I am sure that most of my readership is familiar with the Billy Joel song “New York State of Mind.” Those of you around New York will recognize in this song some familiar landmarks and favorite places which he says creates a “New York State of Mind.” His longing for the old familiar of New York and its surroundings is particularly appealing in this song, which has become one of my favorites.
I would like to use Billy Joel’s theme to introduce my readers and friends to a concept I call “a Process State of Mind.”
As I talk to friends and colleagues in the corporate world or who own their own small consulting firm, or who are engaged in activities in their communities every day, one thing they are all craving is “discipline” and “structure” and “organization” in their everyday lives and work.
They are all familiar with the concepts I have been writing about for the past few years in terms of PROESS, PROJECT, and LESSONS LEARNED. And they have asked me for more description of these practices in many cases.
Although I have offered my advice in individual cases as to how to obtain more “discipline,” I thought it might be more meaningful to express it to all my readers in the form of a blog essay. So here goes!!!!
While most of my writing and my book on Project Lessons Learned has focused on lessons learned and feedback to improve project management processes, these same concepts can be applied to any PROCESS. And PROCESS is, I believe, the very discipline that my readers and colleagues are seeking and need in their work and their lives.
A PROCESS is a “set of activities or tasks which, when performed in a prescribed sequence, yield a result or an outcome and which can be improved.”
Yet, a process without some mechanism or format for improvement is not really a PROCESS.
As I talk to friends and colleagues, some basic questions come to mind that will make it easier for them to incorporate PROCESS into their everyday activities, so I would like to address some of these issues to bring us to a real “process state of mind.”
First, who should be involved in making process improvements to a process? Ideally, the participants who plan and execute the process are best equipped to identify, document, and share “lessons learned” from the process, which can become “actionable” process improvements.
Second, if process improvements identified by the process participants seem to be few and far between, it may be that the process is coming close to optimization, although this state is hardly ever achieved due to the “dynamic” environment that most processes exist in. Owners of the process should seek further improvements through Benchmarking or Best Practices.
The principles I have applied in my book on Project Lessons Learned can be applied to continuous process improvement scenarios, and I encourage my readers to look at the details as well as previous blog posts and essays about process.
But don’t just take my word for it—here’s another example of process improvement being employed in a discipline totally different from project management:
Doris Kearns Goodwin in considered by many to be “America’s historian.” She has written authoritative books about the Kennedys, Roosevelts and Abraham Lincoln. But she will quickly tell you that the most asked questions in her lecture tours is about her childhood and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
She was born in Rockville Centre on Long Island, New York. Her father was a financial services employee who worked in Manhattan during the day. His desire to learn about the daily games of the Brooklyn Dodgers led him to teach Doris about the game of baseball by using a small red scorebook to keep score. He taught her the shorthand symbols for scoring the game, such as “K” for strikeout and “1-3” in the scoring section for an inning (to indicate a put out by an infielder after a ball hit by the batter to the infield).
Each afternoon Doris would listen to the radio broadcast of the Dodger games and record in her scorebook the events of the game. In the evening after dinner, she would sit with her father and recount the baseball game of the day.
“From something as simple as the small red scorebook in which I inscribed the narrative of a ball game, I saw the inception of what has become my life work as a historian,” she says in her book WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR. “Through my knowledge, I commanded my father’s undivided attention, the sign of his love. It would instill in me an early awareness of the power of narrative, which would introduce a lifetime of storytelling, fueled by the naive confidence that others would find me as entertaining as my father did.”
Doris employed a PROCESS to achieve her objectives of bringing the daily baseball game summary to her father. She did not call it PROCESS then, but that is exactly what it was, a disciplined and organized way of achieving an objective each day.
And the little red scorebook we would term a PROCESS TOOL in today’s process vocabulary. With the scorebook, she could answer her father’s questions such as “How many strikeouts did Don Newcombe get today?” or “How many hits did Roy Campanella get today?”
In her process, Kearns Goodwin probably employed such questions as these to help her define the specific activities making up the process:
–What is game time?
–Is my radio tuned to the right channel?
–Do I need any other paper and pencil to make notes during the broadcast?
–Are there any terms Dodger announcer Red Barber has used recently that need clarification?
–Will my father and I review the game at the same time and location as usual?
This PROCESS served Doris Kearns Goodwin well in meeting her objectives. And I am sure that she identified process improvements along the way. At one point in her book, she recounts that at particularly tense moments in some games, she would actually mimic the vice and expressions of Red Barber to add realism and interest….a form of process improvement.
So let’s create a “Process State of Mind” by looking for every opportunity in our organizations and in our lives to define processes that lead to meaningful outcomes and which can be improved. The structure and organization which this will introduce to your daily activities will give you a good feeling for day to day living.
Your comments on these ideas are always welcome.