Process Excellence: Is The Party Over?

You could quite easily get gloomy reading the PEX Network survey Process Excellence: State of the Industry 2013.  Here we go again. Take down the certificate, put the books on eBay and re-write the resume. But wait. Here’s why that would be a mistake, a misreading of the underlying reality.

OK, at first sight, it is not good news. The proportion of process excellence programmes which are successful continues its decline (ongoing since 2009). Now barely half of all process excellence programmes succeed, according to the 800+ process excellence professionals surveyed.

Which is worrying, because you’d expect process excellence professionals to know what’s really going on, and to be biased in favour of reporting success.

Even more worrying, they report that 4% of programmes are ‘highly unsuccessful’, and report that 8% of organizations have ‘dismantled their process excellence programme’.

Other findings confirm a wider malaise: a decline in interest in process improvement; reported declining returns in process excellence; and reducing budgets.

You might reasonably conclude that it’s beginning to look like game over for process excellence. That it’s now downhill all the way into the history books (following in the footsteps of Six Sigma, which the survey reports is now used in just 33% of organizations – down from 71% in 2005).

The reality though is, I think, more subtle – and more hopeful.

What we’re seeing collapse is old school ‘process excellence’, in two senses:

The world in which the process excellence team is a high priesthood with arcane knowledge and statistical tools, intervening to ‘help’ the line to make improvements. A relationship – and I’ve heard this several times – in which the process excellence team is to the line as pigeons are to statues.

The world in which process excellence is dominated by IT-thinking and IT requirements. There’s far too many ‘process excellence professionals’ sitting in Business Architecture or Enterprise Architecture roles, with far too little contact with everyday operational realities.

The PEX Network also surveyed 60+ C-level executives with responsibility for process excellence, and it’s their views that best show the way forward.

There’s clearly something of a gulf between the perspectives of the execs and the process professionals, neatly summarised by Ginny Youngblood, Global BPM Lead for DuPont:

“People who can think in “process” really well tend to be perfectionists. They want to see every little piece of it and how it fits together like a big puzzle. But senior leaders don’t really think that way – for them it’s more like a chess game. And as long as you have people putting together a puzzle talking to people playing a chess game, it will never work. It’s too big a divide.”

There’s clearly a need for a common vision, greater alignment and for a more fruitful dialogue. And it’s a two-way education, not simply that process professionals need to present better. The execs surveyed didn’t seem to recognize, for instance, that process excellence contributes directly to the success of automation projects.

Overall though, the exec responses signal that process excellence matters more than ever. The survey asked execs about their highest priorities in the year ahead (see Fig 1).

Figure 1

The report’s authors concluded that ‘ensuring customer focus throughout the organization’ was the top priority. Which is true, but it misses the bigger point. Delivering every one of the exec’s priorities – with the possible exception of data quality – demands process excellence. In other words, process excellence directly underpins success in achieving 86%+ of what execs most want.

The other strongly positive indicator is execs’ recognition that process excellence matters (see Fig 2).

Figure 2

Setting the maverick result on automation aside, execs and their teams are aligned in understanding the purpose of process excellence.  Indeed, for their highest priority – customer focus – chess-playing execs see process excellence as having more to contribute than their jigsaw-assembling process excellence colleagues.

And if this were not enough, there are at least two secular trends which don’t really feature in this survey but which are driving process excellence up the strategic agenda.  One is the shift from document-based knowledge management to process visualization; the other is the integration of risk management and compliance with end-to-end operational processes.

It’s not game over. We’re moving up to the next level in process excellence.

Related Posts

24 Sep 2013   The Business Management System App 

16 Sep 2013   Why Process Excellence Is Headed For The Board Room

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