Follow the process. What could go wrong?

I love a good process. A structure, a clearly laid out plan, a colour-coded spreadsheet or two. I need to, it's my job. It follows me home too. The alphabetised CD collection (now defunct, thanks Internet!), the well-established morning routine… You get the picture.

The trouble is, the process is often part of the problem. Too much planning can weigh you down, too little will mean you spend your day trying to batten things down, co-ordinate, negotiate and generally spend valuable time fixing things. Too many meetings will hold you back, too few will leave you at best bumbling naively along, at worst leaving you utterly clueless.

It’s the Operations eternal dilemma – how to identify and implement processes that will keep everything productive and on track, without caging creativity , impacting flexibility and restraining the agility of teams and individuals who make the business what it is today.  There’s always context to consider; is a new process necessary when work is already in full flight? What’s the longer term vision? Perhaps a carefully considered and managed process is essential to success.

A great example of process over practicality, on a particularly grand scale, came recently in China where the 50-lane G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau expressway came to a grinding halt thanks to new tolls installed just prior to the biggest annual week-long “Golden Week” national holiday, where tradition dictates you return to your families across the country by any means possible, a mass migration. 

The toll exists to channel the 50 lanes into a mere 20. It’s there for a reason – an operational need to keep everything moving smoothly, establish a control point and accumulate funding for part of the highway’s 1,411 mile road. In this case the toll created the problem, rather than fixed it, on a day which is part of an annual and long-established tradition of travel. Hindsight is a great thing but which Operations team sat down in their team meeting and thought the implementation of a new toll at China’s busiest time of year for travel, especially by road, was about to hit? Perhaps it had been discussed at length and a fully formed plan of action implemented. However you look at it the ‘plan’ (or lack of) failed to resolve the issue at hand.

It’s back to context of the situation. Was the issue the challenge of balancing the public demands and commercial needs at a time of planned expansion and growth (albeit one day in this instance) or did they just fail to see the problem coming due to lack of vision? Or was it simply the day of the week the holiday ended?

How do we achieve the same kind of balance at Realise of process over the unfolding future?

Our day-to-day operations are obviously not on such a grand scale as the G4 Expressway but we continue to grow, not only in staff numbers and locations but also in the number of practices we offer and amazing clients we serve.  How does a dynamic agency with a wealth of creative and inspired individuals thrive without limiting horizons through well-meaning but onerous processes instigated to keep everybody on track doing the right thing at the right time and in the right place?

Operationally it's about understanding the bigger picture, having the insight into the short and long term. Stepping back from the day to day and seeing how the jigsaw fits together. Experience is a major factor but also a fresh perspective can help avoid the pitfalls of multiple checks and balances of a well-established business – essentially we are always on the lookout for ways to improve, ways that benefit the agency, current clients and potential new ones.

As a business we are always learning, and the Operations team are constantly reviewing and appraising in the background while the agency continues its hard work and hard play ethic. If Operations stand still the agency does too (eventually!). We’re not here to add layers of admin and process, we’re here to say “how can we help make it happen?”, not only for Realise but everyone who we work with.

So, do we follow the process? Yes we do, but with the knowledge and expectation that the processes transform as we do.