Business Managers and the Process Perspective

In some situations, business managers are the leaders in process change.  In other cases, someone outside the unit decides that processes need to change — as when there is a merger or when IT decides that new software is required — and the business managers is a more or less passive participant in the change effort.  The problem in the latter case, is that the support, and often the enthusiasm of local business managers is required if a change is to become established and successful.  Projects that try to change processes without the full support of the local managers have a low success rate. Similarly, large scale process changes begun by some staff group that lack the enthusiastic support of senior executives usually run into trouble.

There are those who think that process change is something done by IT, or by a process staff group, using Lean, Six Sigma or BPM group.  In reality, successful process change is something done by business managers.  This is a fundamental principle of CMMI — whose maturity model is derived entirely from the skills and practices of managers.  CMMI assumes that mature organizations have mature business managers who approach problems from process perspective.  It assumes that managers know the flow and activities that make up their processes, that they monitor their process outcomes and that they provide feedback to employees, based on process outcomes.  This doesn't suggest that someone shouldn't worry about making process flows lean, or worry about the consistency of outcomes or the possibility of using software tools to monitor processes — but it puts the emphasis on the fact that, day by day, good processes happen because managers care about processes and work to see that they function as they should.

Once one accepts the key role of the manager in implementing and maintaining successful process efforts, then one has to ask how the organization supports its “process managers.”  Do they get training in process analysis?  Do they get help establishing process metrics?  Do they meet with other managers to discuss processes issues, or to coordinate large scale process flows?

The analysis and support of managers in organizations that care about process work is a key subject and one that often doesn't get enough attention.  It's often assumed that if someone from the outside comes in and  cleans up a given process that thereafter, the process will work well.  Data suggests that it doesn't happen all that often.   More likely, without enthusiastic local management, the revised process will slowly shift back to its previously ineffective mode.

No process change project should be launched without a clear assessment of how the current managers feel about process, and process change.  Similarly no process change project should end without assuring that the managers that will “remain behind when the process change team leaves” are prepared and willing to support the new process.  The alternative is to invest money without a really good change of  getting an adequate return.