Zombie Initiatives and Tasks

5 01 2011

Over the holidays I heard a story on Zombie Processes.  It reminded me of the number of these I have come across in business.  One of the luxuries of being a consultant is you get to ask “why do you do that” or better yet “what would happen if you didn’t do that anymore”.  As businesses grow and scale we often pick up a number of new initiatives, or increase the subtasks, and never kill off old ones.  We also inherit more and more “stuff” that people do that does not necessarily add value.

Zombies: A Zombie initiative/task is something that continues on because no one has done the favor of saying it is either over or complete.  It can also be a task that exists that no longer needs to exist.   Basically it is inefficient effort and time.

Do these exist in your organization? Absolutely and everywhere.  The key is not trying to fix them all at once – this will get you nowhere.  What makes the most sense is to identify your strategic goals and initiatives and start with the processes that support those goals.

Where do you start? Take a look at your critical initiatives across the organization.  Ask yourself which ones are going to provide the most strategic value over the next 12 months.  Pick 3 and define the value of those initiatives.  Are they about increasing/decreasing time, revenue growth, cost cutting, elevating customer value?  Figure out how improvements should be measured.  Set up serious targets and a process to manage improvements.  Roll up your sleeves and get rid of the Zombies.  And while again this is self serving, it does not make it less true – hire a consultant.  Have someone independent to the organization ask the questions.  Especially if this is a new concept inside the organization.  People don’t like change, they fear it will expose them or put them at risk.  This can lead to the wrong motivation for process improvement.


Stuff:  This can be projects, tasks, subtasks, processes, or simply job justification work.




3 responses

10 01 2011
Paul Bayne

Identifying these “zombie processes” early in the project allows you to gain consensus that they really do need to be eliminated, identify the resources and plan for discontinuing the process, and most importantly, ensuring that the process is actually discontinued. Many times a project will be completed, and only later is it discovered that work you thought was discontinued has been subtly reassigned, renamed, or redesigned (i.e., creating the report in Excel instead of printing the old canned report and sending it to the same distribution list). After identifying the zombie, trace the information it produces through the entire organization to be sure you’ve completely eliminated it.

13 01 2011

I had a boss who used to make me prepare spreadsheets detailing the status/process of a client we were bringing on board. However he made me update them multiple times a day with very minor items and then never used any of it. This is also the same boss who would ask us to have daily meetings regarding this client and then he wouldn’t show or he would be in the meeting but on the phone the whole time. It was torture.

13 01 2011
Michael Ensley

I have seen a great many situations like the example pointed out. Think about the number of times you hear people talk about job justification.


– An analyst spends a good portion of her time creating weekly/bi-weekly reports that no one uses. The analyst here thought they were often used and no one ever told her otherwise

– Approval processes that are always rubber stamped. This happens a great deal and often it creates a different set of problems within the culture. The additional problems can be additional controls being put in place which are equally ignored, or people ignoring the reason the controls were put in place to begin with.

– A hiring process that takes 45+ days because of redundant or unnecessary policies and procedures. By the time the candidate is approved, the candidate has already taken another job and the process must start over.

– Tech support scripts that don’t allow the technician to use judgment first. Making the customer follow each step in the diagnostic process the same way, when the the first few steps have already been ruled out.

And I could go on and on…

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