We’ve all heard that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Even more basically, you can’t measure what doesn’t exist. Not everyone is in a bloody process mess, but in cases where you hear “we don’t really have a process” the key word is really. If they are delivering a product or service, they have at least the essence of a process. Processes might not be formal or agreed or understood, which in turn makes them susceptible to waste and variation and manipulation, but they get manage to get things delivered. All things considered, such a situation usually provides no real basis for improvement, it is more a definitional exercise, and might best benefit from something like DFSS. Companies might need a blood test if up to now they were freely growing up and not worrying about processes, if they are made up of companies that have been merged together or otherwise “re-engineered”, if they come to find their efforts more subjected to compliance and complexity, or if they have reached a performance ceiling.
It’s never been productive, and today it’s evermore untenable, to be stuck speculating about what could be done and should be done versus what’s said to be done and what is actually done. But it happens – quite a bit. Companies get stuck in such a rut and are hard pressed to get out. Like plaque in the blood stream, it’s hard to clean up even if you know it is there. And why is that? The short answer has to do with the need for the blood system (process) to work in conjunction with the nervous system (rules) as attached to the brain (strategy-goals-objectives), all of which is affected by DNA (culture), and ultimately the soul (individual behaviors), which in total reflects and sustains meaningful life (operational capabilities).
So let me slow down here before I get my blood pressure up. Please don’t get me wrong on ideas like collaboration and refinement. It’s more than okay, it’s necessary to speculate and think deeply about process. But such thinking must be characterized by movement toward closure and readiness to assume associated responsibility. Apply the tourniquet. Beware of sending process off to committee. Processes and process ownership cannot be sacred cows – they are too important to health.
Theoretically, the company (the body) owns the processes (the blood). But process is an easy target. Everybody knows the blood is in there and for whatever reasons, could try to draw it. This does not usually work and is not advised. Processes are an element of the business architecture that also need some applied ownership. The rightly skilled people need to be entrusted with the right degree of formalized ownership. To keep efforts vital and unconstrained (“disease free”), process ownership should include: 1) the associated process performance ownership – not just a determination of what needs to be done; 2) real experts – either directly or through defined direct communication mechanisms; and 3) a clear defined path to influence (and in some cases control) the interdependent architectural elements (such as policy/rules) and fundamental enablers (such as leadership and IT).
Of course, processes represent precious intellectual property that must be protected – it is lifeblood.