Process Management 101

by Tom Reeder

For as long as I would like to remember…

… I have been using a single slide to orient executive teams, project teams, stakeholders, etc. on What is a process? In simple terms all the work, tasks, activity, etc. we accomplish at work, at home, at school, on-line- anywhere- can be thought of as process.

Process History and Current Process Relevance

As a new hire at a large management consulting company, I was doing some research in
the local office archives (long before the electronic library) and stumbled upon some operational analysis and reports from the 1960’s.  These engagement artifacts analyzed various elements of plant performance and operations.  All of the analysis was founded in operational processes.

Snap forward to Mr. Hammer & Mr. Champy’ s effort of 1993, reengineering is a packaged approach to process redesign by eliminating no-longer-relevant historical constraints and adding technology enablement.  Reengineering gave everyone license to include the work of knowledge workers’ (previously known as white collar workers) work as processes.  Unfortunately, the term reengineering continued on to pick up a connotation of “downsizing” or “retrenchment”, depending on which side of the Atlantic you find yourself, as latent staff inefficiencies were eliminated from many key business processes.

Business process thinking was re-packaged again for the massive Y2K investments, where some Enterprise Resource Planning software companies implemented “best practice” processes with all of their top clients.

Today, processes are widely recognized as the way we do business, even if they are seldom applied beyond the manufacturing plant and the occasional new product development process.  Most recently, a series of process-centric methodologies have ebbed and flowed in favor, including six sigma (à la GE/Jack Welch) and Lean (based on Toyota’s success with lean manufacturing- and currently being extended into just about all fields).

Processes are used for everything from statistical process control of a manufacturing line to integrating mergers to strategic planning (around capabilities).  Informal and formal processes are the backbone of business. As processes are the way we (I am paraphrasing from a number of sources) plan, execute, measure and refine our work.

Process Definition

So, What is a process? For now, I have broken up the tried-and-true one-pager, to allow the proven graphics
to tell the introductory process story, one addressed in thousands of
books, articles and  projects.

The Process’ Customer

Economically achieving process-customer satisfaction is the No. 1 objective of each process, or should be.  After defining who the process-customer is (internally or externally), the next step is to understand their requirements.  One way to think about customer needs aligned to process output is to walk through three scenarios for requirements-based delivery of goods and services.

  • The customer is not receiving the value products and services they need or prefer
    Our process is not delivering. If this is an external customer, we will lose this customer to competition who will meet the customer’s needs.  We are delivering a Chevy for Cadillac needs
  • The customer is receiving too much product (too high a quality product) and/or services
    We are over-investing in our process resulting in too high a quality, too much service, or both.  We shouldn’t deliver a Cadillac when customer needs a Chevy
  • Customer needs and expectations are consistently met by our ability to deliver
    Our process is aligned with their needs, preferences and expectations- for now

While Goldie Locks comes to mind when considering these process-customer scenarios, having stable processes can be an enabler to drive root cause analysis.  And, more importantly, to fixing any problems or mis-alignment with customer needs.

The Process Hierarchy

Once you start digging into the heart of defining the processes the discussion generally turns to what-how pretty quickly.  The top-down process defines the what needs to be done for the next level of how looking up.  Going back to the work from the 1960’s I referred to above, the high-level (enterprise level) process model started with just three mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive processes:

  • Prepare to sell (including product development, marketing)
  • Sell (sales including sales call, sales compensation)
  • Post-sales followup (including manufacturing, billing)

This is too high level to be particularly useful given what we know of processes today, but illustratively everything we do (every process) for an organization can map into one of those three enterprise-level mega-processes.  How it maps and how many levels of process definition, documentation, integration, etc. depends on what you are trying to achieve with your process work.  While it is not absolutely necessary to start at the top of the organization and drive down (e.g., enterprise processes, progress groups, processes, steps, tasks, etc.), it can be helpful to everyone if there is at least a high-level framework to give context for process integration (e.g., defining process suppliers and process customers).

Other Process Attributes

Again, depending on what you are trying to achieve, there are a number of things to consider as you build out your processes and process documentation for each process.  Here is a thought-starter list:

  • Verb-object statements, as a standard (e.g., “Define annual planning schedule”)
  • Inputs; Outputs
  • Process taxonomy (e.g., level 1 process, level 2 (sub)process, etc.)
  • Measures- Resources and time consumed; Outputs; Intermediate metrics
  • Triggers- What starts the process (e.g., other processes, period- daily, monthly, quarterly, annually)
  • Requirements
  • Principles
  • Artifacts (e.g., forms)
  • Mental models and concepts (e.g., General Management Framework)
  • Tools (e.g., enabling software, CAPEX equipment)
  • Accountability/Responsibility charting (e.g., defining “who”)
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