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Our processes should not be rocket science

On BBC Radio 4 in November 2013, RBS boss, Ross McEwan, outlined a 3-tier strategy for getting back in profit after he does his first presentation (on third quarter results) to the city as the boss of RBS.

These are the three points he made, and I quote;

  1. Let’s ensure our financial position is rock solid, so nobody worries about our capital
  2. Turn this into the most customer focused bank in the UK
  3. Let’s get things simple; we are just too complicated for our people and customers to deal with

His reasoning for the 3rd one was: “we do things too complex”

The last one reminded me of a meeting I had with the CEO of a retailer earlier this year.

We buy things and then we sell things, however, when you look at our internal processes, you would think we design and build rocket ships… Please make our processes as simple as possible.

Because they had these complicated processes they were completely internally focused. They had lost sight of their true end-customer and required very complicated internal reporting mechanisms, exception management and lengthy meetings to just keep the work on track.

Thus, after an initial study, PMI worked on the simplification of their internal processes.

Part of that simplification was understanding what has happening today.

What we discovered was amazing.

We found that:

  • Nothing was written down
  • Every single member of staff in that team did it a slightly different way
  • Two departments effectively did the same job, but for two slightly different reasons
  • Their meetings were not formalised, too many people attended that were not required, no agenda, no preparation, absence of meeting management
  • Every single procurement decision went through the same rigorous review process whether it was a single unit or a million units
  • Decision making had to be approved at the highest level within the organisation
  • Things just took a very, very long time, thus their highly motivated staff worked 60 hours per week, which was considered the norm rather than the exception

No wonder they had a few challenges…

When I was writing my thesis for my first degree, I put on the first page a quote I still hold true to this day;

“keep things simple, as simple as possible, no simpler.” A. Einstein.

People forget that to make things really simple is actually hard work, but once you arrive at that point and you have internalised how to make things simple, you can then explain it simply to others, which, in turn, leads to them having a better understanding of how to deal with a certain situation.

The organisation has now implemented the simplifications and, using PDSA, I am looking forward to studying whether the change has been an improvement.

"Keep things simple, as simple as possible, no simpler. A. Einstein."


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