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Process Does Not Equal Results

I was talking to a web colleague a few weeks ago, asking what she’s working on. She said, “collaboration, innovation, participation, best practices – all good stuff.” Indeed, good stuff. But then I starting thinking, leading to what? What is she trying to achieve? The other day, I saw a new job posting at a government agency: “Director of Innovation.” At first, I thought, “wow – what a great job that would be!” And then I thought…but will that person innovate? Every time I go to webcontent.gov, I notice that slogan at the top: better websites, better government. Better government? Better at what? The problem with all these examples is that they’re focused on process. Process does not equal results. And if you’re focused on process, you may not achieve results.

Citizens – our customers – want one basic result from government: great service. Fast, easy, accurate, best-in-class service that makes us satisfied that our tax money is being used wisely and well. But how many times have you gone to a meeting or a conference or training and spent all the time talking about process, without a single mention of the desired result: great customer service?

One of the reasons I’ve been so enthusiastic about the Federal Web Managers Council’s 2008 white paper, Putting Citizens First – Transforming Online Government, is that it laid out 6 customer service objectives that are the aim of the government web community.

“…when they need government information and services online, (citizens should) be able to:

  • Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
  • Understand information the first time they read it;
  • Complete common tasks efficiently;
  • Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
  • Provide feedback and hear what the government will do with it;
  • Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English”

Brilliant! You’ve articulated your results. You know what success looks like. Now, talk about processes in terms of those results. Use these objectives as your compass.

Let me ask you this: have you sat down with your colleagues, inside and outside of your agency, to talk about how you’ll achieve those objectives? Have you looked at all the processes you’re involved in – all the things you do, day to day…meetings, conferences, training, planning, budgeting – to make sure you’re spending your time and resources on processes that will produce those results? When you’re in one of those long tedious meetings where everyone is quibbling over what you’re going to do, do you raise your hand and ask, “How will this help us achieve our 6 customer service objectives?” to help the group stay focused on the goal?

Look, I spent 24 years in the federal government. Nearly every new administration that came in vowed to improve the process of government. Total Quality Management. Management By Objectives. Reinvention. I know government processes need to be improved. I’m not questioning that. But process does not equal results. And – in my experience – we often got so consumed by the process that we lost sight of the desired results. Where is TQM or MBO or Reinvention today? What were their lasting results? Do you know? Do citizens know?

So here’s my plea. Stop thinking and talking in terms of process. Start thinking and talking in terms of results. Keep your eyes on the prize. And next time your colleague or your friend or your boss or that reporter or a group of citizens asks what you’re working on, start by saying, “6 customer service objectives that will produce better service for citizens.” Results.

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Bill Brantley

Great post! But I disagree with your statement about “[s]top thinking and talking in terms of process.” We should continue to talk and think in terms of process but we need to be more intelligent about how we manage process (as I discussed in my blog posting on Process Intelligence). The most important step in managing processes is tying them into results but we also need to be better in achieving the results and that is where PI is so important.

Joe Flood

You really cut through the process-speak to get to what really matters. Citizens want better service, to the exclusion of everything else, including process and innovation. Do you care about the network behind your phone or do you just want it to work? Do you want to crowdsource a solution to the lack of coverage in subway tunnels or do you just want the company to fix it? Consumers want results and don’t care how they get them.

Citizen needs are simple ones (accurate, timely information) and they shouldn’t be too difficult to fulfill, except for the fact that government ties itself in knots with process.

The six customer service objectives are a plea for better writing on government web sites! Instead of worrying about process, I say hire people who can write and let them update your site on a timely basis. It’s not sexy but it’s such a basic fault in government sites that it demands to be corrected before anything else.

Tracy Kerchkof

Right, but there needs to be a balance of both. Results define what success looks like, process works to ensure those successes last longer than you will. Long term change can’t happen without both.

jana gallatin

The first step in process improvement is to determine whether the result of the process is still useful. If not, eliminate the process…instant improvement.
Shifting burden is not process improvement, eliminating burden is process improvement.

Just sayin’

Jay Johnson

Maybe process improvement or innovation won’t solve every problem, but I think they can be used as a mean to an end to help people fix their individual problems.

@Joe I think the best process is the one that works and the customer doesn’t ever notice. Or maybe you could say that’s the best design.