Training Operational Managers in Process Concepts

I was discussing some of the roles of process practitioners and, specifically some of the roles of a BPM Center of Excellence, and the question of management training came up.  I believe that process people have a major role to play in training operational managers.  I do not think that process people should be responsible for all management training — there are many things that managers do that have little to do with process — but there are some things that managers do that are critical to the success of the organization's process, and as traditional management training often omits the topic, process practitioners have a responsibility to fill the gap.

Let's start with an obvious example.  Operational managers are responsible for continuously improving the processes they manage.  Obviously they can't do this if they don't think of themselves as process managers — so the starting point is identifying the major processes in the organization, and then identifying how the activities that given managers control are part of those major processes.  In other words, a given sales manager may think he or she is primarily a sales manager, but the sales activities he or she manages play a critical role in the value chain that delivers products to customers, and the sales manager needs to understand that he or she is responsible for activities that are critical to that value chain.  The sales manager needs to assure that needed outputs from his or her activities flow to other activities in the value chain in an efficient and effective manner.  And, to return to our initial point, the sales manager needs to work with his or her sales people to improve the efficiency and effectiveness with which the process flows to the other activities within that value chain.

Lots of companies appoint high-level process managers — individuals responsible for value chains or large scale processes, like providing customer services.  But all too many stop there and don't focus on what subordinate middle managers need to know to fulfill their process responsibilities in an effective manner.

As we already suggested, every manager in an organization ought to know that the organization's success depends on implementing a value chain that delivers goods and services to customers.  Each manager needs to know the major subprocesses that make up the value chain, and which activities within those subprocesses are supported by specific activities that that manager manages.

Outputs from those specific activities need to be measured so that each local manager knows, on a day-by-day basis, what his group is contributing to the value chain, and whether that contribution is increasing and improving or declining.  This is all to say that each manager ought to know the “anatomy” of processes, and ought to have some ways of quantifying his or her contribution.

Once a manager understands his or her role in the overall process “anatomy”, he or she needs to focus on how his contribution could be improved.  We certainly don't want to make each manager into a process professional, but their is nothing wrong with each manager having some basic concepts and each should be capable of conducting a meeting in which employees brainstorm how to improve the effectiveness or efficiency of their given activities.  Good companies evaluate how much each middle manager contributes to ongoing process improvement efforts.  Some make a portion of the manager's bonus depend on his or her success.

Returning to our initial contention — middle managers need to understand processes and how to improve them.  In most organization's that means that managers need to be trained in process work.

Years ago when Carnegie Mellon established the Capability Maturity Model for the US Dept. of Defense, this is exactly what they concluded.  When an organization is evaluated to determine its maturity, it essence its middle managers are evaluated to see what they know about processes and about using data derived from processes to manage effectively.  Training ought to assure that manager's have the skills and the knowledge that CMM assumes they should have.  CMM, after all is about what it takes to create superior organization's that consistently perform well.  And it results from managers who understand processes.



  1. Paul,
    I am so excited to see you writing about this. I have long taught Process Owners, Project Leads, and Executive Sponsors about processes, using the individual project they are working with as the impetus. But this is a wider scope- operational leaders- and I think it is key to bringing an on going process culture to the organization, and having daily management around process. One of the things I discovered in working with managers was they knew very little about process measures, and were ‘ embarrassed’ so did not ask relevant questions. But they are wonderful socratic questioners once they understand.

  2. Rikke Pfänner says

    Thank you for highligting this interesting topic.
    After working with BPM, process optimization and change management from an ISO 9001 perspective, I recently moved into IT, working with the ITIL framework.
    This framework can be used as the Process Framework for an IT department, as described by Michael Hammer. And takes into account the roles of Process Owners, Process Managers as well as the roles of the (IT) operational leaders. In this way, once IT leaders have gone through a basic ITIL course they are much better equipped to understanding how they interconnect with the other processes in the value chain. As well as what KPI’s may be relevant both for the processes and for the individual operational leaders.

  3. Hello.
    Top and middle managers dont’t have BSC management
    In more they don’t play the game, continuing traditional thinking.
    Also they often don’t know how understand dysfunctionments.
    Then, talk BPM to them : ouuuh !
    Qualiticians do what they can in lean-quality-kaizen.
    And consultants do all the processes reDesign.

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