Humans : Your process's greatest failure point

How many times have you written an email to someone and promised to attach a document/photo/link etc. and then sent it without adding the attachment? This is usually followed a few moments later by an apologising email saying “Once again... this time with attachment”

What about the opposite? Have you ever been sent something confidential or sensitive and - whilst forwarding the email to someone else - omitted to remove the confidential attachments? It happens more often than you would expect.

What about back in the days of snail mail when you would write a letter saying “I’m enclosing a cheque in full settlement of the outstanding bill" - and then not included the payment? On the subject of cheques have you ever written a cheque to send to someone and then forgotten to sign it?

These are all basic examples of processes where the crucial human element has failed. Each failure has caused an issue which - though usually easily remedied - has delayed the process and built up ill will in your customers.

Humans are your most crucial failure point in a process. When ever you are designing processes (or systems to support processes) you should ensure you try and minimise the ability of the human to cause a failure. Google Mail now, for example, can scan your email and look for the words such as ‘attached’ which might indicate that an attachment is expected. If you send the mail without an attachment it will warn you. But how many other email systems have that functionality?

What about building checks and balances into your process, splitting steps so that - in the case of the missing cheque in the envelope - you have one person write the mail and another person stuff the envelope? It is something that is done all the time in the financial world under the banner of ‘Segregation of duties’, but outside that world is it so widely adopted?

The downside to this, of course, is that it removes a level of agilty or - even worse - adds a level of overhead and therefore cost. The decision that has to be made is one of risk analysis - are we more comfortable having a process which has the potential to go wrong then have a slower process which has a much lower potential to fail? If the downside to the failure is lower than the downside to increasing your process overhead then the answer should be ‘yes’.

But make sure you do that calculation correctly.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

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