Robust, repeatable, and easily taught processes are the foundation of good outcomes. It therefore makes sense to consider the factors that separate good processes from poor ones, the effective from the ineffective.
The measure of the process has two parameters:
- The outcome is repeatable, it has become the way things are done, so has an element of “automatic” about it.
- In apparent contradiction to the above, effective processes must also be sufficiently agile to accommodate the short term stuff that just happens, and flexible so that they can evolve to continue to deliver optimum results in response to the changes in the environment in which they operate.
Over 35 years of participating, observing and analysing processes, there appears to me to be a small number of enablers that drive effective processes. The weighting of these factors is different from situation to situation, but all are evident to some extent in every successful location.
- Deliberate Design. Successful processes are the outcome of a deliberate design. Sometimes the design comes after a process has evolved, and it is modified and optimised post birth, other times, the design is a deliberate response to a situation that requires a process.
- Infrastructure support. Processes do not survive in a vacuum, so the organisational and operational infrastructure, and the culture of the organisation play a significant role in their success. Without any of these three infrastructure foundations, a process will become sub-optimal.
- There is an “owner”. This is just another way of saying that someone in the organization takes specific responsibility for the effective management and support of the process. The more important the process, the more senior the process owner should be. In almost every situation, a process adds to other broader processes, and each component should have its own owner. Eg. An inventory management process has many sub-processes, from the documentation of deliveries to the appropriate allocation of purchase order numbers and general ledger postings. The “Inventory Management” process may be owned by the CFO, but the supporting components will be owned by others at the more operational levels.
- Process metrics are in place. The old saying, “you get what you measure” is accurate, without performance measurement against current criteria, as well as some that may reflect how the organisation expects the process to evolve, it will solidify at sub optimum performance levels.
- Process improvement. Continuous improvement of processes is a feature of successful businesses, the environment in which businesses operate is subject to ongoing change, and therefore the enabling processes need to evolve to best reflect the environment. In an apparent paradox, improvement is really only possible in a situation of stability. To improve a process you need to be able to identify the impact of a change in the process on the outcome, and you can only do that when the impact of all the existing variables are known.