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Yes. Wait… what?

Yes it is sometimes OK to put in a bad process.

Purists of Lean and process improvement will tell you that you should never put a bad process in place. But they don’t live in the real world. In the real world, you need to service to your customers’ expectations, or they won’t stay your customers very long.

I was running a course with a client last month, who admitted they had recently put some pretty bad processes (in terms of efficiency) in place because they were failing to provide their customer with the required level of service.

That’s fine.

You see, it takes time to find the root cause and fix a problem. But your customers want the service improved now. So it’s OK to put a bad or wasteful process in place, but only ever as a temporary measure.

Our customer had some quality issues with the service they were providing. Customers were very angry and some had left already. This was a problem that needed fixing today, not in the next 6 months. So they threw resource at the problem. Deployed some more people to the process to check the quality and remedy things that were not up to standard.

My client was fully aware that this was a poor solution to the problem, but it solved the immediate crisis that needed attention. They understood that root cause analysis is needed to understand why the errors were occurring and then embedding quality into the process through error proofing, training and controls.

But that takes time which my client didn’t have.

But now we come to another problem – temporary processes have a terrible habit of becoming permanent processes. Temporary processes can hang around so long that people forget they were ever temporary, and become just another part of the process.

So if you do have to put a bad process in place, make sure you have a plan in place to eliminate it in the shortest possible time.

A good idea is to kick off the Root Cause Analysis and improvement project to fix the process at the same time you put the temporary process in place.

Establish an end date for the temporary process right at the beginning. Ensure everyone understands that the temporary process is in fact, temporary. Set an expectation for when the process improvement will be delivered.

But let’s not pretend that sometimes ‘best practice’ takes a back seat to operational demands – because it does. Let’s work out a plan to manage both.

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