Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Maybe Process Management Isn't Enough

For the past five or six years I've been evangelising about moving from a Process Improvement culture to one of Process Management. I've written about it in these blogs, I've spoken about it at conferences, and I've tried to encourage and promote the adoption of the concepts and principles in the workplace. I generally find my arguments are well accepted:

  • Process Improvement activities tend to be short term, project based endeavours which peak in the run up to an appraisal or audit and then fizzle out
  • Improvement teams spend much of their time recreating processes in their own image rather than building on existing processes to actually improve them
  • Process improvement activities are often top down and more aligned to compliance than aimed at the generation of added business value
  • We think in terms of Quality Management which encompasses planning and control, assurance, compliance and improvement, but only talk about process improvement

So when I talk about Process Management I'm thinking about a truly operational activity which is a defined and managed function that works holistically across the business and is aimed at generating improved business performance at all levels.

But I'm now having my doubts about whether this goes far enough, and reading a post earlier this week has encouraged me to write this entry. Chris Taylor published an article on BPM For Real entitled "Has process lost its meaning?"

Now I don't necessarily agree with Chris' views in this particular instance (although I totally agree about that fact that management speak and jargon has completed clouded our use of vocabulary and have written about that before!) he said enough to make me step back and think about my experiences over the past few years.

  • Some organisations simply did not have effective processes in place which was preventing them from achieving the levels of performance they could have expected from their people
  • Many organisations wasted their "improvement dollars" fixing perceived issues rather than genuine failures, often because they believed their process experts rather than listening to the process users
  • Too many managers simply didn't understand what they were really doing and initiated improvement activities aimed at doing the wrong things better
  • Lots of teams were involved in Continuous Tinkering rather than focused improvements
  • Business value was not being realised because it wasn't even part of the dialogue for consideration
  • Arbitrary quality targets were set and improvement activities were channelled into meeting these
  • Reactive quality compliance had higher management priority than proactive prevention of future quality issues

Some of these are genuine process issues which could be addressed by more rigorous process management. But fixing some of these problems requires more than new or improved processes. They need better understanding of business and management realities than many managers have. They need better trained and educated managers. They need process experts who have a better understanding of core business activities and values and who operate in the real world of the people who execute the processes (commonly called workers!).

My biggest problem is that I don't have a convenient label for what this discipline really is. It could be Performance Management, but that's already been hijacked by HR in the guise of personnel reviews. In the old days, it could have come under the moniker of Quality Management, but that's been hijacked by Testing and the compliance police.

Maybe I should just invent a word - Proformance perhaps. It's got a big red line under it as I'm writing this, so it doesn't appear to exist yet. Yes, I like that...

Business Proformance Management - the act of ensuring the right things are being done properly across an organisation, with the aim of improving business value and outcomes for all stakeholders including the people doing the work.

I shall reflect on this further and let you know how I get on. I'd welcome your thoughts on Proformance Management.


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  1. Very much agree with you Ally - the terminology I've encouraged is Process Performance Improvement - after all, if you are not improving performance, then what are you doing? And, in line with your thinking, that the 'real' process is Process Performance Management, within which 'improvement' is a option. I might even go as far as to say that it is a sub-process of Strategic Performance Management. Terminology is often only important to those that don't understand the methodologies - so we have to get it right for their sake.

  2. Thanks Paul. Terminology is a real problem as folk have become so imprecise and every new fad that comes along makes things worse. At the end of the day all these things really boil down to "Business Management" but that just seems so vast and really out of reach for a lot of "process specialists" who only understand their localised and unreal world.

  3. Ally, my goal has been to eliminate the word process from my vocabulary and to stick to "work" or "activities" or "behaviors". I even rebranded my blog to reflect this (and had to more or less start over with twitter as 'successfulwork'.

    What really cemented this with me was the relief I felt when talking to a process professional (we had the same vocabulary and the conversation was quick and to the point) who can't sell his ideas to his organization because of vocabulary issues and the perception that he's a 'process geek'.

    I have a similar conversation to a non-process geek and suddenly I struggle for words. This second conversation was the one where the deal can be closed, but the words are like a foreign tongue.

    So the true believer and I have no challenges communicating, but the true investor (already has budget and pain) and I struggle. There's a problem there.

    1. Chris - I do worry that a process professional cannot articulate their ideas in such a way that the organisation can understand them. If you can't speak in terms that the business understands and is comfortable with then perhaps "process geek" is the right description for this person.

      It has long bothered me that people pick up the language of the process models (such as CMMI) without translating the terminology into the local language used by the business. The same goes for many other types of consultant who try to impose their terminology onto their clients.

      One of the key abilities of a change agent is to be able to communicate with all stakeholders which by definition means adapting to the stakeholder language - not the other way around!

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