No matter how good a team’s process can get, if it lacks a strong communication aspect, it’s doomed to fail. Here’s how to deal with process silos.
No process can succeed on its own without good communication between teams.
Imagine you have a brilliant development team. They have been working on a brand-new feature for a few months, and everyone involved knows that clients are going to love the functionality. The team wraps things up in time and within budget and releases a new version of the product. Everything seems to go fantastically well until you start receiving angered emails from your customers complaining about things suddenly changing.
Turns out that nobody had warned your clients that a new version was coming. The development team’s process was excellent, but they had been operating as a silo, and, unfortunately, the communication aspect had failed.
The Danger of Process Silos
If you’ve made changes to your product or service before giving your clients a proper warning, you might be familiar with statements such as: “I wish you wouldn’t keep changing things [the product], I liked it so much more the way it was!” (to which you mumble to yourself, “What?! I thought you would love this!”).
This is quite a common scenario. You develop a cool new feature or approach and think your customers will appreciate you for it, but the opposite happens. You’ve not just annoyed them but also made them more likely to leave.
Before an update or launch, all teams (but especially those dealing directly with your clients) should have a clear understanding of what the changes to your product will entail. This is why you need to be proactive and train both your employees and your customers so they see the benefit of the new features and the reason you've added them, because if they know what’s coming, they can be excited about it instead of angered because things have suddenly changed.
It's always better to explain what exactly is new and what the benefits the update will bring to their day-to-day operations are. So, whatever your business, when you release a new service feature or feature product, it's essential for the whole business to be involved at an early enough stage so they can deal with the impact on their part of the business well in advance., if not involved, at least well-informed. Because no matter how good the new functionality is, if your development team doesn't communicate effectively with the marketing, sales, and support departments (and they, in turn, get your clients hyped about it, too)... then, chances are its release will result in everyone feeling like crap.
Unhappy Customers, Unmotivated employees
The issue with process silos (particularly when they have ineffective ways of communicating with other teams and their processes) is that they can affect your business as a whole. You want your new thing feature to make a splash, to attract new clients, but if the marketing team is not ready to promote it, the sales team is not sure what it does, and the finance team has no idea how to price it… you've just lost a valuable opportunity for growth.
That's why it's critical that all teams are able to communicate effectively with each other. For example, sales should be trained and ready to go out and sell what’s new and do demos that allow them to talk about the new features and how it can help customers. The last thing you want to have is employees unable to answer questions about a particular feature - something that can take the entire business backwards. This will definitely have a negative effect, at least in the short term.
Silos are not ideal, but the problem does not lie with them. Rather, with the communication aspect of their processes. A process, any process, should be committed to departmental transmission. So there's always good information flowing between developers, marketers, salespeople, and the finance and billing team. Everyone needs to be prepared for any changes so you don't risk things having a knock-on effect.
Let's take development as an example again. At some point within that process of creating a new feature, or a new service part of the product, there needs to be a step to educate all the other teams about the reasons behind (and the workings of) the change. And, also very important, you need to give these departments some time so they can work on their own processes. For example, they can create sales collateral, update demos, modify how they will support clients etc.
Having different team members asking the same questions that have been answered before and sending emails back and forth is a very inefficient way for a process to drive communication. You want to do it in a manner that can also create a good amount of value for the business. The same applies to onboarding your customers; you should always collect and communicate the correct data at the right time (for example, have your development team write down all relevant information about requirements, deliverables, and more).
Providing your clients with the right data in time will help you avoid delays and keep everyone happy with your product. Otherwise (if, for example, developers have talked to marketing, but marketing hasn't talked to operations), you'll get a brand new customer who's looking for a great experience... and immediately annoy them because there are gaps in your team. Gaps nobody has any clue how to fill without looking like an uncoordinated mess.
The Plague of Corrective Subcontracting
Let's quickly jump to a familiar example and something I honestly cannot believe still happens: The horrible, horrible process of getting anything installed in your home, such as double-glazing windows.
If you've been through this yourself, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. You get a quote from a salesperson. Naturally, they care the most about making a commission, so they give you all the options you have to update your windows and take some quick measurements before leaving. When the installer comes to install the glass, they realise the measurements don't match due to, let's say, a unique architectural feature in your living room. The new windows just won't fit.
So, how did it get to this? Well, the sales representative could have had a better process. They didn't ask the right questions; they just collected the basic stuff they needed, sent it away, and called it a day. So, when the installer turns up, they find the information is wrong - or, as I've seen happen a lot of times, too, they show up at the wrong time in the process. For example, they are ready to do the siliconing, but the fitting hasn't been done yet.
This situation is so common that many companies actually have employees whose sole job is to do corrective work. How is that even a thing? An entire position for a subcontractor to fix the errors caused by lack of communication! Why not just get things the first time?
Last time I was in this situation the “fixer” told me it’s been like this for years. Amazing - poor process is just accepted as though there is nothing we can do about it.
Empowering People by Letting Them Do a Good Job
I'm sure that, as you’re reading this, there is a homeowner offering coffee to a "corrective subcontractor" and having a chat about how terrible the company he works for is. We're talking about the worst possible word-of-mouth marketing. This person won't take any responsibility for the processes the business has put in place, so they'll be happy to share with you how many times they'd had to fix wrong measurements that day.
How much easier would things be if, for example, the person measuring the windows actually talked to the person who turns up with the glass, and they, in turn, coordinated with the person who’ll apply the silicon? You don't need corrective work if you get things right from the get-go, do you?
And here's the other thing I wanted to raise: Not being able to take pride in your job, how can you if the business is run in this way and you are always dealing with unhappy customers, that's a secondary effect! A symptom that the process is entirely wrong. And the issue is: If your workplace is a horrible place to be, the good people will leave. The ones that stay, or want to join your business, will be the ones that have already given up.
So, if your company has a dreadful process, the people working on the different steps won't be able to do anything other than being dreadful themselves. Demotivation just makes things worse, so you know that the client is going to be unhappy because they are going to have a bad experience.
If you are responsible for setting up good processes that can help everyone do a good job, it’s vital you do that so employees can say "I am proud about what we do".