Lessons on Process from The Apprentice

Get the process wrong at your peril

It seems strange that one of the constant challenges for process professionals is convincing the business of the value of improving processes. What you do and how you do it seems to me the substance of your business - and no amount of pie in the sky strategy on PowerPoint can supersede the importance of actually delivering on that strategy at all levels of the business.

Anyone wanting an illustration of how important process can be need look no further than last night's episode of the BBC's The Apprentice (where British entrepreneurs compete for a quarter of a million pounds investment from Britain's answer to Donald Trump, businessman Lord Alan Sugar.)
++Note: Spoiler alert: Don't read on if you're an avid fan of the Apprentice and haven't watched episode 3 yet!++
The failure of the task was effectively down to a poor production process. Too much waste in the production process resulted in high costs and low available quatitites of product.

Who would have thought ketchup could be so difficult?

In the episode, the teams were tasked with creating a new condiment. Team Phoneix decided to go with "Belissimo", a spicy version of ketchup which was actually well received by consumers (despite that fact that the name - Belissimo - was missing an extra critical 'l').

We watched as the team in charged of actually creating the product struggled under the pressure. "It's not boiling right," one of the contestants flagged up to the production manager. "I think it's missing something."

That something was one of the ingredients which meant the entire batch was spoilt and poured down the drain.
Then onto a shambolic bottling process where we watched as the team struggled to pour the sauce into the bottles. As the sauce cooled down it became thicker and hard to pour resulting in what could be termed a proper production bottleneck. Copious quanitites of sauce were spilled in the process, which would have resulted in further wastage but for the quick thinking trouble shooting of the man in charge of production who suggested reheating the wasted sauce, adding more water and attempting to pour it again into bottles.
In the end, the team lost because they didn't make enough product and as a result of the waste, the cost of the product they did make was too high. Karen Brady, one of the roaming assessors on The Apprentice, pinpointed poor process as the key culprit for failure of the task while Lord Sugar summed it succinctly by saying "it seems to me that the production was all screwed up here."
This Apprentice episode is many of our business environments writ large - and perhaps to the extreme - but I think it helps to underscore the importance of getting your processes right.
Here's a few quick lessons from the episode. Poor processes mean:
  • You waste time and money (in the form of excess materials [as in the case above where ingredients were wasted])
  • You lose out to competitors who do things better than you do
  • You place additional stress on employees who need to resort to heroics to trouble shoot the problems that arise (and note that this didn't create problems just for the production staff - the sales staff had to work with a higher price point and shift from a strategy of cheap, mass market to quality, luxury brand)
  • You can't deliver effectively to customers
  • You make less money
Does anyone need anymore convincing why it makes sense to invest in process?