You have probably seen one of these news stories that highlight some local crazy or out-of-date laws. I recently read a news article that detailed a state representative here in Trilix’s home of Rhode Island who is trying to repeal some old laws that he sees as no longer valid.

Representative John Edwards is eager to repeal these laws starting with what he describes as the “low-lying fruit.” One law is a leftover from colonial times in that it bans the outmoded practice of dueling (a bit late for Broadway darling Alexander Hamilton). Another law bans the racing or testing the speed of a horse on a public highway (it will still be illegal to build a windmill “within twenty-five rods” of that highway).

Some of these leftovers recognize our heritage as the “Ocean State.” One to be considered for repeal is a 200-year-old law restricting the amount of seaweed that can be taken from public beaches in the town of Barrington. Another law makes it illegal to interfere with torpedo practice.

So how do outdated laws stay on the books many years after outliving their usefulness? I’d suggest that this occurs because a law is put in place, times change and no one is keen to make the effort to undo the now superfluous statute.

Outdated Processes

One can see a similar phenomenon in business. A process is put in place for good (or bad) reasons but never evolves as times and circumstances change. Further, other processes are built on top of or integrated with the old, making it even more difficult to undo.

The results of this tangle of process is not a positive one.

Companies have employees and teams that are executing processes that add no value. This lowers morale and increases costs. In some cases, employees protect or hide an old, inefficient process because they see it as security for their job. Finally, these archaic processes require time to execute, which takes away from helping customers, supporting growth and striving for organizational goals.

Potential Fixes

One simple way to address the problem of outdated processes is to ask about employees about them. Who better to tell you about a process than those who execute it? There are times that even a short conversation can yield a positive change.

You can go a little deeper and map the process. This doesn’t have to be a formal affair – just grab the team and some sticky notes. The sticky notes make it easy to brainstorm and rearrange the steps as the conversation evolves. Knowing where you are now and how the process got there is a great (and simple) way to start optimizing.

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When taking a deeper dive into your current process, make sure to ask “why?” Then ask it 3-4 more times. In a previous blog I discussed a paper-based process that required four signatures in three different departments to change something as simple as misspelled word in a system field. The “why” questions may have yielded something like this:

  1. Why: because the process is designed that way
  2. Why: an audit trail is required
  3. Why: to document approvals and make other departments aware
  4. Why: to be certain there are no unapproved changes
  5. Why: because regulation requires it

There are multiple ways we can improve this process, but now we have a fuller story with areas to attack to determine the most efficient future process

This process is a great example of the last fix, which is to automate non-value add tasks. For example, in the previous process, we could electronically sign a document to approve a change rather than printing and shuttling paper around.

Well implemented technology is a great way to improve process, but only if deployed in a way that recognizes the supports the business need. So, don’t be afraid to challenge outdated process and don’t ride your horse on a highway in Rhode Island!

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