There is often a tension between process improvement and innovation. Improvement is seen to be just fiddling around at the edges, rather than making the massive gains offered by radical transformation. Continuous process improvement is important, and we also need discontinuous innovation. However, process improvement needs a performance boost; as well as counteracting weaknesses and threats, it needs to focus on opportunities and strengths. We need to work beyond the tangible current state to discover and improve non-existent processes.
Without conscious attention to cross-functional processes, nobody is deliberately responsible for the creation, accumulation, and delivery of value to customers and other stakeholders. The organization chart says nothing about this topic. All organizations seek to deliver value but, without a relentless, mindful focus on business processes, there is a critical gap between aspiration and reality. Too often, process improvement initiatives are ‘random acts of management’ without a systemic foundation. Organizations focused on continually improving and innovating the creation, accumulation, and delivery of customer value have process thinking embedded in culture and practice.
One of the most difficult aspects of creating a climate of process-based management is achieving the required level of buy-in. It’s tempting to say “executive buy-in” but we need buy-in across the whole organization—having support only at the c-level is not enough to make sustained change. Getting the right people on board at the right time, and keeping them there, is often a serious challenge. Everyone is busy. Changing to a process-based management approach sounds more like a problem than a solution. In addition, we are often working in an environment where the organization is reasonably successful, so what problem are we trying to fix?
As we start this new year I want to revisit the basic premise of my involvement in business process management and improvement — to explain it to you, to reassess it for myself, and to seek your feedback. My working life revolves around the certainty that organizations need to be fully committed to both continuous process management and continuous process improvement. Why is this so? In brief, it's the principle of the primacy of process. Let's unpack that and see if I can convince you of its pre-eminence — and, yes, I appreciate that, as this paper is originally published in the Business Rules Journal, that may not be easy! Do you want a simple, but effective, practical, but well-grounded, explanation of the role of business processes in management? After many years working on this question in organizations of many sizes and types, in different national and organizational cultures, I believe I can help you with a simple, effective, practical, and well-grounded meta-model of management.
Arriving at your destination airport to discover that your checked-in bags are somewhere else is a sufficiently common occurrence to have travelers staring anxiously at the stationary carousel, then fixedly watching the point where bags are first seen, and then breathing a sigh of relief on seeing their bags finally appear. SITA reports1 that 4 billion passengers checked in 4.5 billion bags last year. While only about six bags per thousand passengers get lost, lost bags (more gently termed by the airline industry ‘mishandled baggage’) is a significant problem for airlines, airport owners and managers, and their customers. SITA further reports2 that in 2016 alone, baggage mishandling cost the industry US$2.1 billion, and in the period 2007-2016, the industry cost was a staggering US$27 Billion. The problem is easing3 with the use of new technology, but millions of pieces of luggage are still being ‘lost’ each year, costing the airlines significant amounts, and causing considerable aggravation for travelers.4