Process Management

There are all kinds of ways people use the term “process management.”  Some use it to refer to the management of process improvement projects.  Others use it to refer to high-level management, as when one speaks of managing a value chain.  In many organizations a value chain is the equivalent of a division — and thus, often, a value chain manager can be the same as a division manager.  In this entry, I am going to use the term to refer to management of small scale business processes or activities.  When most of us think of a business process, we conceptualize it as a box, with an input arrow on the left side and an output arrow on the right.  If we elaborate it a bit, we may put some boxes inside the first box to show a sequence of steps or activities that take place within the process.

We could imagine such a typical process as representing the production of a pizza, from customer order to delivery of the finished pizza, or we could imagine it as what happens when a customer enters a bank and asked to open a bank account, and, later, leaves with his or her new checkbook.

When most of us imagine the steps that make up the process, we imagine activities that employees perform.  Things like Take Order, or Gather Customer Information.  We don't imagine the activities that the supervisor or manager of the process performs.  In the case of the pizza shop, there are employees that Take Orders and Cook Pizzas, and there is also a supervisor, who monitors their work.  Similarly, there are platform officers at a branch bank, and then there is the branch manager who is responsible for overseeing the work of the platform officers.  Figure 1 shows how I would represent a complete process, showing both the employee and the management activities.

Process with mang and core activities

Fig. 1. A process with both core &management activities shown.

Obviously lots of analysts omit the process management subprocess and its activities — which in Figure 1 I have listed as Plan & Organize Work, Lead & Communicate, and Monitor & Control — and for certain purposes ignoring the management activities makes sense.  But you omit the management activities at your peril if you are trying to diagnose the things that might go wrong with the process — especially if you think your problems might involve employee performance.

The model I have shown in Figure 1 comes in many variations, all of them originally derived from the work of Geary Rummler, as described in his classic, Improving Performance.  Rummler, in the chapter in which he describes this model, goes to considerable length to show just how many employee performance problems result from deficient management processes.  Employees that never get feedback as to when they did it right or when their performance was suboptimal, don't tend to improve.  Employees that are set two tasks that conflict with one another and are expected to do both more or less at the same time, don't perform very well.  Employees without clear goals don't tend to meet them, and so forth.

In Figure 1 I have pictured three management subprocesses or activities.  I could easily have broken them out and had six:   Plan, Organize, Lead, Communicate, Monitor and Control.  In BPTrends courses we do break them out, and we offer sub-activities to make the scope of each of these activities even clearer.  Different analysts may recognize more or less — but the basic idea is clear.  Managers undertake tasks that affect the scope of the activities and the work that employees undertake when they perform core processes.

IT-oriented process analysts who are primarily interested in documenting processes for automation may not care about management-core interactions, but any analyst who is concerned with improving employee performance has to study both the employee activities and how the managers interact with the employees.

Separate from our concerns about how one analyzes broken processes, we have concerns about how continuous improvement occurs.  As Roger Tregear and I have both commented in the past month, you don't get continuous improvement except where employees and managers are constantly finding new things to improve.  Moreover, as we noted, you can only improve a given sequence of employees activities so much.  Beyond that, you need to focus on things other than the flow of activities.  You need to focus on business rules that guide employee decisions, on the possibility of automation, or on how managers work with employees to define and implement the tasks.

If an entire organization is going to be continually improving, then both the employees and those who manage and supervise them, have to understand processes.  Moreover, they need to understand processes in the more complicated manner we have pictured in Figure 1.  Without thinking about management, budget, availability of goals and reinforcement and motivation are somehow lost.  With the richer model, all of these elements become part of the picture.

Of course, if the complete picture is to be understood, then managers throughout the organization need to understand that they must function as process managers, and they need to understand their work as involving the understanding and management of processes.

This isn't stuff that a CMM Level 2 organization focuses on, but it is close to the heart of what it takes to create a CMM Level 4 organization.