Modern business organizations are complex, with numerous employees involved in any given effort. The work put into a final product can come from many different team members and may require the review of many others before being finalized, approved, or disseminated internally or externally. Often, companies will put in place standard processes to route work product for approval.
The Impact of the Unexplained
These standard routines can run pretty smoothly until something out of the ordinary comes up and the normally efficient process grinds to a halt, with deadlines put in jeopardy.
For example, a sales department might routinely route pricing documents that contain both an upfront fee and maintenance costs, which are expected at each level of the process.
If, for one customer, a sales rep routes a pricing document that—for a perfectly good reason—does not include maintenance costs and that document has to go through four layers of approval, the staff responsible for approving at each layer might have the exact same reaction with the same result: surprise and confusion, followed by delayed or no approval.
Each person in the chain might follow up with the sales rep to get clarification. Or worse, they might put it to the side until they find adequate time in their busy schedules to dig into the abnormality.
The problem in this hypothetical situation is that the sales rep has not communicated the perfectly good reason for the out-of-the-ordinary pricing term. He or she should have assumed it would raise questions. And, if one person has a question, others likely will, as well.
How to Mitigate Process Interruptions
Here are a couple of simple strategies to mitigate interruptions to the process in such a situation:
Include a note: Simply putting a note with the item in routing like “maintenance fees not included here, as this is only for a 1-month duration, with no expected maintenance” can answer questions before they even come up.
E-mail: Similarly, an e-mail in advance to all the reviewers can convey the same information. The benefit of an e-mail over a note is that it can facilitate the inclusion of more information (i.e., attachments) and allow for some e-mail discussion if there are follow-up questions.
Hold a meeting: Meetings take valuable time from many people, and we’ve written before about best practices for when to hold a meeting and when not to. But if something is significant and a complicated-enough change from standard practice, a meeting with all the stakeholders and reviewers may be the best way to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The time spent in the meeting can often result in far greater timesavings relative to having each reviewer struggle to figure out what’s going on or seek out the document’s author with the same questions.
Review processes—like any processes—are great until something gums them up. When staff are routing something out of the ordinary, they should be trained to be proactive and provide ample explanation for deviations from the norm. This helps avoid confusion, misunderstanding, and wasted time.