Quality Assurance and Quality Control Concept - Modern graphic interface showing certified standard process, product warranty and quality improvement technology for satisfaction of customer.
ATD Blog

Process Management: A Nonglamorous Must-Have When Talent Exits the Building

Monday, March 28, 2022

Like many others, your organization has probably lost employees during the last six months. Whether the loss occurred as part of the Great Resignation, retirement, or an opportunity to advance one’s career, the result is the same: valuable knowledge about how your organization operates and creates value for customers has left the building, either literally or figuratively for those offices operating purely in the virtual workplace.

While it is prudent to investigate the issues related to these exits and work to mitigate the root causes where possible, life goes on. The organization must continue to provide services, products, and offerings to customers, despite being all shook up. How might your organization be more prepared for changes like these in the future?

Enter the unglamourous work of process management

Work systems are how work gets done with the entire organization—how your organization succeeds in the marketplace. According to the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, work systems include the workforce, key suppliers and partners, and other contractors or collaborators needed to produce deliverables, offerings, services, and support services.

The work systems are composed of a variety of work processes. Key processes are the most important internal value creation processes that include design, development, and delivery of programs, offerings, and services. The backend processes needed to enable and support these are referred to as support processes.

In their book First Things First, authors Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill focus on time management and prioritizing the effectiveness and efficiencies of both individuals and groups. As part of helping others understand this principle, they use a visual metaphor commonly referred to as the Big Rock concept. A jar represents time. The fillers represent activities, including big rocks (mission critical), pebbles (moderate needs), and sand (nice to have). If you start filling the jar with sand, you’ll never fit in all the big rocks. The takeaway, of course, is to start with the big rocks. You’ll need to include pebbles and sand, too, but those can come at the end.

In a collaborative environment, this same principle applies. The big rocks must be in place—the key or critical processes. However, there are also many smaller support processes needed to enhance the value of the design, development, and delivery of the big rocks.

For a learning leader, there are defined talent development processes related to the functional discipline, such as instructional design and training delivery. Another is knowledge management. According to the ATD Talent Development Capability Model™, knowledge management is “the explicit and systematic management of intellectual capital, and organizational knowledge, as well as the associated processes of creating, gathering, validating, categorizing, archiving, disseminating, leveraging, and using intellectual capital for improving the organization and the individuals in it.”


A large part of knowledge management is documenting and updating the various processes used within the work systems. One of the most common methods is developing standard operating procedures (SOP) for each of the activities. An SOP provides step-by-step instructions for a process with the goal of ensuring consistency, quality, and efficacy. There are many other documents—especially those from the project management and quality arenas—to detail the process and add value. Some of these include:

Strategy documentation. Whether standalone or part of an overall playbook, strategy documentation includes the roadmap for the group. A subpart of the strategy (the what) are the tactical plans (the how).

Playbooks. Generally, playbooks might include the following components:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Assessment of business landscape
  • Assessment of L&D’s capabilities: business, technology, and learning acumen
  • Identification of work processes
  • Inventory of tools and techniques
  • L&D (re)structure
  • Learning technology stack map
  • Balanced scorecard
  • Three-year strategy outline

Work breakdown structure. The work breakdown structure is a visual deconstruction of a process using a sequence of numbers; it breaks the process into the subprocesses and tasks needed over the lifecycle of a project.

Work process
Work subprocesses or task
Definitions and comments
Due date or completion

Charter. A half-page outline or collection of documents applicable to each unique project or offering, the charter documents:

  • Purpose and mission
  • Members and their unique role, affiliation, and responsibility
  • Project scope and objectives
  • Project authority and governance
  • Milestones
  • Metrics and reporting cadence
  • Communication vehicles

Metrics charts. Dashboards and scorecards document progress.

Process flowcharts. A process flowchart graphically maps the steps in a process using standard symbols; a deployment flowchart includes roles.

Process storyboards. While typically a visual depiction of the Plan-Do-Study-Act problem-solving framework, process storyboards can also serve as more detailed visualizations of the flow of work.

Other valuable documentation to help understand a process includes job aids for tasks; review documents, including monthly, quarterly, and annual reports; and lessons learned or after-action reviews.

People are the value creators in organizations. However, when asked to talk about their role and work most share the what. (“I am an instructional designer, and I create content for learning experiences.”) However, behind the what lies a variety of processes that enable the how. So, within the work systems unique to their organization, instructional designers design, develop, and manage the processes, both key and support, that enable the learning experience.

Change is constant. People leave for a variety of reasons. Prepare your organization for the inevitable by documenting the value creation knowledge, not just the big rock whats. Ensure you have the pebbles and the sand, too, by documenting how tasks are accomplished and who currently does them to enable value creation to continue when someone leaves the building. As the quote from legendary basketball coach John Wooden states, “It is the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.