How Understanding “People, Process, and Technology” can Help Solve Problems

In part five of my six part series, I am going to talk about how to focus on the right solution: people, process, or technology. I personally find this topic interesting because I spent much of my career as a people leader in a technology role and I have a process engineering background. Putting these three experiences together has given me an interesting insight into applying these three topics to leadership and process improvement. Like the previous posts, let’s start with the part of my “words of wisdom email” I sent to my team and then I will reflect back on it.

Related: Words of Wisdom and a Customer Focus

People, Process, Technology

Understanding the actual problem helps us drive to the right solution: people, process, and/or technology. In the earlier article about customer focus, Jeff Bezos talked about resisting proxies. Proxies are a perfect description of some of the requests we get. Sometimes we get requests or we make recommendations to use technology as a proxy for people or process problems. Or in other examples, we use people as a proxy for process and technology problems. Consider “they just need more education” as a solution to a problem. If you think “education” is the primary solution to a problem, think again – your technical or process solution isn’t elegant and intuitive enough and you are using people as a proxy for a bad product.

Going back to the Jeff Bezos article, he warns us about process though so please do not treat process as the end-all, be-all:

  1. “As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies.” and “A common example is process as proxy.”
  2.  “Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing.”
  3. “The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”
  4. “The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?”

Whether it is a process for us to deliver a better product or a technical process for our end-user to follow, we must make sure the process is not “the thing” and it is only driving a better actual thing (the product). Don’t let [the software] become a proxy for patient care. [The software] is not the thing, the patient is.

Six Month Reflection

Leaving my previous role and going to a traditional process improvement role was a big change for me. My experience leading a team in a technology area made me look at a process role a little differently. Specifically when it comes to process, I had a better understanding that you can’t just say “follow the process” and think that will hold people accountable or even provide a better product. True process improvement involves a balance of people, process, and technology with the appropriate solution falling into one or many of these three buckets.

In order to demonstrate the importance of this, I started my new role with some key talking points, similar to a road show, that I used when talking to people within my department about the direction we will be taking for our internal processes improvement journey. I used the proxy example from Jobs to demonstrate how just because my title has process in it, doesn’t mean that I think process is the answer to everything.

Related: The Middle Level Leader

I think overall it important to constantly remind ourselves when looking at a problem, is the problem really a people problem, a process problem, or a technology problem? Our chosen solution should not be a proxy for the actual problem!

Sidebar

I have also heard the phrase “People, Process, and Product” many times as well. I look at these two phrases a little differently and should be used in different contexts. From a business perspective, such as running a business, you should focus on your people, your process, and your product to run a good business. Your product may be a physical product, an electronic product, or a service. When I use the term “People, Process, and Technology,” however, I use it in the context of solving problems or identifying problems. The product is the output of your company so it can be impacted by your people, your process, or the technology to produce the product.

 

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