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Why We Need Processes (and Recipes) July 7, 2013

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Process engineering.
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I enjoy cooking, it’s one of my few creative outlets. I used to tell people that there’s some deep connection between cooking and my early interest in laboratory chemistry, and maybe there’s something to that. At least with cooking you can eat your mistakes, most of the time. I’ve learned a few kitchen techniques, and I enjoy trying new recipes, particularly if the ingredients are accessible and it doesn’t take too much time to prepare.

I typically follow the recipe exactly the first time I try a new dish or dessert. That’s because I assume the creator of the recipe has done some trials and determined that this is the right sequence of steps and the right balance and ratio of ingredients that will yield the best result. As I’ve gained more experience I’ve become more confident in my ability to adjust the recipe to match my taste. However I make a point of writing down my changes and the results of those experiments so I can reproduce the outcome instead of relying on my memory of something I prepared weeks or months ago.

Last week I was trying to explain to someone why we need documented processes at work, and why it’s important to edit processes. If it’s important to get a consistent, predictable result, you should find a process that delivers that result and write it down so you don’t have to rely on institutional memory or the work habits of an individual employee.

If it turns out that you’re not getting the results you desire, or it costs too much, or there’s collateral damage, then you should definitely stop using that process. That doesn’t mean ignoring the process and giving up on the benefits of consistency and predictability. It means editing the process, or possibly creating a completely new one that meets your needs. Either way, those edits should be based on an understanding of what isn’t working. It may require several iterations to find a better process, but as one of my favorite TV chefs likes to say: “Your patience will be rewarded.” The alternative is chaos.

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