Process Excellence: What’s To Be Done?

The PEX Week Europe survey results, just published, make for surprisingly gloomy reading. There seems to be something badly adrift in the world of Process Excellence.

Almost 1,000 ‘process professionals’ were surveyed last month. The single most worrying chart shows perceptions of process improvement in their organizations:

11.7% said that their process excellence program was either at risk or had already been dismantled (up from 5.7% in 2011)

15% said that process improvement was experiencing declining returns in their organization

17% reported that effort and interest in process improvement has peaked.

Which is surprising. My own take is that continuous improvement is very much part of the zeitgeist in the CxO suite, and that process excellence is becoming more widely understood as the other side of that coin.  So why do ‘process professionals’ seem so downbeat?

It could be simply a European problem, but I suspect not.  More likely perhaps is that many organizations hugely over-invested in Lean and Six Sigma programmes that failed to deliver. They failed to some extent, of course, because they were wildly over-sold.  But many of today’s ‘process professionals’ might looking back nostalgically at those heady days.

It is plainly ridiculous that process excellence should be getting such a bad press. So what’s to be done?

At the risk of your groans at this point, here’s some reasons why I see the enterprise process management platform as the missing piece in this jigsaw:

It links process improvement with top level business strategy.  It addresses directly the single biggest process excellence challenge reported in the PEX survey. It provides direct line of sight between the operating model and the operational processes.

It ensures sustainable improvement, the second biggest challenge reported in the survey. An enterprise process management platform allows a pipeline of improvement projects to be identified, analysed, designed and delivered – in collaboration with the business. So there’s engagement and adoption: cost cuts stick and there’s no organizational snapback after change.

It gives meaning to metrics.  A third of survey respondents reported that “My organization measures so many metrics that it’s difficult to know which ones are important”.  Define KPIs as leading indicators of the health of the end-to-end processes and they have context. Even better, when a traffic light goes red, I can see immediately what’s upstream, what’s downstream and who are the stakeholders: I can start to fix it quicker.

And, if that wasn’t enough, it allows risks and controls to be embedded and managed within the context of the operational processes, so compliance and risk management is easier – which will get the attention of the CFO at least and so address another reported challenge: the lack of executive buy-in.

With an enterprise process management platform in place, ‘process professionals’ can do what they do best.  And feel loved again.

Related Posts

21 Feb 2013   When Process Standardization Backfires

19 Nov 2012   No Other Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

Why Process Improvement Projects Fail

Interesting times.  There’s an emerging consensus that Lean, Six Sigma and other process improvement programs are failing, and a myriad explanations why.  And yet – I just saw a(nother) Nimbus client video on a remarkable success in sustainable process excellence.

There’s no shortage of doomsayers.  In a PEX Network podcast just released, Nigel Clements, who will keynote at the Process Excellence conference in London in April, estimates that up to 70% of process improvement projects fail.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Sakya Chakravorty estimated that 60% of Six Sigma projects fail. And the PEX Network poll launched last week on ‘the biggest barriers to continuous improvement’ has already attracted 500 voters.

But why? That’s where the divergences start.  There may be common agreement on the symptoms, but there are many different diagnoses of the underlying condition.

Nigel Clements, for instance, points to Deming’s ‘five deadly diseases’ as the root causes: lack of constancy of purpose; emphasis on the short term; compensation that distorts incentives; over-mobility of management; and only using visible figures.

Professor Chakravorty suggests the need for Six Sigma ‘experts’ to be retained on projects for longer; for smaller project teams; and for tying in performance appraisals to adoption of change.

Both though agree on what must be the single over-arching truth here: that success in continuous improvement (CI) is about creating an enterprise-wide culture of engagement and collaboration.  And that it is impossible without leadership from the top.

Even Nimbus is not, dare I say it, an essential for success in sustainable process excellence.  It hugely increases the chances of success in setting up and maintaining any CI program. But, ultimately, it is simply an enabler.  Without executive vision and commitment, nothing sustainable can succeed.

The client case study I just saw is on the launch of a global CI program in a Fortune 100 organization. It brings new levels of creativity in how it leverages Nimbus. There’s huge attention to graphic design as one of the keys to users engagement.  It has real-time metrics that look beyond process performance to cover as well process adherence and popularity. It also extends the standard RACI model in a way that brings a new clarity and productivity in compliance. And subtly, and throughout, it reinforces this organization’s values.

What made it possible? Executive energy plus the adoption of Nimbus as the process platform, and UPN as the process language.  But it was also the Nimbus methodology: the creativity inherent in live workshops in the discovery phase, facilitated by an experienced Nimbus consultant, to map out new ways of working.

It’s confidential right now – for obvious competitive reasons – but hopefully might make it into the public domain in due course. It’s a sparkling glimpse of the future in a world of CI gloom and angst. And exactly the kind of story that can fire up C-Level imagination and commitment.

Selling Process Excellence To The Boss

PEXGreat animation What Is Process Excellence? just published by the Process Excellence Network (PEX). The story behind the video is interesting as well.

It’s good because it de-mystifies process. Too many people think that process is the domain of the IT crowd or the Quality manager or some elite strategy unit. This video challenges all that.

It spells out how process is just another way of describing the work we do. Its message is that process is about how organizations create and deliver value to their customers. It’s process that enables organizations to get aligned for success. So it’s on point.

But here’s the really interesting thing about this video. It’s intended to help PEX members – overwhelmingly Lean, Six Sigma and PI people – to sell their Process Improvement programs to their C-Level execs.

But hang on, I hear you say, why on earth do execs need to be sold on Process Improvement programs? Surely they welcome them with open arms? Aren’t the PEX community received as heroes in the C-level suite?

Strangely, no. In many organizations, the Lean Sigma and PI crowd operate at surprisingly low levels, and even feel vulnerable. And there is some serious evidence that supports C-Level skeptics.

So many PI teams are now looking at new approaches, and tools to support them. Thought leaders here want to get beyond PI projects. They want to focus instead on programs to build organizational process maturity. They aspire to CMMI Level 5 capabilities – they are searching for process excellence as standard, and a culture of continuous improvement.

This new approach to PI demands different tools. Process fragments in Visio or on brown paper, or in the technical language of IT, just can’t deliver this.

Actually, it’s not even a tool that’s required any more. Sustainability demands a business management platform. A platform that:

  • provides an integrated and holistic process model of the enterprise, linking the enterprise value chain, or target operating model, directly with the operational reality
  • visualizes end-to-end processes in a way that is intuitive, and in the language of the business
  • overlays processes with performance metrics, business controls, quality and compliance
  • provides a governance framework that enables all process stakeholders to collaborate on the analysis, design and implementation of change
  • blends process with documents, metrics and training – and delivers it to every desktop and mobile device as a personalized ‘intelligent operations manual’, connecting process with getting real work done, and making it easy to engage in continuous improvement.

With this kind of platform in place, the insights and expertise of the Lean Sigma and PI community can be fully leveraged. OK, maybe not conquering heroes – but properly valued.