Applying Process Frameworks: Process Challenges Don’t have to be so Challenging

As 2016 came to a close, APQC conducted its annual priorities survey to better understand the pressing priorities and challenges of process and performance practitioners for 2017. We found that evergreen process management challenges continue to be top priorities for businesses in 2017 (Figure 1).

Figure 1


Figure 1. Process Management Challenges in 2017

At its core process management is the aadministrative activities aimed at (1) defining a process, (2) establishing responsibilities, (3) evaluating process performance, and (4) identifying opportunities for improvement. However that not so simple statement does no justice to the complexities involved in softer side of process—making process part of how the organization conducts business and getting employees to embrace process management.

Hence it comes as no surprise that organizations continue to struggle with many of the traditional change challenges such as moving to a process-thinking culture, aligning process work to organizational objectives, engaging leadership in process, and moving process management from documentation to the backbone of performance management. But not all is lost, since these are evergreen challenges, organizations can leverage the experiences of best-practices organization's efforts to address them.

Moving from Functional to Process Thinking

Shifting from functional to process thinking requires a cultural shift in how employees perceive the work they accomplish. Functional‐based,” “process‐thinking,” “process‐focused,” and “process‐based” are conceptual phrases used to describe organizations and to help them define where they are on the process evolution spectrum.

  • Functional‐based organizations are hierarchical in practice and manage people who are performing vertical process activities. Functional organizations often find it difficult to respond to rapidly changing markets and customer needs.
  • Process‐thinking organizations conceptualize groups of activities as processes and seek to understand how all of the processes in the organization work together to take inputs and produce products, services, and profits. Process thinking leads to the development of definitions and documentation of processes but does not integrate people and the business.

The engagement and communication piece in the culture shift is paramount. Communications have to be timely and tailored to the role and value for each stakeholder group. Employees at all levels should participate in the development of process management approaches, processes, and systems. Without employee input, process designs may not reflect how work occurs, and employees could resent having processes imposed upon them without having the chance to shape the new system.

Philips IT used a top-down, bottom-up approach to establish buy-in, using workshops to ensure processes reflect how employees work. This approach to structuring process mapping allowed Philips IT to engage different audiences at different steps in the change process. Philips IT conducted two sets of workshops.

  1. Process clustering—where management identifies the high-level processes
  2. Workflow mapping—where process SMEs map out the lower levels of the processes

For the top-down workshops, management identified the clusters of processes and assigned ownership of the relevant processes. The bottom-up workflow mapping workshop used SMEs—nominated by the managers in the process clustering workshops—to provide tactical knowledge of how work was being accomplished. So management picks out the process expert, who then identifies the next level of expert down the process ends with the frontline SMEs. The workflow mapping workshops allowed employees who conduct the processes in their day-to-day activities to provide input on the process workflows and note what did and did not work.

Aligning to Strategic Goals

Best-practice organizations categorize their processes because not all processes are created equal. Organizations should identify which processes provide differentiation and/or competitive advantages. These processes are strategic in nature and should be prioritized for optimization to ensure they are best-in-class while retaining their unique characteristics. The rest of the organization's processes (sometimes referred to as “core” or “commodity” processes) should be designed based on industry practices. Furthermore the identification of these processes also help the organization understand what lever to pull or adjust to help meet strategic goals.

Engaging Leadership

Essentially, strategic alignment refers to how well process management links to organizational objectives. Strategy and process management activities should be integrated and form a symbiotic relationship. The focus of process management depends on current strategy, and process management activities and measures help decision makers track progress toward goals and determine where to make strategic changes. Best-practice organizations use value stream analysis to align process measures with strategic objectives. This includes leveraging senior management or a centralized team to analyze the value stream and link measures to high-impact business processes.

Another approach to engaging leadership is through developing accountability. For example at FiberHome each department's general manager is also the department's process owner. The process owner is responsible for maintaining process integrity and for investing time and resources into process management. For example, each department is required to include at least one process project in its annual plan. The project can include the development of new processes, process improvement projects, or defining key performance indicators (KPIs) for its current processes. By requiring each department to include a process project in its annual plan, FiberHome ensures compliance and makes sure each department makes time for and allocates resources to process management.

Improving Maturity Level

Often the key to improving an organization's process management maturity level is moving from a focus on documentation to the development and integration of process performance measures. The essential difference in maturity levels for process performance is the active use of a balanced mix of quantitative measures to understand the organization's processes and improve them. Mature organizations are aware of their process capabilities and actively seek ways to improve their processes. They use hard data and regular qualitative assessment to make small, continuous changes to work when needed, as well as larger, more expansive improvements when the time is right. The least mature organizations out there aren't measuring process performance at all and therefore operate in reaction to complaints rather than according to objective performance indicators and metrics.

The more organizations can improve processes, the more seamless and positive the customer experience will be. And measurement can identify issues at multiple points in a process and not just at the results stage when performance levels may be more obvious.

How do Frameworks Help?

Frameworks role in addressing these challenges is very similar to their primary purpose—as a reference model and common language to guide conversations around processes. As noted in Frameworks and End-to-End Processes, usage of a framework allows a common basis for mapping its process, comparing variations, benchmarking current performance, and identifying and prioritizing improvement opportunities. Additionally frameworks help provide an objective third-party view of processes which is helpful in getting buy-in on processes with leadership and staff. Finally some frameworks include definitions and suggested performance measures. This information can be used to provide guidance on potential measures to help organizations make commensurable comparisons on business and process performance both internally and externally.

Conclusion

Process management is a complex practice that extends beyond the identification and development of processes. Most organizations struggle with the softer side of process—engaging employees in process and integrating it into decision making. This requires a toolbox of change management principals. However the four keys to addressing the soft side are:

  • alignment,
  • accountability,
  • engagement/communication, and
  • measurement.

Alignment and accountability ensure that process provides tangible value to the organization; which ultimately helps generate the buy-in on integrating it into the decision making. Engagement and communication leverage change management principals necessary to shift the culture of the organization. While measurement and analysis of performance can provide visibility into the progress an entire organization is making. Leaders should not be the only ones who understand what is measured and how. Employees need to understand this, too, so that they can contribute to stronger performance and identify improvement opportunities. Demonstrating that process management is making a difference for employees will build excitement and help process management thrive in an organization.

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland is a research specialist at APQC, with over ten years of business research and consulting experience. Her focus has predominantly been on best practices in business processes, corporate strategy, and R&D. She can be reached via email at hlykehogland@apqc.org and on Twitter at @hlykehogland.
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