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Process Management Pathways and Pitfalls
By Jim Clemmer

Call it the Principle of Bumbling Bureaucracy — when left on their own, processes naturally turn inward to serve management and departmental needs rather than the organization's key customers and partners. Improve processes from the outside in. Draw a customer-partner chain to get very clear about just who the process should really be serving (customers and partners, not bureaucrats or management) and what the desired outcome is. Next determine the customers' most important measures of the process and how well it's performing. Use this performance gap data to establish breakthrough goals and/or continuous improvement targets.

The broader and more comprehensive the process you're attempting to improve, the more senior management needs to be directly involved. Strategic processes (those few core or macro processes that span your organization) need a hands-on executive owner. He or she is the champion of that process and accountable to improving it across its many vertical or functional chimneys. Major reengineering efforts demand huge blocks of key senior managers' time and attention.

Give lots of time and attention to the diagnosis stage of process management. There's a huge amount of learning to be done here. If a process has never been diagrammed or "blueprinted", no one really knows who and what's all involved. The bigger (and ironically more important) the process, the truer that is.

Most of these cross-functional processes were never designed in the first place (how can you reengineer something that was never engineered to begin with?) Rather, they're a haphazard collection of personal steps, old habits, cultural holdovers, and local procedures. Most of the pieces exist in somebody's head and have never been mapped out and standardized. That's why there's so much variation, unpredictability, misunderstanding, errors and rework as one group hands off their part of the process to the next group.

Make sure everyone involved in outlining, managing, diagnosing, and improving the process are well trained. Managers and improvement teams need to know how to collect, analyze, and act on data so that decision making is based on facts and an accurate picture of what's really going on. Ensure that team leaders and members have strong interpersonal skills. These include facilitating successful meetings, managing conflict, confronting issues, team leadership, being a team player, and so on.

Make sure that managers and improvement teams involved in process management are operating in a data rich environment. Process management depends heavily on data and analysis to gather reliable information about the scope of a process, how it's performing (measurement), and what customers/partners expect of it. This data should be highly visual (lots of diagrams, charts, and graphs) and broadly available so everyone can see the big picture. Data-based tools and techniques include Cause-and-Effect Diagrams, Flowcharts, Check Sheets, Pareto Charts, Histograms, Scatter Diagrams, Affinity Charts, Tree Diagrams, and the like.

Most managers underestimate how much time, attention, and support process improvement teams need. Unguided process improvement teams can be detrimental to your organization's performance. They busily set about improving things that don't matter, make changes that unknowingly make things worse somewhere else in the organization, or just squander precious organization time and resources. If your management team can't give improvement teams the support they need, reduce their numbers to a level that you can support. If you're not sure what that level of support is, ask.

Choose processes you're going to radically reengineer very carefully. The changes will be highly disruptive and tie up huge amounts of time and resources. Make sure you're leveraging those major investments in processes that will have a significant, strategic impact on your organization's performance.

Make sure all your process improvement activities are clearly and tightly linked to your strategic imperatives. Each effort should also have highly focused and specific improvement goals (that are an aggressive, major stretch) and measurements. Establish feedback and follow up steps for each process management and improvement team.

Keep everyone educated and updated on all your process improvement activities. Make it all as transparent and widely available as possible. Reduce apathy and resistance by increasing your education and communication efforts.

Don't let specialists and consultants do theoretical reengineering in isolation and then launch it into the organization. A national retailer hired high priced consultants to reengineer their logistics (ordering, warehousing, shipping, and invoicing) process. The new process made sense on paper, but those who had to make it work felt cast aside. Since they didn't own the new approach, it wasn't too hard to "demonstrate" that the consultants' process didn't work.

Reengineering is becoming the new mantra for frustrated strategic planners who are putting this new label on their old ineffective approach. Elite groups of senior managers, hands-off staff people, technology specialists, and assorted experts study, analyze, and plan major changes. With more focus on theoretical planning than implementation, they go for big breakthroughs with radical organization changes and major investments in sophisticated technology.

Getting wide scale involvement in mapping out and dramatically improving (or developing a consensus to radically redesign) the existing process is seen as too slow and not bold enough. But those theoretical changes generally prove to be impractical in the real world. And those who aren't involved in planning the battle can be counted on to battle the plan. This elitist, expert, planning-driven approach rarely works.

Don't develop your own internal, home made version of process management. We've seen too many poorly designed attempts at process management. Designing your own makes about as much sense today as trying to manufacture your own computer system or write your own software programs. Like information technology, the management science of process management has come a long way in a few short years. It's become an extensive field onto itself (hundreds of books are now available on various aspects of the expanding topic).

A multitude of well-researched and designed process management training packages and consulting services is available. However, like an information technology system, process management packages and services do need to be tailored to your unique needs. And you need to develop the internal expertise to support and continue evolving your process management technology with your consulting firm's help.

Successful process management demands prioritization, organization, discipline, and a systematic approach. How's yours? You can't build a team or organization that's different than you are. Undisciplined and disorganized managers can't build disciplined and organized teams.

Process management is an invaluable part of disciplined management systems and using technology effectively. Reengineering and incremental process improvements can have such a profound impact on organizations that many managers focus almost exclusively on these powerful tools and techniques. But experience clearly shows that if process management isn't well integrated within a larger improvement effort, it will eventually wither and quite likely die. That bigger picture includes Context and Focus (vision, values, and purpose), pinpointing customer/partner performance gaps, exploring, searching, and creating new markets and customers, innovation and organizational learning, establishing goals and priorities, and extensive Improvement Planning.

Jim Clemmer is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. During the last 25 years he has delivered over two thousand customized keynote presentations, workshops, and retreats. Jim's five international bestselling books include The VIP Strategy, Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader's Digest. His web site is www.clemmer.net.





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