Beware Bloated Processes

We’ve all been there. Something goes wrong and as a follow-up we look for the root cause and how to prevent it from happening again. More times than not, we solve this procedure by adding another step to an existing process. It’s almost automatic and we don’t think twice about amending a process because we are doing this in the name of quality.


Let’s take a minute to think a little about this.

Adding process steps can have lasting consequences. Sometimes it ends up for the good and sometimes for the worse. Process designers, stakeholders, and managers should consider the full costs before taking action.

Potential Benefits of Adding a Process Step

1.       It solves a previous problem

If you’ve had a fault or failure in a procedure then it might be because you didn’t have the proper checks and balances in place. The questions to ask in this situation is if the new step still has the aim to solve the business problem, does it contribute to the process output and can other steps be removed if the new step is added?

2.       It adds more quality to the output

A new process step can add to the overall process quality if it prevents future faults, failures, or defects. Examples of this for software development include adding test steps to exercise a certain area of the code, designing before coding, or communicating with the user how to use the product.

3.       Provides a checkpoint for approvals

Some call this a “toll” gate.  Make sure approval checkpoints are not overused and don’t involve too many people.  This is a tricky area because the checkpoints deal with human egos and emotions.  We need certain checkpoints for oversight and guidance, yet we don’t want to overburden the process with too many steps that don’t produce actual work. A question to ask yourself here is how much total time in the process is spent waiting for approvals? Are you comfortable with the answer you find?

Potential Drawbacks of Adding a Process Step

1.       It adds more time to create process output

So much of today’s business is based on speed, agility, and being nimble.  Over time, adding required steps compounds and the process may become bloated with repetitive or unnecessary steps.

2.       It adds complexity

When processes become too complex or burdensome for people to understand, they will look for ways to circumvent steps. It’s a taboo subject in the business world because leaders often don’t want to take time to perform maintenance on their processes or admit that they are a burden for the organization. An easy check for this is to see if people try to get around steps by having executives given them green lights to just do it.

3.       It doesn’t address the real reason for the process

The real reason for a process is to solve a problem or a need. It’s not to provide a basis for making sure that people do their jobs. If we are creating processes to manage people then we may have the wrong people trying to complete the process.

In all cases, remember that processes exist to solve a need. At the end of the day a business need is a transaction that is conducted between two parties where a product or service is exchanged for some form of compensation. As such, processes need to be easy to use and produce the required rate of output. So before you add a step to an existing process, make sure it helps to solve for the original problem.

Process Steps – to add or not to add?