The Cost of Processes2022-08-28
Processes are an essential component of organizations and businesses and can be defined as an activity or set of activities that achieve a specific goal. They are generally regarded as positive, and much has been written about assessing and optimizing process success.
However, there are costs associated with each process. Some are obvious, and most organizations are adept at evaluating them, for example:
- setup time & cost
- maintenance time & cost
There are also non-obvious costs that, in my experience, people are not good at measuring and frequently do not consider, such as:
- the aggregate time consumed
- mental overhead
- context switching
Aggregate Time Consumed
Time is a static constraint. As we’ve established, processes that improve the efficiency or quality of your primary deliverables are generally positive in isolation. However, when you add them up they may not be positive. Let me try to explain:
Let’s take a team that has a single process that takes up 10% of their working hours, but greatly improves the quality of their deliverable. This may seem to be a no-brainer. However, if they have eight similar processes, all taking up 10% of their time, now they are spending 80% of their time not working on their primary deliverable (eg. developing features). Even if each process is worthwhile in isolation, they may not be in aggregate.
One of the primary causes of burnout, in my opinion, is having too many processes. Many tasks still require someone to remember to complete them, or show up prepared for a meeting, even if they don’t actually take much time. This can easily become overwhelming.
The scourge of anyone engaged in deep work. Context switching has a natural cost, and each additional process that a team undertakes can non-linearly increase the frequency of context switching.
Ways to Reduce Process Costs
This is the obvious choice and the clear winner. If even a portion of a process can be automated, the costs listed above are reduced. This may not be the case if the automation requires processes to maintain and support it.
Stacking prerequisites entails using a single sub-process to fulfill requirements for tasks or parent processes. A single process with multiple prerequisites is less scalable than multiple processes with a single prerequisite.
This is a common strategy to reduce process overhead, but worth mentioning.
Processes should be documented to the point where someone new can come in and with little or no guidance complete the process. If it requires too much context or assumed knowledge, it’s not effective. However, documentation requirements are itself a process so have fun with that one.