Rigid processes can be catastrophic for businesses, especially considering the rapid pace at which the business environment is changing in the 21st century. Organizations need processes that can be flexible, that can adapt with the times, that can be shaped to accommodate advancing technologies, and that can easily handle growth or reduction in staff or outsourcing of business components to gain a competitive advantage. Businesses need to continually innovate to keep up with or outperform competitors. This is just as true for business processes as it is for other elements of the business, such as IT or business development. Everything must be aligned for the business to be successful. If the organization’s processes are not aligned with its initiatives, the business will suffer.
The term ‘entropy’ is originally derived from the second law of thermodynamics, a branch of physical science that deals with the transfer of heat within a closed system. It is loosely associated with the amount of disorder or chaos in a thermodynamic system. Entropy, as it relates to processes, is the breakdown of the process due to rigidity or failure to adapt to keep up with its changing environment. In other words, it is the measure of the level of disorder in a closed process. If a process does not receive information from its changing environment, then it is considered a closed system.
Any good process can suffer from entropy and go bad if the process is not flexible enough to keep up with change. As an analogy, suppose you buy a new sports car that runs extremely well and sounds great when you drive it. Then you decide that the sports car is too good to drive because it could break down. So you make the decision to put the sports car in a storage garage, cover it up to protect its nice paint job, and not drive it for the next ten years. After ten years, he discovers the car and tries to start it, but to his surprise, the car won’t start. You finally get it in gear and as soon as you try to drive it the engine dies completely.
What happened? The car was in perfect condition when you put it away ten years before. Just like the human body, cars need to be exercised (or, in this case, started and driven) from time to time to keep them in good shape. Since the car wasn’t driven or even started for ten years, entropy set in and the car failed when it finally started. Similarly, if processes never change or are too rigid, they too will fall prey to entropy.
This analogy clearly demonstrates the need to keep processes healthy. If processes are never reviewed to make sure they’re still working to support the business, chances are they aren’t. Just because a process was great two years ago doesn’t mean it’s still great today. In fact, in some business circumstances, even if a business process was great three months ago, that doesn’t mean it’s still right for business today. Just because a process was good once doesn’t mean it always will be.
This is true of all companies, but it is especially true in fast-growing markets. For example, in a new innovative technology organization launching new services during the dot-com boom, processes developed and changed every week. This was not because the company was disorganized or because the people were inept. It was because the business model was developing very rapidly in several different directions, and the rate of process change had to keep up with the company. The company was recognized for its ability to continually adapt, change and advance. It was later acquired by a major Tier 1 organization, within which it continues to thrive today, while continuing to keep pace with its changing environment.
In some cases, managers and leaders make their processes too bureaucratic for the sake of bureaucracy, rather than thinking about why something is being done a certain way. Processes that are too bureaucratic are most likely not going to be as flexible as they could be in terms of meeting business needs. Processes should be regularly analyzed to ensure that this is not the case. Processes can be streamlined to ensure things get done for a reason rather than just for the sake of it. Reviewing processes regularly to ensure they haven’t become rigid will help identify and implement the changes needed to ensure sustained business growth.