How to banish process rot from your organization

Apple comet @oliviermiche

It might sound like something that lurks in damp soil, but process rot has become a widespread problem for many organizations. And there is no better time for your organization to halt the progress of this business problem than right now.

Process rot creeps in when established business processes become hampered by Redundant, Obsolete and Trivial (ROT) information. It's something that’s happening within large numbers of organizations, yet many aren’t aware until it’s already well-established, and negatively impacting their teams.

Process decay becomes a business problem because humans tend to be natural information hoarders. Throughout organizations, people tend to collect and store large volumes of documents and other materials and are often reluctant to delete them.

This type of hoarding is a big problem when it comes to efficient process management. Multiple documents, or multiple versions of the same documents, can quickly become overwhelming. Finding the latest details on a process and how it should be undertaken can be difficult if not impossible.

In many cases, project and business teams find themselves left to figure it out for themselves. They have to determine what information really needs to be retained and the best system to use for that task.

The result can be the introduction of a number of different systems that are impossible to manage and control. Different departments or groups adopt their own approach with little or no regard for what is happening in other parts of the organization. This results in the continuing spread of process rot.

The tell-tale signs of decayed processes

There is one symptom that's a clear indication that process rot has started or is likely to become a problem within an organization: if teams are storing process-related documentation on a server or intranet, then process rot exists and is likely to get worse.

Another tell-tale sign is when staff experience difficulties searching for information about particular processes, as they have no clear ‘place’ in which to look. Rather than getting on with the task of using or monitoring the process, their time is wasted hunting down the appropriate information.

This situation is exacerbated when there are duplicates of documents or different versions stored in different places. Work may begin on a process, only for teams to find that the steps they are following are out of date or have been replaced.

Overall, having poor control over storage and access to process-related information makes it less likely those processes will ever actually be put to use. When information is no longer used, it is simply left to rot.

The cost of rot

Process rot can hurt an organization in a variety of different ways. It makes it difficult to find required information, reducing productivity and lowering the impact of the processes that have been designed to add business value.

As a result, an organization’s  reputation can be negatively impacted and, potentially,  its risk of exposure to litigation could increase. Teams can find themselves constantly struggling to search for information, only to find that it’s out of date or misleading. The result can be increased complaints from users, a lack of faith in the processes, and the gradual erosion of brand values.

How do you fix it?

In the past, many organizations have simply left it up to individual staff members to deal with the challenge of process rot. However, because these staff often helped to cause the problem in the first place, it can be difficult for them to be part of the solution.

The key to fixing the challenge is the creation of a centralized business process repository. This repository should provide an easy-to-comprehend and visual structure of all information about each process in a single, accessible location.

It’s not enough to clean up process rot only to have it creep into the organization all over again. Planning, creation, maintenance and governance processes need to be put in place to prevent rot from returning.

The bottom line

Process rot can be a significant staff engagement killer that stops a process improvement program in its tracks. If left to grow, the impact on an organization will become more and more detrimental over time.

The good news is the problem is readily fixable. It's a matter of establishing a well-designed knowledge repository in which all detailed and up-to-date information about processes can be stored, searched and accessed.

Embrace the change today - take a measured and methodical approach to process improvement, and banish the problem of process rot forever.