… Uses Enabling Processes

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
               W. Edwards Deming


This week, we’ll discuss the 2nd of six Dimensions.  Think of these dimensions as building materials for a new house.  For example, the pallet of 2x4s doesn’t have much value by itself, even though we can’t build the house without them.  But to complete the house, we also need plumbing, electrical wiring, sheet rock, and so on.  This dimension, Process, is one of the building blocks of a better workplace.


The value of well-managed process improvement initiatives can be significant, and can cut across all industries. Here are a couple examples:

  • From the JPMorgan Chase 2003 Annual Report: “In 2003, our productivity and quality efforts yielded more than $1 billion pre-tax in net financial benefits, more than doubling those achieved in 2002. Over one-half of these benefits came from re-engineering key business processes using the disciplined  methodology of Six Sigma.”
    • I was the Master Black Belt coaching several of those six sigma projects, resulting in profit & revenue increases in excess of $10 million.
  • From the Iowa Department of Management, Office of Lean Enterprise, we find 220+ projects from 2003 to today, with documented results for each project. Many projects reported reductions in delays as part of their results, and they ranged from 33% to well over 90%.

I could easily fill this week’s newsletter with examples of process improvement value, but we have more to cover, and I don’t want you to lose interest. To get an idea of the other side of the issue, let’s look at the symptoms of ineffective processes, according to BPM Institute:

  • Unhappy customers
  • Some things just take too long
  • Work was not done right the first time, hence there is rework, mistakes, scrap, waste
  • Processes are not measured nor controlled
  • Too many reviews and signoffs
  • Exceptions, complexity, and special cases cause havoc
  • Established procedures are circumvented to expedite work
  • Management throws money at the problem, but it doesn’t improve
  • Management throws people at the problem, but it doesn’t improve
  • Finger-pointing and blaming between departments, mistrust between departments
  • Conflicts arise between departments due to competing goals
  • Constant fire fighting with some fires reoccurring
  • Employee frustrations

If any of these are present in your organization, then you have opportunities to better enable your staff to do their jobs more effectively by improving your internal processes.

Process Dimension

Enabling processes

Let’s look at the Process dimension, starting with the Guiding Principles, which would steer any enabling changes to existing processes:

  • Processes need to be flexible – We work in a continuously changing environment, and our processes need to have the flexibility to change to meet the current need, yet still ensure the key organizational objectives are met.
  • Organization-level processes should focus on the “what” – It’s important for the organization-level process to clearly define what needs to be done (inter-team deliverables, project-level metrics that are consolidated across the portfolio, and so on). And they should leave the decisions concerning how the processes are followed to the teams.
  • Team-level processes should focus on the “how” – Each team is accountable for those deliverables specified by the organization processes. But each team should be able to define the specific tasks required to meet those deliverables, given team composition, time, and budget.
  • Organization processes are owned by the organization – There is typically an organization-level function, such as a Program Management Office or Software Engineering Process Group, who are responsible for documentation, maintenance and training of organization-wide processes. They may even provide process templates for teams to use to define team-level processes.
  • Team processes are owned by the team – Each team should be able to define the team-level process details, which typically define how they will meet the required deliverables.

With an understanding of the Guiding Principles, let’s look at the Process dimension’s Subject Areas, and some of the questions they intend to answer. Remember, discussions in each Subject Area are used to determine how well existing processes enable a better workplace.

  • Process flexibility – What flexibility do teams have to deviate from the current organization processes, and how do they do so?
  • Process metrics – What metrics are collected, and how are they used?
  • Continuous improvement – How are existing processes continuously improved?
  • Process documentation – How are current processes documented, and how are changes communicated to those who use the processes?
  • Process training – How are new team members trained in current processes, and how are users trained when the processes are updated?
  • New process implementation – How are new processes identified, defined and introduced? And which stakeholders are involved in the process definition?
  • Shared processes – How do teams adopt a shared process, and how are best practices shared?
  • Process enforcement – Who is responsible for process compliance, and how is that accomplished?

Once we’ve completed those discussions, we’ll have a good idea of whether an organization’s processes either inhibit or enable team performance.

What’s Next

Next week, we’ll look at the next building block, Tools.

Until Then …

“We should work on our process, not the outcome of our processes.”
               W. Edwards Deming

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