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Why Are You Doing That?

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In taking a look back at experiences with many of the customers I’ve worked with over the years, one simple concept is often overlooked, especially when it comes to documenting or improving their processes.  As we begin our discussions, the statements of “What” they want to do are the first things that roll off the tongues.  To accomplish this “What”, they start by asking the questions, “What do we do?” and “How do we do it?”  Dr. Demings famously stated, “If you can’t describe WHAT you are doing as a process, you don’t know WHAT you’re doing”.  Don’t misunderstand me, “What” and “How” certainly are important questions to ask… LATER. 

The real issue that must be understood, and clearly explained, is “WHY”.  Unless you understand “WHY you do”, the previous questions do not really matter.  In fact, “What” and “Why” are often confused for one another.  Often I have asked “WHY a process is…” and I get a very detailed description of “WHAT it is” and “HOW it works”.  The simple fact is, WHY is something that seems considerably harder for individuals or organizations to articulate.  This issue is something very specific to the process world. To illustrate, when asked, we usually can tell people WHAT we do for a living.  We might even explain HOW we do it.  And – if you ask someone “WHY?” – you will get a varied list of reasons ranging from family or financial responsibilities, love for neighbor, or, just simply, love for the WHAT.  Some WHY’s may even sound very similar to a personal mission statement.  If you ask WHY pertaining to your process, that will usually garner a blank stare of confusion.  What about your process?  Can you clearly state WHY the process exists?  Does your process have a mission statement?

WHY this is important.  A mission statement helps you and everyone else clearly understand the purpose, or WHY, of the process.  This WHY transcends the WHAT and HOW. The WHAT and HOW may, and often will, change over time as new technology and ideas become available.  The WHY will not.  For example, your company has a “Customer Service Process”.  This process explains and defines WHAT happens when a customer makes contact with the company for a variety of reasons, and HOW those contacts will be handled.  How you handle customer inquiries today, and what you do, is different than the how and what of 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. But WHY does that process exist?  It exists to ensure that your customers are consistently receiving the best service experience possible.  That is unchanging. 

Things to consider when defining your WHY:

  1. Does NOT have to relate to dollars and cents – not all processes (or people) are motivated by money.
  2. Does NOT have to be a deep, world changing revelation.
  3. It DOES need to be understandable – Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

So ask, “WHY does this process exist?”  If that is not understood, what and how do not matter.

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