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Process ROT and the quest for quality information

Ivan Seselj
June 9, 2016

It might sound like something that lurks in damp soil, but process ROT is actually becoming a widespread problem for many organisations.

Process ROT occurs when established business processes become hampered by redundant, obsolete and/or trivial (ROT) information. It’s happening within large numbers of organisations, yet many are not aware it occurs.

ROT becomes a business problem because humans tend to be natural information hoarders. Throughout organisations, people tend to collect and store large volumes of documents and other materials and are very reluctant to ever delete them.

This type of hoarding is a big problem when it comes to efficient process management. Multiple documents, or multiple versions of the same documents can quickly become overwhelming. Finding the latest details on a process and how it should be undertaken can be difficult, if not impossible.

In many cases, project and business teams find themselves left to figure it out for themselves. They have to determine what information really needs to be retained and the best system to use for that task.

The result can be the introduction of a number of different systems that are impossible to manage and control. Different departments or groups adopt their own approach with little or no regard for what is happening in other parts of the organisation. This results in the continuing spread of ROT.

The telltale signs of ROT

There is one sign that’s a clear indication that process ROT has started or is likely to become a problem within an organisation. If teams store process-related documentation on a server or intranet, then the problem exists and is likely to get worse.

Another telltale sign is when staff experience difficulties searching for information about particular processes as they have no clear ‘place’ in which to look. Rather than getting on with the task of using or monitoring the process, their time is wasted hunting down the appropriate information.

This situation is exacerbated when there are duplicates of documents or different versions stored in different places. Work may begin on a process, only for staff to find that the steps they are following are out of date or have been replaced.

Overall, having poor control over storage and access to process-related information makes it less likely those processes will ever actually be put to use. When information is no longer used, it is simply left to ROT.

The cost of ROT

Process ROT can hurt an organisation in a variety of different ways. It makes finding required information difficult, reducing productivity and lowering the impact of the processes that have been designed to add business value.

As a result, an organisation can face a hit to its reputation and, potentially, an increased exposure to litigation. Teams can find themselves constantly struggling to search for information, only to find that it’s out of date or misleading. The result can be increased complaints from users, a lack of faith in the process, and the gradual erosion of brand values.

How do you fix it?

In the past, many organisations have simply left it up to individual staff members to deal with the challenge of process ROT. However, because they often contributed to the problem in the first place, it can be difficult for them to be part of the solution.

The key to fixing the challenge is the creation of a centralised business process repository. This repository should provide an easy-to-comprehend and visual structure of all information about each process in a single, accessible location.

However, remember that it’s not enough to clean up ROT only to have it creep into the organisation all over again. Planning, creation, maintenance and governance processes need to be put in place and work as hard as they can to prevent ROT from returning.

Process ROT can be a significant staff engagement killer that can stop a process improvement program in its tracks. If left to grow, the impact on an organisation will only become more detrimental over time.

The good news is the problem is readily fixable. It’s a matter of establishing a well-designed knowledge repository in which all detailed and up-to-date information about processes can be stored, searched and accessed. By taking a measured and methodical approach, the problem of process ROT can be banished forever.

Ivan Seselj
Ivan Seselj is the CEO of Promapp, a process management software company.
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