You Can Humanise A Process to Make it Suck Less

Policies, processes, the “how we do things around here” and the people who blindly follow them really bug me. Those who have a form for every interaction, a requirement for every request and a documented flow for every type of work contact have lost their ability to view humans as, well, human.

It’s time to start designing (and re-designing) processes and tasks to make them suck less. It’s time to stop the 0.0005% chance that I’m being impersonated by someone wanting to change my home address on my employee profile forcing that me in to a two stage paper trail needing three signatures and a week to process. It’s time that we stop over-processing information, just so that some people don’t have to change their way of doing things.

In the end, it’s time that we started to have processes serve humans, and not letting processes drive human interactions.

There’s a lot of information and courses around IDEO’s human centred design (check here, here and here for starters), but most of the topics focus on new products, not a lot focus on internal services (unless they are being replaced by a product). Thing is, there’s absolutely no reason that it can’t be used to design processes and policies that incur delight! Human centred design starts with thinking about people, it designs and iterates with the people the solution is for, then it ends with a solution that is easily adopted by people.

Observation & Inspiration

When looking at processes or policies, start observing and talking to the people who will be most affected — the team members within the company. Find out not just how they work, but how they want to work, the different situations they come up against and where their pain points are.

For example, if I am calling in sick to the office from home, I want to be able to send an email or call my manager and have the whole thing taken care of. After all — I’m sick! I want an automatic out of office on my email, I want a colleague to be able to access anything urgent, I want my sick leave (if it isn’t unlimited) to kick in, I want my team to be notified and I want to be left alone.

What I don’t want is to have to arrange with a team mate to take over urgent work and have to fire up a VPN session to forward relevant documents and set up out of office. I don’t want to have to wait for 0900 to call my manager so they can “hear” me be sick (after all, I just want to sleep), and I don’t want to have to come back to a whole lot of late work undone and a sick leave form to download from the intranet, fill in, get it signed by a manager, then take it to payroll — I want a process that keeps the world spinning and keeps me mentally healthy while I’m physically unhealthy.

Ideation & Rapid Prototyping

After you understand the needs of the humans you are working for, now it’s time to brainstorm how to get a process working so that it best fits their needs. This is where the fun starts — a no judgement, creative festival of brainstorming! Some of the craziest ideas will often have some level of brilliance contained within, so it’s time to work with your humans in solving their problems and slowly coming up with changes, tweaks and improvements to processes and services that they use.

For example, figuring out with IT how to enable an automatic out of office that is triggered by someone who isn’t the person probably has something to do with permissions somewhere, and the person with those permissions needs to advise IT somehow. Plus you need to write the generic out of office message that gets put on. This might start with asking managers to email IT with the particular out of office message in the email, or raise a ticket and it gets done manually by the IT Service Desk. Run that for a few weeks and see where the pain points are.

Human Feedback & Iteration

Bring your initial ideas and processes back to the humans involved, and have them give you feedback. Give them a chance to break what you have created, to come up with scenarios where it might not work, or provide alternate considerations for the process (what if my manager is away, can it be actioned by their manager or a colleague? What happens if IT don’t action it until the day after?). Everyone responsible for some part of a process and representatives from different areas of the business and different levels of the business should be represented in this session as much as possible.

Keep tweaking, testing and re-designing the process until it covers all reasonable scenarios with your humans until they are comfortable with the offering — with each rethink, you’ll find something new and learn more about who your humans are (which will help you in quickly designing all the other processes you have on the list).

Keep thinking about your process from the human point of view — everyone has a stake in making it easy, but solve the biggest problems of the biggest number of people who access the process first.


Putting a process in place that has been designed by humans, for humans is much easier than trying to give the business a user guide, two forms, instructional information, change management communications and the knowledge that something simple is going to take a lot of time. Ask the humans involved to take the process to the business and champion it for you — I guarantee you’ll have higher compliance, smoother operations and fewer departmental wars.

Then go straight back to observation— after all, everything can be improved!

For the example above, the whole process might become a system trigger that the manager can complete without going through the IT service desk. This kicks off a pre-written template that a person writes for themselves (so the message is in their voice and not the managers) and they can rest easily at home, knowing that their work is being taken care of.

There’s a rich history of designing products that serve our needs as we need them. It’s time that companies came to the party and made it just a couple of minutes easier every day to get things done. Trust me — your team will thank you.

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