Process Improvement | Process Management

Why creating a process architecture may keep your ship afloat

Sailing is a sport all about teamwork and efficiency. It requires everyone knowing their role and the best way to fulfil their tasks through superior processes than their competitors. Process Hierarchies can help you organise your team, similar to how a team of sailors would.
Josh Gale
By on 06/07/2017

Having a process architecture, or a process hierarchy – a visual scheme of all the work processes happening in a company – might seem like an “of course, silly” requirement. The truth, however, is a staggering number of companies are sailing blind.

Imagine for a moment a world sailing team, like Emirates Team New Zealand, winners of the 35th America’s Cup, having no idea how the various parts of the yacht are designed or manufactured, and no clue how the training and testing will happen. They just decided to put things in motion and trust it will all be smooth sailing. Chances are they would have nose-dived a lot more often, right?

It’s a strange thing that something so obviously crucial to a sports team’s success – or for that matter to the functioning of the military, police, fire service, an emergency room, etc – is so often met with a large, collective shrug among the owners of small and medium-sized businesses. Why?

“Sailing requires the management of all the systems on the boat, plus all the controls on the boat, while assessing the weather and navigation. It’s planning everything to a fine level of detail and making the required adjustments all at the same time things are changing.”

– Anonymous

Hold up, what is a process architecture?

When you build a yacht, if you don’t build according to a blueprint chances are you’ll need a few buckets when you get out to sea. Process architecture is an architectural blueprint showing all the work processes that support the raison d’etre of the company. It shows how processes fit together to support the company’s mission, the equivalent of keeping the roof on. 

A process architecture is an architectural blueprint showing all the critical business processes that support a company’s strategy. Read more on Ashridge’s site.

Okay, so why are they not used by all companies?

Interestingly, they are usually used in the IT world for creating systems. And many large companies do use them in their IT departments, though they’re usually buried or hidden. Small to medium companies don’t generally use them. In some cases, they might have an ISO-based management system – documentation outlining how work is managed – but this is something most businesses need regardless if they want an ISO certificate or not. So why are they so often missed?

1: Too much familiarity

Many managers are so immersed in their work and the company they no longer take the time to reflect on how things are actually done. Everything has become second nature. They assume (making an ass out of you and me) that everybody on the team knows the game plan as well as they do. They can no longer see the forest through the trees. And this is exactly why they need a process architecture. It’s all very well cruising along in fair weather without a plan, but if you’re aiming for performance or need to weather a storm then you need all hands on deck and to know exactly who is doing what and how.

2: “Nah, they’re just for the big players.”

That’s too often what smaller companies say about process hierarchies. They say they make sense for a big company, with a complex organisation, but not for a smaller company where everything that’s going on is easier to grasp. Total poppycock! It doesn’t matter what size the boat it is, whether a sloop, a ketch, a schooner or a cruise ship, if you’re concerned about performance and enduring the elements, then everyone on board needs to know who’s doing what, when, and how. There’s no reason to think it should be any different for a small to medium-sized company. In fact, the tougher the competition and the market or industry, the more essential they are.  

3: Process hierarchies haven’t been user-friendly – until now

If you google “process architecture” some of the most boring images known to man appear. Old images from an ancient time when process hierarchies were often made by one person, and couldn’t be shared or collaborated on by the rest of the team. As a result, process hierarchies led short and brutal lives, dying like flies and forever forgotten. Those were terrible times. But now, designing, sharing, and collaborating on a process architecture has never been easier. Indeed that’s what Gluu is all about.

Process Hierarchy Comparison

Ensuring a prosperous voyage

All companies aim to improve their performance, and all of them aim to endure the inevitable ups and downs. Process architecture is the big picture game plan you can always come back to. To find out exactly how a particular process is handled. When you have mapped all your processes, of course. This avoids duplication, inefficiency and keeps knowledge inside the company, regardless of personnel changes. Whatever blows your way, you’ll know what’s to be done.

“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.”

– George William Curtis

If you’re ready to jump into the water, we’ve made a step-by-step guide to creating a process hierarchy.

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