Want to reduce process mistakes? Reduce the steps!

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Seth Marrs

Gather your team in a circle and whisper a sentence to the person to the left of you and then ask him or her to pass it on. You'll be shocked at the sentence you get when it comes full circle. The more people in the circle the more distorted your message.

Process works the same way. The more steps you put in a process the more likely it is to lead to unexpected results.

Many people combat this by assigning people to control certain stages and make sure things are right. Imagine someone positioned every 5 people to ensure your message is correct. If it's wrong they go to the previous group leader to tell them what's wrong and ask them to correct it with their group. So now you have "checkers checking checkers" which increases work and slows the process.

He might not mind the extra steps...but your process does!

This sounds crazy but is common in business. It can be eliminated by making 4 adjustments.

#1: Stop whispering:

Instead of operating as individual groups or people, break down silos and make the entire process visible. Once everyone involved knows what needs to be done and can see how they can help each other the process will flow much better.

#2: Eliminate steps:

Processes are a multiplier of the steps of which they consist. The more steps you have, the less efficient your process will be.

For instance, if you have a 5 step process where each step is correct 90% of the time. This would mean that overall your process would work 59% of the time (90% X 90% X 90% X 90% X 90%). If it was a 10 step process, on the other hand, then it would be only working properly 35% of the time. Consolidating steps will make it much easier to improve your process.

#3: Control at the point of accountability:

The only person who should check a process is the one who needs it to be accurate. Trying to improve a process by adding an inspector is like putting an extra teacher in the classroom to re-grade the work another teach has just graded. If you can't trust a teacher to grade his or her own students then they probably shouldn't be a teacher.

#4: Control dashboard:

Instead of putting controls into a process, create a dashboard that senior leadership can use to hold the team accountable to the process. There's no bigger motivator to do things right than to avoid explaining themselves to their manager’s manager.

Doing this after the fact eliminates the need for a control and lets the process flow. This exposes defects at the source rather then having them hidden by the controls in the process.

Making these adjustments will increase business productivity while reducing the amount of resources needed to get the work done.

But what do you think? How do you eliminate unnecessary steps and avoid mistakes in processes?