully discuss the why of having them. Process is defined as a systematic series of actions directed to some end and a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a defined manner.[3] Procedure is defined as an act or a manner of proceeding in any action or process conduct or a particular course or mode of action.

Applying these two definitions we can make a few determinations. At the root of all of this, the most detailed are the work instructions. The work instructions are the detailed results from the procedures. The aggregation of a specific set of procedures are used to build processes and used by those working the project.

Now that we have set a starting point, we can begin our discussion as to why we have processes and procedures. Since work instructions are the basic building blocks for processes, we will start with them. There are numerous reasons for having work instructions for conducting work in a way that has a high degree of repeatability. Not working from a common set of instructions means the outcome would not have much of a chance of repeatable outcome, nor will we have an effective starting point from which we can improve; everytime is like the first time, and any data collected cannot be readily associated with a method of conducting the work. With random range of execution of the work, we have a random range of outcomes not traceable to a specific set of actions, nor can we calculate the variation as a range of possible outcomes, due to conducting the work in a specific manner. There is no baseline from which differentiation of the various ways of conducting the work is possible.

Another limitation brings the question of how would you train the work force to conduct a task if each time was different? Consistency allows for a training to be conducted effectively because you can not only train on the work instructions but more importantly, the underlying principles. What is the goal of this work? Why are we doing it this way? When a team member knows why a set of work instructions and procedures are in place, it is possible for the team members to contrive improvements or make a rational, well-thought out decision to eliminate a specific procedure from a specific project because it does not apply. This type of training can be directly related to organizational learning: in chapter 1 and Argyris.

Yet another gain from work instructions and procedures is development. A process is broken into work instruction; these smaller parts can often apply to other processes and or projects. This minimizes the need for developing completely new work instructions, procedures, or processes.

Processes, procedures, and work instructions are connected

Figure 2.9 Processes, procedures, and work instructions are connected.

Processes are more fluid than procedures in that they are made of or consist of many procedures and even more work instructions, and must account for any discrepancies between those procedures. As a mechanic I view procedures as the valves or piping of a system and the process as the dynamics of the system when assembled. That is to say that the system as a whole does not exhibit the characteristics of any one component (procedure) or the total of said components collectively, yet establishes its own dynamic based upon those pieces. Having said that, there is a point of diminished return if the system (process) is comprised of too many components (procedures). Therefore most processes have been developed to maximize the ROI while simultaneously improving the outcome of the work, and maximize the repeatablity or replication of outcome.

How do Processes and Procedures relate to Learning

Processes and procedures serve as a baseline to make the output and outcome repeatable and is predicated on the belief that input variation can be accounted, but that is not all. If we operate according to these processes and procedures, and take key measurements of the process, most notably the outcome, we are now armed with more than anecdotal information about the process, and with a little bit of effort, statistical information on how the process performs. This statistical analysis of a repeated approach to the work will enable us to learn more about the process or procedure. We know if you do these things, the outcome range will look like some measured outcome. We can then review at the process, procedure, or

Our work documentation provides a framework and input for learning

Figure 2.10 Our work documentation provides a framework and input for learning.

work instruction level, with our team exploring those areas we believe that have the largest impact on the variation of output or outcome. We plan an approach that would theoretically change the process or procedure and run an experiment using this newer slightly altered approach to the work, ’[hen we would look at the results of that outcome of this new approach determining if this temporary modification should be enacted within the process or procedure documentation, not just on a temporary and exploration scale and rewrite the process or procedure documents. This approach to process improvement is described in detail in Total Quality Management.

How do we learn? A difficult question to answer, as each person values learning differently. People are motivated by different things, and have different attitudes about learning. We have to balance the structured environment with flexibility to be able to meet the learning needs as these arise. When we understand the best delivery method for our people, at times individually or as a group, we then must determine the method to provide that opportunity within our project(s).

This requires clear understanding what an individual already knows (as much as possible), along with what they need to know, and then find specific ways to build this into the project activities to which this individual will contribute. Knowing these things, we can better build it into the project plan and when we cannot provide it in the best fit, we can enhance it with other techniques such as teaming. Having stated all this, we can now address how processes and procedures are related to learning.

In the first part of this section we stated that a procedure is a specific course of action or way of proceeding forward. While the term procedure commonly prompts a vision of a rigid structure that has no room for deviation, one would think that that leaves only specific ways, times, and/or opportunities for training or learning. While most procedures have key points that must be met or followed, they rarely forbid training or learning or adaptation to circumstance as these are presented. With the ever-advancing technological environment and the need for organizations to constantly evolve any structure that does not allow for growth and development of its people, processes, and procedures is destined to be left behind.

Measures to ... Processes, Procedures, and Learning

As noted earlier, processes and procedures facilitate repeatability and we can measure inputs and outcomes from processes and procedures to ascertain their effectiveness via the recorded performance (for example, provides an established baseline) which over time, will provide clues as to the natural variation in the system. We are then able to compare the impact of any changes we make in the process, establishing some cause and effect via the pre- and post-change measurements. While these measurements can be very valuable to the change process, we must ensure that the measures are understood, valid, and relevant. In today’s society we collect information on everything, and this information is used to sell things, determine product development directions, location of stores, and so much more, but how much of this information is real? For the most part the information developed by marketing teams is very real and yields companies’ returns on their investment. However, it seems that some other fields, like project management, either game the information or hide/don’t understand the true meaning of the data collected or its object.

Modularity Within Project Management Processes

Modular manufacturing has been around for a long time and is one of the methods that makes mass customization possible along with shortening product development and manufacturing in general. As we discussed in the previous section, the building blocks can be the same for many projects with either variation in their assembly, addition of new, subtraction of previous, or a combination of both. If the basic understanding of the building blocks are formed, then the way they are structured only changes the product outcome, not its building. To provide an example of this both a small house is built of bricks as well as a mansion. The way the bricks were laid did not change nor the way they were held together. However, the outcome is quite different. We may learn new things in the brick laying for the mansion, and this would be recorded in our process documentation creating a new track of learning for this new variable.

  • [1] Initiating
  • [2] Planning
  • [3] Process, (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2018, from ' Procedure, (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2018, from
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