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Making Good Processes Better

At Katapult Engineering, two fast-paced industries intersect to create a unique training challenge.

Software engineering requires great agility; our coders are growing our platform and tweaking the code each day, with big updates always on the horizon.

Similarly, outside plant (OSP) engineering deals with accelerated timelines, rapid deployment, and a “time is money” mentality.

Both industries require quick decision making, flexibility, and, at times, surgical precision.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the OSP industry’s demanding timelines often require new employees to learn on-the-job. Trial-by-fire training means that your first or second day, you might be out in the field–up to your waist in briars–collecting valuable data and learning a new workflow.

This approach is quite efficient, and allows new employees to contribute value from week one. Since the interviewing and onboarding process can be quite expensive, this immediate demonstration of value and contribution toward a project is critical.

Hands-on learning is extremely effective at teaching a new process. Like a task list, team members can follow the process step-by-step and move on.

A problem occurs, however, when you mistake the process for the goal.

Processes are in place because at one point, they were the most efficient way to meet an objective. As objectives change, processes should adjust and develop accordingly.

Further, teams should be encouraged to improve these processes, especially if it helps meet the objectives more efficiently.

If you team loses sight of (or simply doesn’t understand) the objectives, they can only be as successful as the current process allows. The more they understand about the industry, project, and related workflows, the less tempting it is to blindly follow a list of steps.

From the perspective of someone new to the telecom workforce, here are a few ways to help your team improve your current processes:

1. Encourage your team to ask good questions.

Your team shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions that will help them do their jobs better. Make sure each member of your team knows part of their responsibility is helping their newer co-workers understand more about the industry, the project, and their job.

2. (Over)communicate goals.

It’s not enough to talk about goals at the annual meeting. It’s not enough to talk about them once a quarter. Frankly, it may not be enough to sit down and talk about goals with each project your team works on. In an industry where your team may be spread out, traveling for work, or spending lots of time in the field, chances are that some of the objectives you stated at the beginning of the project got lost in translation. If you feel sure that your project managers have a sound understanding of the objectives, ask them to continually tie those goals into their conversations and decisions, and be ready to redirect their team if their actions are process-based instead of objective-based.

3. Empower your team to improve processes.

If your team is afraid to rock the boat, your organization may miss out on better workflows, newer technology, and ways to cut costs. If an employee understands the objectives and discovers a new process to more efficiently achieve that goal, they should be recognized and, potentially, rewarded. Some individuals get a thrill from hacking old processes and making them better. For the rest, it should be enough to explicitly state that the team is open to any and all process improvements better achieve your goals (while still aligning with your organization’s core values).

Training can (and should) come in many shapes and sizes. A good conversation between two members of a field crew on-site can be just as valuable as your CEO sharing the organization’s vision and goals at a quarterly meeting.

Without a working understanding of the goal (and its related parts), a team is only as good as the existing process. By encouraging your team to ask good questions, pursue their goals ambitiously, and improve existing processes, they will grow to be increasingly competent, creative, and efficient.

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