Now That We Have Plain Language: Should We Also Have Plain Processes?

I love the Plain Language Act. Especially the part concerning plain-language websites which gives me plenty of opportunities to advocate the merits of information architecture and user experience (IA and UX). But providing information is only part of what government agencies do.

Agencies also provide services. Services such as providing Social Security to licensing vehicles to regulating the stock market. I am not sure if a list of government services exist but I bet it is a massive list and demonstrates how almost every aspect of our lives relates to one or more government services. For the most part, government services are delivered effectively and efficiently.

And then there are service experiences like my last trip to the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles. It was during a conversation with a colleague when I was complaining about the DMV that I said I wished there was a “Plain Processes Act.” He then said, “what does that mean?”

“You know, where the process makes sense and you don’t spend all your time waiting, filling out forms, and being shuffled from one window to another where you have to repeat the same information. Like the way you can buy a book off Amazon in a few minutes.”

As luck would have it, I just received an article from the Business Process Institute on a government version of business process management. Interesting start but I wanted something more along the lines of the guidance found on PlainLanguage.Gov. So, I thought I would crowdsource this idea. Here are some questions for the GovLoop community:

1. Is there such a thing as plain processes?

2. Are any agencies practicing plain processes management? Any examples?

3. What are the principles of plain processes?

4. Are plain processes essentially just good customer service?

5. Anything I missed?

Thanks for reading and, as always, all opinions are mine and do not reflect the opinions of my employers or any groups I belong to.

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Stephen Peteritas

Plain everything Bill! The simpler we make it the more people will get involved. I understand that gov’t will never be simple BUT this is all part of the breaking it down to build it up process (not a simple one I know).

Stephanie Slade

I think this is an awesome idea. I also am not sure that something this revolutionary will ever catch on in government, where red tape is a way of being. Here’s hoping, though.

Mark Forman

It seems mostly theoretical, leading us to ask more questions about how than providing explicit answers…which I think is a good thing for us. How can Ms. Brown’s insights be used to improve the Business Reference Architecture and the Data Reference Model…both being tools to simplify government?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Almost everything can be broken down into the steps it takes to complete the action. I think of applying for a job as an example…would love a Domino’s Pizza-like dashboard that tell you where you stand in a process:

1 – Submit application.

2 – Receive an email notification or see in dashboard that it has been received.

3 – Notification that [Name of Person] is reviewing.

4 – Notification of score.

5 – Notification of interview.

6 – Notification of results.

Can we boil things down to be that simple? Then communicate it to stakeholders?

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Andy – That’s just like the thinking in Womack and Jones’ book, Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together:

Solve my problem completely; don’t waste my time; provide exactly what I want; deliver value where I want it; supply value when I want it; and reduce the number of decisions I must make to solve my problems.”

The best part of the book is their process maps that demonstrate how much time is wasted in most customer service processes. Your process is good but I wonder how we can reduce the time in each of the steps while still maintaining the integrity of the solution.

Chris Poirier

@andrew: TSA has that..though its not managed very well and hardly updated..but they DO have a dash board for just that! TSA Candidate Dashboard (Sorry I can’t log in right now to get a good screen shot..but basically its a time line with status icons for each step..much like you outlined.)

Only complaint is that it can take weeks/months/and yes even years to reflect status..and even then it does not inform you when you may have been screened out of the process once your application is with a hiring manager for review. Great first attempt in government, suffers from staying current.

Jeff Beddow

As we move away from the kiosk model of the government web toward what Bill might call the action model, issues of coherence, efficiency, closure etc will simply become more visible. Content Strategists and Information Architects are faced with some tough choices in using any plain process model as a benchmark against which to critique and present their existing processes. They must become change agents within the organization. Where have we heard that before?

The principles of plain processes have been evolving since Charles Sanders Peirce and Frank Gilbreth began creating diagramming languages for processes. Peirce, as a philosopher, and Gilbreth, as an “efficiency expert”, laid the groundwork for a logic of process that can be applied in the workplace. It has resulted in a multitude of methods, ranging from workflow, software flow charts, PERT diagrams, etc. Specialists have written many books on the subject.

At some point, of course, what makes the difference is “going viral” — Gladwell’s tipping point, when it matters to enough people to start making a difference to everyone.

Thanks for the post.